Suitor: Quarterback coaches should be mandatory in CFL

Glen Suitor
8/7/2013 10:33:16 PM
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What do Bo Levi Mitchell, Drew Willy, and Zach Collaros all have in common, other than the fact that all won their first start in 2013 despite having very little experience?

They all play on teams that have a former CFL quarterback on their coaching staffs.

In Calgary, Mitchell, who threw for 376 yards against Winnipeg in Week 5 - the highest total of any QB to that point of the season - works directly with offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson, who played 13 years in the CFL and still holds the record for completion percentage in a single season.

Mitchell's head coach of course is John Hufnagel, who also played the position at both Penn State and the CFL level.

If Willy in Saskatchewan has trouble learning a new concept, or understanding a new look on defence, he can lean on former Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB and 2001 Most Outstanding Player Khari Jones.

And Collaros is surrounded by former quarterbacks when you consider on the staff in Toronto is head coach Scott Milanovich along with Marcus Brady and Jason Maas. Milanovich played in five different leagues at the position, Brady spent seven years in the CFL, and Maas threw for over 5,000 yards as Ricky Ray's teammate in Edmonton in 2004.

Collaros, Willy and Mitchell are three quarterbacks that, while it may have been just one game, accomplished something that just shouldn't happen: immediate success. History dictates that in order to completely understand the game at the pro level, you need to apprentice on a team for at least a few years, and if a young QB is forced into action early he should brace himself, try to survive the ordeal, and hope the team can win on defence that day.

Most of the game's best quarterbacks took years to become a starter and even when getting the keys to the offence took a couple of more years to actually start to realize some success.

Anthony Calvillo, who has thrown for more yards than anyone in football on the planet, went through a couple of years of ugly before his star began to shine in Montreal. Calvillo I'm sure has done everything he can to forget his bumpy start in Las Vegas with the Posse, followed by a dismal season in Hamilton as a young starter. And remember, after going through two nightmare years early on, AC eventually went to Montreal and played as the backup to Tracy Ham before figuring out what it took to be a successful starter.

Friday night in Vancouver was just the second start for young Justin Goltz, who seems to have all the measurable and intangible qualities to be a successful QB. He stands 6'5 and can run. He seems to be able to stay composed in the pocket and has the arm strength to make all the throws. Also, he looks like a solid and humble young man that is willing to put the work in to learn, which will make him a good leader.

However against the BC Lions and when he went head-to-head against Mitchell and the Stamps the week before, he looked like, well, an inexperienced quarterback in his first and second start. At times, he made throws that I'm sure had Bomber fans up off their couches. Then at other times he missed an open receiver which ended a drive.
For years it has been the story with young QBs. They have had moments of greatness only to follow them up with "what were you thinking?” moments.

Prior to the Lions game, Goltz talked about the performances of Mitchell, Willy and Collaros, saying the three young pivots “have put a lot of pressure on all the young guys getting a shot because they played so well.” Goltz went on to say “versus Mitchell I thought I played a pretty good game but he was lights out.”

Mitchell works every day with a guy that understands firsthand what a quarterback at the pro level goes through. Dickenson understands what it feels like to throw an interception and knows what you have to do to bounce back from it. He is not only a set of eyes on the field that sees it the same way as the starter on the field, he is also a buffer between the head coach and young QB who could easily become overwhelmed by the moment.

Jarious Jackson, who is now the quarterbacks coach on the Lions staff, explained to me in Week 2 that he has worked as a buffer at times between Travis Lulay and offensive coordinator Jacque Chapdelaine.

“There was one instance when we were having success from our short passing game and we went away from it for a couple of series,” Jackson said. “Travis could see that our OC was very busy on the sideline and came to me asking to return to the quick game, so I went to Chapdelaine and talked about it.”

By being the go-between Jackson allowed Lulay to stay focused on what was happening on the field and still got his message to the OC.

Goltz doesn't have that person to lean on in Winnipeg. Buck Pierce will be a pro and help as much as he can but it won't be the same because deep down he is a competitor and wants his job back.

Gary Crowton is the offensive coordinatorin Winnipeg and will call the plays, but hasn't taken a snap as a starting quarterback in the CFL. So other than Pierce, who is still fighting for his job back, Goltz is on his own to find his way. Like Calvillo, and so many others, that could take a couple of years.

Maybe this is all a coincidence and can be chalked up to beginners luck, but the teams that have a former CFL quarterback on staff in a roll other than head coach are Toronto, Calgary, Saskatchewan, and BC; all have had very consistent play from the QB position regardless of which quarterback gets the call.

Edmonton and Winnipeg have young pivots and no mentor on staff, and both Mike Reilly and Goltz have looked good at times but inconsistent at other times.

Even in Montreal and Hamilton, where veterans like AC and Henry Burris are at the controls, one has to believe that it would help to have a quarterback coach. Kent Austin is that guy of course with the Ti-Cats, and one of the best in the business at teaching the fundamentals of the game at the QB position, However he has a lot on his plate when he is managing the game as the team's head coach. And while Burris has put up some nice numbers, one has to believe that it wouldn't hurt, and in fact could help, to have another former QB like a Danny McManus on the sideline talking each series with Hank.

Montreal's current situation is more up in the air with regards to the midseason coaching change and just having added Ryan Dinwiddie, but Als fans don't have to look back far to when AC was tearing it up working with Milanovich and Brady on the staff under Marc Trestman.

It seems like a no brainer that the quarterback position, which is the toughest to play in all sports, would have an assistant coach working strictly with those players, and yet not all teams have specific coaches for the position.

Teams have defensive line coaches, defensive back coaches, and in some cases even kicking coaches and yet no quarterback coach. Could you imagine an NHL team without a goalie coach or a golfer without a swing coach? Quarterback coaches should be mandatory in football, and it has to be someone who played in the league; and also not the team's head coach.

Or maybe it is all just a coincidence.

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