On January 7, 2010, Colt McCoy went down, his arm numb, and arguably sealed UT’s fate in the BCS National Championship Game, but that game was about much more than McCoy. The game signaled the return of the Texas quarterback. In this month’s cover story, Bryan Curtis takes a look at the trend across the state and what it means for players, coaches, and football as a whole. Speaking with both McCoys, father and son, as well as many others on all levels of the game, Curtis discovers what happened to Texas quarterbacks and what made them come back. Here’s the story behind the story.
What was it that caused you to start noticing the trend?
If I had to pick a year, I’d probably say 2007. Colt McCoy was having a very pedestrian sophomore season with the Longhorns, but up north, Missouri’s Chase Daniel and Kansas’s Todd Reesing had their teams in the Top 5. Both guys were Texans who hadn’t gotten much of a sniff, scholarship-wise, from the big Texas schools (though Mack Brown allegedly made a run at Daniel after being turned down by some other guys). Watching those two, it suddenly seemed that the state didn’t just have some good quarterbacks. It had too many good quarterbacks.
How does the game change as drastically as it did when it changed from primarily a running game, “three yards and a cloud of dust” as it’s referred to in the story, to a pass-heavy game?
Football can change course quite drastically. There’s a great story about the Texas-Arkansas classic from 1969, which would fall into years I describe in the piece as the Great Texas Quarterback Famine. Longhorns coach Darrell Royal instructed his quarterback, James Street, to throw a deep route to the tight end on a crucial fourth down. Street wasn’t known for his arm. So when he told his teammates the play, Dan Jenkins quoted an offensive lineman as saying, “Geeaad, damn, James. You can’t throw it that far.”
What is it about Texas that produces these quarterbacks? Is it simply the combination of the culture surrounding Texas high school football and the popularity of 7-on-7s?
Well, we’ve always had a lot of high-school football culture—see that TV show everybody watches—and that didn’t do much for passing quarterbacks during parts of the 1960’s, the 1970’s, and the 1980’s. But once the spread offense and 7-on-7s were in place, then, yes, I think the Football Industrial Complex took care of the rest.
Do you see it as something that will continue to catch on?
Sure. By this point, it’s too big to fail.
Why do you think it took so long for something like 7-on-7 to develop?
The more I talk to coaches, the more I realize that a lot of their considerable knowledge base comes from word of mouth. “How’d you learn to run that offense?” I’ll ask a coach. And he’ll say, “Gee, I don’t know, Ol’ So-and-So was winning state championships with it, and I got interested.” These days, there are coaching clinics and lots of ways to spread information using the Web. But sometimes, it just takes a while for something like 7-on-7s to get on their radar. Of course, once Texas coaches and players learned they could devote their summer (in addition to their fall and their spring) to football, it was all over.
The moral of your story is that each Texas quarterback is easily replaced, but at the same time everyone wants one? Would you say now is a good time or a bad time to be a Texas quarterback?
It’s a great time. I can guarantee Colt McCoy would have rather taken five snaps in the Rose Bowl than not gotten there at all.
You talked to a pair of fathers and sons, including the McCoys, who are also coaches and players. From what you saw, is the dynamic closer to coach-player than to father-son or a balance of the two?
The McCoys have football stitched into their family life to a degree that’s hard to tell the difference. When I was interviewing the McCoys, I asked them how they got along—were there any big falling outs, etc.? They insisted everything was fine, and, beyond your usual teenage stuff, I think I believe them. For me, it would have been profoundly weird to have had my parent yelling at me at a high school function. For Colt, though, Dad is Coach, and Coach is Dad, and the duality apparently doesn’t bother him at all.
Do you see Colt McCoy as a direct result of post-7-on-7 football?
He certainly benefited from 7-on-7s, but I think in the years to come, he’ll be seen as more of a product of the spread offense, which maximizes his skills. For instance, beyond his accuracy, one of the shocks of watching Colt play at Texas was how effective he was at running the ball. Colt’s not a wonderful athlete, as even he admits. And his rushing totals were padded by the fact that Texas’s running backs were pretty awful. But watch this play from last season [play from last season: youtube.com/watch?v=htpJjUAdkbo] against A&M. Two linebackers get caught blitzing, and once Colt gets past them, the defense is just too spread out to get close to him. Nice call by Greg Davis, but that’s a guy playing in exactly the right scheme for his talents.
How do you think Colt McCoy is going to do in the pros?
I won’t be like an ESPN talking head and pretend to know. Let’s say that Colt’s got a very good situation in Cleveland: a quarterback yogi (Mike Holmgren) as team president; a pile of damaged goods on the depth chart in front of him; and a team that desperately needs some new blood. He’s got a shot.
There seems to be a massive wave of talented Texas quarterbacks. As a quarterback, it seems like it’s becoming harder and harder to set yourself apart. Are there still standouts, even among the exceptionally talented?
Yes. In the slang of the recruiting Web sites, they call those guys—the übertalented players—“war daddies.” Garrett Gilbert of Texas, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, and Andrew Luck of Stanford were war daddies in their respective years. I’m not sure if J.W. Walsh quite has war daddy status, but he’s probably in the conversation.
Who do you think will be the next Colt McCoy?
Let’s see, to have The Next Colt, you’d need a super-accurate quarterback who can run pretty well and get knocked around a lot—and eternally looks like he just started shaving. I’m sure Coach McCoy would start the list with his other son, Case, now awaiting his turn at Texas just like his brother did . . .
Do you see the return of the Texas QB as simply another trend in football? Is this something that’s going to be around for years to come?
I’m positive it’s another trend that will be replaced by an equally fascinating one in years to come. In five years, we’ll be talking about the Rise of the Texas Running Back, or perhaps the Golden Age of the Texas Long Snapper. Now, that would make an awesome cover story.