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Penn State Football: An Inside Look At A QB Competition

by on April 08, 2010 7:00 AM

It's springtime in Central Pennsylvania and Penn State's starting quarterback has graduated. It's time for a quarterback competition -- usually a hot topic of discussion among Penn State fans.

As the 2010 season approaches, we get ready to go 'round again. The alternative is to coach in the NFL, where you would simply re-sign your starting quarterback (or in the case of the Eagles, trade him away to a division rival).

Since this is not my first go-around, there are lessons learned to draw from. There were the Zack Mills/Michael Robinson years, the 2005 Michael Robinson/Anthony Morelli year, and in 2008 it was the Daryll Clark/Pat Devlin saga.

You'd be surprised how many people still tell Michael Robinson that they did not believe he could do it and how pleasantly surprised they were in 2005. In fact, friends have admitted the same thing to me.

Others are admitted converts to the Daryll Clark camp after he became the first two-time First Team All-Big Ten quarterback since a pretty fair quarterback from Purdue named Drew Brees did it.

With apologies to David Letterman, here are the Top Ten things I've learned over the years about a being involved in selecting and coaching the Penn State starting quarterback. (Author's note: These are all in good fun and are not to be taken too seriously.)

1. As a coach, be prepared to get asked about who will be the next starter early and often. The Capital One Bowl win was just hours old when I was asked at the post-game party who would be starting next year. (That's probably the all-time record).

2. Expect lots of help and advice in your evaluation — almost all of it random and unsolicited. It'll come at any time, in any place and from any one. Ten-year-olds I know have already weighed in with their thoughts. The only help and advice that matters is that of the head coach.

3. Everyone who asks expects advance notice or inside information. Even casual acquaintances believe you will reveal the decision to them months before it is made. Many are mothers or fathers who want to get the jump on everyone and buy the right numbered jersey for their sons for next fall.

4. There are always a couple of guys on message boards who report information from an "inside source" at practice. A fan or journalist guessing who will be the starting quarterback is like getting an answer right on a multiple choice test; there are only a few possibilities. Unless they have a plant in the head coach's brain, their "inside source" should be considered suspect.

5. Some fans will be convinced that you will always start the older guy and that his age is the only reason he is the starter.

6. There will always be fans believing that a quarterback's Rivals or Scout recruiting rating is the reason he should or should not start. They will cite things like high school passing records or awards won. A quarterback's high school career is akin to his high school transcript; once they graduate and get on campus it no longer matters. All that matters is how they perform at the collegiate level.

7. As a coach you realize that with one decision, you make one student-athlete the most scrutinized athlete on campus (the starter) and you make the other the most popular athlete on campus (the back-up).

8. Always be prepared to have some fans unhappy with the eventual decision. Fans have a horse in the derby and if that horse doesn't become the starting quarterback, it is because the coaches are stupid, unfair or incompetent (sometimes all three).

9. College coaches do not select starters for any reason other than who they think will give their team the best chance to win.

10. The only way you'll ever convince everyone is if the team wins EVERY game. In 1985 John Shaffer took over a 6-5 team from 1984 and went 11-1. In August of 1986 before Shaffer's senior year, the fans overwhelmingly voted for back-up Matt Knizner to start in a Harrisburg Patriot-News poll. Shaffer started and went 12-0 and won the 1986 National Title.

These "truths" illustrate the fun of coaching at Penn State. We have tremendous interest from a fan base that is the best in the country. Its passion and desire for excellence are something we share as coaches. From the time I went to my first Penn State game in 1973 until I became a coach here in 1995, I have been like any other fan with my own thoughts and opinions.

This is one of those years you relish as a coach — a new challenge ahead of you. It is nice having so many people with strong interest in the progress of the student-athletes you coach, even if they offer to help you with your job from time to time.

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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