Not sure how many of you read the UCLA Magazine. There is an interesting article in this year's July issue which includes an interview of the new UCLA offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda by UCLA alum Paul Fienberg. The interview, which is basically an update on the foobtall team as well, addresses the situation at UCLA QB. Of course, we are all excited about Southpaw Jesus, and even according to Brian Dohn's cautious projections we can assume Ben Olson, despite being out of action for four year, could come up with a very productive first season (as a full time starter). But Svoboda made these interesting comments to Feinberg:
Svoboda will let the two quarterback hopefuls duke it out until the fall, when he hopes to name a starter, although he notes "I've never platooned at quarterback, but I leave open the possibility. I feel good because the competition will make both of them better."
Platooning QBs early in the season could be a sure fire recipe for disaster. A Tennessee blogger had some prolific observations on the implementation of two QB platooning arrangement that had disastrous consequences for the Volunteers last season. Here is View from the Rocky Top on two-quarterback system (via BON):
1. The Rule Against 2QB Systems. With only two exceptions, 2QB systems should be avoided like the bird flu.
2. The Evaluation Period Exception. A 2QB system may be temporarily necessary to evaluate the available talent in game situations to determine which QB should be the long term starter. The evaluation period should be as short as possible and should under no circumstances last longer than four or five games.
3. The Epinephrine Exception. Use of two QBs may be desirable on rare occasions when a starter is having a bad game and the team needs a change of pace and a kick in the britches.
4. The Waffle Exception to the Epinephrine Exception. You only get one shot of epi, and it should only be used with well-established starters whose confidence will not be shattered by the substitution. Beware of the temptation to use it with recent winners of a quarterback duel. If you absolutely must change your mind once a "final" decision has been made on a duel, YOU CANNOT DO IT AGAIN. If you yank your first "final answer" QB because he's melted down, he'll no longer be a viable option, so stick with his replacement as long as he's anywhere in the vicinity of competent.
Early Warning Signs
If your team exhibits any of the following symptoms, do like Chicken Little and sound the alarm:
*The Sideline Captain. Beware of captains on sidelines. In other words, do not underestimate the power of leadership and experience, and do not overestimate the promise of potential.
*The Early Success. Beware of early success using multiple QBs. It only delays the inevitable.
*The Rotation Scheme. Beware of pre-planned rotation schemes. Getting a backup reps in a game is all well and good, see e.g., D.J. Shockley, but pre-game plans to rotate QBs must be subject to change. Do not commit to any systematic rotation of QBs, whether every other play, every other series, or every X number of series. Never break game rhythm by pulling a QB when he's hot. A team employing a rotation scheme is not only splitting game reps between two players, but is also surely splitting practice reps, which, instead of preparing both players for games, merely stunts the growth of both.
The first step, of course, is to keep everyone in the program. There is no quicker or worse way to end a quarterback controversy than to leave the second-string signal-caller feeling like he has no future where he is and thereby cause him to transfer somewhere else. Heading into the 1998 season, Georgia's quarterback depth chart included Daniel Cobb, Jon England, Nate Hybl, and Michael Usry . . . but, once Jim Donnan made it clear that Quincy Carter was to receive special treatment, all of the Bulldogs' backups hightailed it out of the Classic City like rats departing a sinking ship.
Compare that to Mark Richt's management of the budding controversy between David Greene and D.J. Shockley. After Georgia's 2002 season-opener against Clemson, there was a real division within Bulldog Nation over whether to bench the 2001 S.E.C. Freshman of the Year in favor of his understudy. Navigating that potential mine field required a coach like Mark Richt, whose demeanor is so calm and collected that, during tense moments late in key games, he continues to maintain the resting heart rate of a marathon runner or a jewel thief.
The need for the head coach to handle the situation deftly and delicately extends beyond the practice field and the playing field, as well. Football players read newspapers (or, more likely, the internet), so coaches must choose their words with care when speaking to the media. Coach Richt almost always got Shockley some playing time, but, following a rare instance of Greene getting a complete game under his belt, Coach Richt publicly expressed his regret at not having gotten his backup and future starter some snaps. He had already been seen apologizing to Shockley on the sidelines afterwards, but he communicated that sentiment to the rest of Bulldog Nation, too.
When a coach says the same things about his players publicly that he says to his players privately, he develops a reputation for honesty and lets the athletes in his charge know that he respects them. This is critical to the coach's ability to "go with the hot hand" in crucial game situations without shattering the confidence of the quarterback who was benched.
And UCLA's recent history of implementing a 2 QB platoon system is not that great. Following Aikman, Donahue tried to go with a combination of Brett Johnson and Jim Bonds in 1989 which ended up with a mediocre 3-7-1 season. Following Maddox's early departure in 1992, Donahue anointed Wayne Cook as his starter, who promptly got injured in his first game against Cal State Fullerton (yes they used to have a football team). The rest of the year the Bruins hobbled through a 6-5 season using Fien, Cook, and ultimately John Barnes, before Cook established order in the following season. After McNown, Toledo tried the 2 QB combination (lot of it again had to do with injuries) using Bennett (probably the most misused natural talent in the history of UCLA football), McCann and Paus, which led to a 4-7 season. What am I getting at? I think it is the in best interest for Svoboda and company to make sure Ben Olson is motivated and he has everything he needs to make sure he can thrive in the upcoming practice camp. Because if there are lingering questions after this upcoming practice camp is over and the UCLA coaches entertain the notion of a platoon system, it could spell trouble for this upcoming season.
What we do know is that Ben Olson is a once in a lifetime talent who every other team drooled over when he was looking to transfer from BYU. He has been in this system for almost two years. Sure, Svoboda is a new OC and he will throw new wrinkles into the offense (like using the shotgun), yet unfamiliarity with this offense will not be a viable excuse in case Olson is not clicking with the WCO this year. And, from the early reports, it looks like he is doing quiet well in the summer 7 on 7 drills. So timing should be fine. Let's hope right now all these comments from Svoboda are really just to encourage competition during the fall camp, and hopefully Olson will earn the unquestioned starting job before the 2006 kickoff. Otherwise, if these UCLA coaches implement a 2QB platoon system, given their recent track record and some of the factors outlined above, we could all be in for a long season.