Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Quite frankly it bored the players"

The South Bend Tribune ran a short piece today, the gist of which was that former Notre Dame quarterback Arnaz Battle, now a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, thinks Brady Quinn has the tools to be a very good NFL quarterback. We covered that ground pretty thoroughly in my previous post. But there are some nuggets included in the story that really caught my eye, which, I think, really demonstrate how the Notre Dame football program got off track offensively under Lou Holtz and Bob Davie. First, the article notes:

Once Quinn signs a contract and shows up at camp, he'll be the only ND quarterback playing in the NFL as a quarterback. The only other two former Irish signal-callers on active rosters -- Battle (49ers) and Carlyle Holiday (Packers) -- are wide receivers.
Read that very closely. As of today, there are no quarterbacks playing in the NFL who played at Notre Dame. Can that be true? Notre Dame has a proud quarterback tradition, and for a long time there were more players on active NFL rosters from Notre Dame than from any other college (is this still true?). Yet, no Notre Dame quarterback is playing QB in "the league." It's very popular for Notre Dame fans to idolize Lou Holtz and ridicule Ty Willingham. But it was under Holtz (who was the greatest Notre Dame coach since Ara) that the offensive philosophy turned to the option. Although that style was very successful in winning games at the college level, it hurt our ability to either (a) recruit quarterbacks (or receivers) out of high school who had real NFL potential, or (b) to develop the quarterbacks (and receivers) we did have into top pro prospects. Yes, we landed Ron Powlus, who had a nice college career. But he never reached the potential many thought he had coming out of high school. Toward the end of Holtz's tenure, and into the Bob Davie era, we were running offenses that called for "athletic" quarterbacks (a la Donovan McNabb) who could both pass and run effectively. Thus we had quarterbacks who were very talented athletes (Battle and Carlyle Holiday) and effective at the college level, but who weren't NFL prospects at the quarterback position. Here is what Arnaz told the SBT about the lack of Irish quarterbacks in the NFL, and about playing in the Notre Dame offense during that era:
"It's kind of a funny stat really," Battle said, "but it doesn't surprise me. You have to look at the offense we were running at Notre Dame before Brady came in. It was an option-style offense, and quite frankly it bored the players. And if you had dreams of playing on the next level, you were going to have to change positions.

"I would have loved to play in (current Irish head coach) Charlie Weis' offense, either as a quarterback or wide receiver. I think I could have played either, but (with) the benefit of hindsight, I'd take receiver now. It's an explosive offense. The players have fun in it, and they win in it."
Did you catch that? In Battle's view, under the offensive scheme in place while he was at Notre Dame, quarterbacks didn't really have a chance of making it to the NFL. I love Lou Holtz, and I will repeat that he was a great coach and restored the luster to the golden dome. But I do believe the decision to install an option scheme set the program back in terms of its ability to consistently attract top talent at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. I am not an apologist for Tyrone Willingham. I was a big supporter of his when he came in, and was bitterly disappointed at the lack of progress under his watch. But probably the best thing he did while he was at Notre Dame was to install a real pro-style offense. Even though the execution of the offense was poorly done, the commitment to a pro-style scheme meant that the Irish at least had a chance to get some top pro-style quarterback and receiver prospects. Like Brady Quinn. And although Willingham left the cupboard frighteningly bare at many positions, at least Coach Weis had Brady Quinn and some talented wide receivers to work with when he showed up in South Bend, which played to his strength. And Weis has been able to parlay his NFL success and his development of Quinn into the recruiting coup of the decade - Jimmy Clausen.

Come next season, there will once again be Notre Dame quarterbacks playing the position in the NFL, and judging from the results so far under Coach Weis, that will likely be the case for many years to come.

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