Everybody wants to know who the quarterback is going to be each season and they want to know how good he is going to be.
The quarterback has to carry responsibility of being the leader of his team, and it is a big responsibility, as well as the responsibility of being someone who is constantly in the public eye.
I wouldn't know anything about coaching quarterbacks, but I know a lot about quarterbacks. I played with a great one at Georgia in Francis Tarkenton. As an assistant coach at Alabama and as a head coach at East Carolina, Wyoming and Auburn, I have been around great quarterbacks. I coached two great quarterbacks at East Carolina, one at Wyoming and four at Auburn.
The four that I had at Auburn were all really different characters, but all of them were winners and were championship quarterbacks. Randy Campbell won the SEC Championship in 1983, Jeff Burger won it in 1987, Reggie Slack won it in 1988 and 1989 and Stan White went undefeated in 1993 although I wasn't coaching him then.
Randy Campbell (left) is shown with another former Tiger standout from the 1980s, cornerback David King (right).
When I think about what made them successful the first thing that pops into my mind is courage, a big word that covers a lot of territory. A quarterback needs to have the courage to take the criticism that comes with playing the position and to take responsibility when things don't got right.
A quarterback has to have courage to stand in the pocket and look downfield for a receiver when there is a 275-pound defensive end who is fixing to clean his clock. He has to stand in there to deliver a perfect pass to a receiver who is well covered. I can't come up with the right words to describe how much courage it takes.
Unless they have played that position nobody, except for maybe a coach who stands back there with the quarterback and coaches the position, understands how much courage that it does take. If they don't have that type of courage they will never make it. That is the number one ingredient the successful quarterbacks have got.
It certainly helps to have skill and athletic ability. The better athlete you are the better chance you have to be a better quarterback. It is not the most important thing, but being a skilled athlete does help.
You have got to understand that the quarterback is the most important player on the field because he handles the ball on every snap. He is directing traffic and carrying out the coach's game plan whether it is a simple handoff, a bootleg pass, a misdirection pass, a dropback pass--whatever it may be.
He has got a big responsibility and lot of different skills he has to use. Because he handles the ball so much the quarterback can do more damage than any other player on the field by mishandling balls, with fumbles, with interceptions, bad pitches. There are numerous ways a quarterback can get you beat by not efficiently running the offense.
A successful quarterback needs to be a very unselfish individual. When I say that I mean sometimes he has to take a loss or a bad play to live to play another down instead of forcing something that is not there and turning the ball over to the other team. If you get down to the close games more are lost by mistakes like turnovers, penalties and missed assignments than are won by good or great plays.
Because of the nature of the position, the quarterback is in the middle of it on good plays and bad plays. He has got to be a dependable, trustworthy and unselfish individual who always puts his first team first. I have seen some selfish quarterbacks who would try to force the football into coverage and create plays that weren't there and they get their teams beat. You can't have that.
One of the things that impressed me about Cameron Newton in the game against Mississippi State is that he did everything he can do with his ability and talent and he didn't try to do more than he should have and get his team in trouble. When a play wasn't there he took a sack and allowed his team to punt the ball, kick a field goal or whatever, but he did not force the football.
At the same time a quarterback can't be afraid to make plays. Sometimes there is a fine line between being confident and unafraid and being reckless. In critical third downs, or in drives when the game is on the line, he has to be focused and unafraid to make the play his team needs to win.
There have been all types of personalities who have been successful quarterbacks. First of all they have got to be themselves. I have had some that were wild, some that were very reserved and quiet--all different types of personalities. I don't think you can say that a person has to have a certain type of personality to be a great quarterback. We had four who were championship quarterbacks and they are all very different people, but one thing they had in common was that when their best was needed that is when they were at the best.
When the game was on the line and it came down to executing one play to determine whether you were going to win or lose, you had confidence in them making the play. Those four all had different levels of talent.
I can look back at the plays Randy Campbell made in critical situations in big games to help us win, but physically as a football player he was marginal, but he found a way to win. I remember Reggie Slack in 1989 against Florida, with no time left on the clock, he has got to make a perfect throw with the game on the line. He has got monumental pressure on him and he showed he had the physical and mental courage to handle that situation.
Each of those four quarterbacks I coached at Auburn probably couldn't have made the great plays when they arrived at Auburn. They had to grow and mature into the championship level players they became. Something that was true about each of those guys is that there was no quit in them. They were fighters and competitors.
Things out on the field on Saturday don't go exactly like you plan and you can't be faint-hearted and start questioning yourself and the people around you when that happens. You have to pick up the people around you because they are looking for you to lead them. They want to see the look in the quarterback's eyes and that can't be a faraway look. They are looking for coolness or fire. If a quarterback has any self-doubt the players will be the first to pick up on it.
I think a quarterback has to be a guy who wants the ball in his hands with a chance to thrive when the game is on the line. The great ones, the champions, want the ball in those situations because of the confidence they have in themselves. When the game is on the line, he has to be all positive. He can't have a negative thought in his mind. He has to be thinking about exactly what he has to do and how he is going to do it.
It takes a special individual to be a championship quarterback. As head coach, an assistant coach and a player I have seen that they have the special stuff inside them. You can call it leadership ability, character or whatever, but when they step in the huddle those other 10 people are better because of his presence, because of the confidence they have in the guy who is leading them. They think that if they do their job, their quarterback is going to do his.
I think that all of the great quarterbacks I have known have thrived because they want to be the man, they want to be the leader and they want that responsibility on Saturday, or Friday night or on Sunday, and they work their whole life to get to where they can be that guy.
If you look at the great quarterbacks in the history of the game one thing they had in common was that their teammates believed in them. Bobby Layne was a hell-raiser and carouser, but he was a great quarterback and when he stepped into that huddle everybody believed in him. Bart Starr was exactly the opposite type of individual, but when he stepped in the huddle his teammates believed in him, too. You have those extremes in personalities and everything in between.
The talent around a quarterback, whether it is the linemen, the receivers or the running backs, whatever the offense you are running, can help a quarterback and it is up to him and the coaches to utilize it properly, but ultimately it is on the quarterback's shoulders to make it work in games. In the end he has got to big enough and strong enough to accept the criticism and the disappointments that come with the losing. He is often going to get more blame than he deserves when his team loses the game and he will often get more credit than he deserves when his team wins. That is just the nature of the game. He has to be a big enough man to handle both.
He has to keep an even keel during the good times and the bad times and that is not easy to do. If you look around the country whether it is in high school, college or pro football, most of the teams that win championships have got great leaders at quarterback. It is just that simple.
Football is a team sport and there is a lot involved in developing a championship team, but the one thing that is sure is that if you don't have a winner at quarterback you ain't going to win a championship. You don't have to have a great talent at quarterback, but it helps if he is, but he needs to have the respect of everyone around him on his team who is expecting him to produce in the critical downs in the playoffs and championship games.
It is almost like it is too much responsibility to put on one individual, but fortunately it is not. There are young men who want that responsibility and work all of their life to be able to do it and do it well.
There are some teams around the country that play two quarterbacks and I have played two and even three. Against LSU we played five in one game and won, but ultimately I think a team is better off to play just one.
I wouldn't take anything in the world for my relationships with my quarterbacks because I put my future and my career in their hands every Saturday. I am sure they never thought about it that way, but I did. I loved everyone of them. They were all different. Randy Campbell probably overcame more than the others because he wasn't big, strong or fast, but every one of them were special. The two quarterbacks I had at East Carolina and the one at Wyoming were the same way.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, Dye participates weekly in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.