When we asked about THE ball, the smile and look of a man remembering great plays in the past took over his face. THE ball is littered with signatures of great quarterbacks of college football past, all with two common themes. They threw for a minimum 7,000 yards (save Jeff Wickersham's 6,921) and they had at least minimum assistance from Coach Z. The humble man inside didn't even think of the idea," My wife came up with the idea to get the football signed. After that, I started mailing it around the country to get it signed by all of the guys." Bobbi Zaunbrecher certainly had a good idea and helped foster the leather resume for Coach Z that sits on a desk in his office.
The list below is not all of the quarterbacks Coach Z has coached -- these are the most successful quarterbacks he has coached. Many have gone on to have professional careers. They've all thrilled college football fans from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to West Lafayette, Indiana to Huntington, and West Virginia to Gainesville, Florida. They also thrilled Coach Z when they consented to sign THE ball.
Mark Herman, Purdue University, 9,188 passing yards
"I got Mark to sign the ball, although I didn't coach Mark I was associated with him while working with the passing game at Purdue. Because of his great career and being associated, I got him to sign the ball. He was a great quarterback and spent several years in the NFL."
Jeff Wickersham, Louisiana State University, 6,921 passing yards
"Jeff was my first quarterback at LSU. I had him for a couple of years and he led us to the SEC championship. He came from Merritt Island, Florida and was the first guy to sign the football while at a coach's convention."
Tommy Hodson, Louisiana State University, 9,115 passing yards
"Tommy came in and was a guy that didn't have some of the physical skills of some, but had toughness and ability to perform under pressure. When he was working out for the pros and they told him to throw it, there were a lot of linemen that could throw it left-handed further than he could throw it right-handed. Still, he was very productive college player for us; in fact when he graduated he was the SEC's all time leading passer. Of course when Coach Spurrier got to Florida, he had several people pass him. He is still in the top 10 of the SEC."
"Chad is the smartest guy I have ever been around. He could have been a Rhoades scholar. A guy that made himself into a great player through work habits and intelligence. You would tell him and he would get it, he had great vision. He didn't have as good of an arm as Rex or Byron, but his timing is so impeccable."
Byron Leftwich, Marshall University, 11,903 passing yards
"Byron is a very talented guy. Someone told me the other day how he has taken over Jacksonville with his personality and leadership and stuff like that. People are excited not just about his football potential, but that he fits into the community. He is not a guy that isolates himself. He is part of the community and obviously a leader of the team over there. He has great physical skills; great work habits and is quite a guy to coach."
Rex Grossman, University of Florida, 9,164 passing yards
"He has the quickest release I have ever been around. A competitive guy and a fun guy to coach. He really transitioned well in the first year and learned how to discipline himself and did some things in the last half of the season he played as well as any quarterback I have been around. The only interceptions he had were passes that bounced off of receivers' chests, the rest of the time he protected the ball. That became a source of pride for him and obviously it paid off with him getting drafted high and is now the starting quarterback for the Bears."
Coach Z treats it more as a treasure for him than a statement from him. He is humbled by all of the talk THE ball gets, yet as you see he never once lays claim to making these quarterbacks the players they were. He doesn't have to; the mere fact that they signed the ball is a testament to what the players think. "They were all guys that were all different, yet all successful in their own way. I am very proud that they all consented to sign the ball for me. Channing Crowder was in here the other day and said, 'Coach, that ball would go for a lot on E-Bay.' I told him that ball would never be for sale."
Coach Z is a quiet man. However, the oblong ball, perched in its case in his office isn't. It speaks of consistency for a coaching career that has lasted more than 2 decades. It tells a story that is 59,425 yards long. It tells a story that may soon include another chapter with another University of Florida quarterback in it. Nevertheless, it tells a story that hasn't ended yet.
Coming tomorrow - part two - the interview.