Shuler and Tebow

Ten years ago, Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe attended the Heisman Trophy ceremonies at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.

He hasn't been back. He hasn't even watched on television. And he has no intention of doing so in the future – unless he's got another Heisman candidate.

I'm not sure if he'll buy in even then.

Cutcliffe is jaded about college football's most prestigious award. He's still upset that Peyton Manning was denied the Heisman by Michigan's Charles Woodson – the first time in history a primary defensive player won the award.

Cutcliffe didn't even known until Sunday morning that Florida quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman – the first freshman or sophomore to ever win it.

``I think he deserved to win, but I really absolutely could care less about the Heisman Trophy,'' Cutcliffe said. ``It's the biggest black eye I know of. Here you got a guy like Peyton Manning doing what he's dong right now and the Heisman people don't have him to claim. I'd say they're a little sick over it.''

Cutcliffe is still sick over it. But he did praise Tebow as the best quarterback Tennessee faced this season.

``He's such a dual threat,'' Cutcliffe said. ``He can beat you running. He can certainly beat you throwing the ball. They don't ask him to do a lot in the passing game, but he throws the ball down the field extremely well.

``Part of it is the weapons around him. We all know that. At the same time, with his accuracy and decision making, I think he's one of the most dangerous guys (in college football).''

Some 15 years ago, Cutcliffe coached another guy similar to Tebow – Heath Shuler. Like Tebow, Shuler could run and pass. Shuler was a 6-foot-9 high jumper in high school who also excelled in baseball.

``Heath threw the ball better than Tebow,'' Cutcliffe said. ``Heath was really a special athlete. He had speed, strength, all the physical qualities. He probably was not as husky as Tebow, but he was a great physical specimen. He would have liked playing in that style of offense.''

The last time Tennessee averaged 200 yards rushing and passing in a game for a season (1993), Shuler was the quarterback. UT also scored a school-record 471 points under Shuler, who completed 64.6 percent of his passes for a then-school record 25 touchdowns. He was, naturally, a Heisman Trophy runner-up.

``Heath was such a dual threat,'' Cutcliffe said. ``He was capable of changing a game just by pulling a ball down and making things happen. Of course, he threw the ball in rhythm well, threw the ball in the dropback game on time very well. We did run the quarterback draw and belly option with him, almost like a quarterback sweep. We just weren't into all the quarterback runs (like in today's game).

``We probably wouldn't have signed him if we'd been a pure option offense because, like most youngsters with that kind of ability, he was hoping to become a professional football player in a pro-style system.''

Cutcliffe has coached mobile quarterbacks such as Shuler and Tee Martin, winning a national title with Martin. He's coached outstanding pocket passers like Peyton and Eli Manning. Peyton won one SEC championships at Tennessee and Eli helped Ole Miss tie LSU for the West Division title in 2003.

In today's game, with the spread and spread-option offense in vogue, is it more important to have a mobile quarterback or can you still win big with a pocket passer?

``I think you can win with either one of them,'' Cutcliffe said, ``but you're trying to find the best player available. When I say that, it's not necessarily just physical skills.

``In the recruiting process, I try to evaluate what we all used to call a winner, a guy that has character and a guy that has toughness and a guy that has leadership skills because the first thing a quarterback has to do is make people around him better.

``How do you do that? You do it with physical skills and gifts but also with leadership qualities and toughness and play-making ability in tough times – all those intangibles.

``I've been pretty fortunate to pick that out. It's never going to be 100 percent but I've been pretty good at that through the years. That's what I start with.

``Obviously, when you've got a guy that's a little mobile, that gives you another dimension. But, you know, every time I start thinking that way, I think of Peyton Manning. I'm such a Peyton Manning fan because he has perfected the position better, in my opinion, than anybody ever that's played the game. You have to really understand what he does and know what he does to understand that statement.

``He (Peyton) changes the game for you. He truly makes everybody around him better.''

That's why Cutcliffe isn't sold on having to have a mobile quarterback.


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