Interview: QB Coach Jim Svoboda

New quarterbacks coach <b>Jim Svoboda</b> has one primary responsibility -- make the quarterbacks better. He talks about that role, about Drew Olson, and how he's adapted to learning Tom Cable's offense...

Quarterbacks coach Jim Svoboda is in his first season at UCLA.

Svoboda cam to UCLA after spending the previous ten seasons as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Northwest Missouri State, a Division II school. While at NWMSU, the Bearcats won national championships in 1998 and 1999. Svoboda's offenses were among the most productive in Division II. He was named the Division II Offensive Coordinator of the Year one season, and he coached a number of players who made NFL teams.

Previous to his stint at NWMSU, Svoboda had been head coach at Nebraska Wesleyan.

What have been some of the biggest issues you wanted to emphasize taking over the quarterback coaching position?

"Really the same thing I've always tried to instill. I'm not trying to change the world. Trying to do my job, make sure the quarterbacks are coached well fundamentally. Analyze what they needed to work on. Evaluate them first, and then go from there. That's what I felt my position was. Not as an offensive coordinator, but they wanted someone specifically to work with the quarterbacks. They have a system that we're going to run, and I had to learn the system myself. But specifically work fundamentally with the quarterbacks in terms of footwork, defensive recognition and timing and those kind of things. Like I said, I'm not trying to change the world, but just work with the QBs."

In evaluating Drew Olson, what were some of the issues you thought you'd needed to work on with him?

"I thought he went through some struggles last year. In the tapes that I watched he did do some things really well. I think he struggled at times, and it's hard to know specifically what to attribute that to. It's usually a combination of things. If it's the line play, or confusion on his part, if he knows what's going on. At times it looked like he was holding the ball, and watching receivers, and not carrying out fakes, and just a lot of little things like that. It wasn't all that important to me why it was going on, but just that they were things we should address. You don't know if it's the lack of attention to detail from what he was working on before, or if it were just things he didn't know what it was. So we started with a clean slate. Here are the things we're trying to do with our offense and let's execute."

How far has he come from when you came to the program to now?

"I think he's made progress in all areas. That's pretty exciting to me. We addressed some things about the physical aspect of it. I felt he needed to get stronger, physically stronger. It would help him in a lot of areas. It makes you more durable, it helps you in terms of velocity on your ball, and just confidence-wise, and longevity, and having a long, durable season. I didn't think he was where he needed to be physically. So we started on that, and we progressed to the finer points of what we wanted to do specifically with him. We made sure he understood those things, recognizing our formations, and so many more things than don't meet the eye that you have to take care of before you go to the next step. Like I tell the guys, they have to know the formations as well as the coaches. It's hard to conceive a play in your head if you can't visualize where those players are. So getting them up on the board and drawing formations is important. Today we had a walk-through and I actually had all the quarterbacks play the positions and line up in the formations to help them understand those kinds of things."

A knock on Olson for the last couple of years is that he didn't check-down efficiently, or look off receivers. He seems more assured of what he's doing now.

"I know he has a great desire to be a great football player. He's an open book, and very willing to absorb it all. That's why I have such great excitement in the future for him. He's not one of those guys that will just kind of show up and do what he's supposed to do, and then that's it, looking forward to when he can take a nap or something. or go out on the town. He knows that the end is near. He only has two years to play. And we're trying to get this thing going with the new staff. So he's not going to be the guy to let everybody down. And I think he has a real sense of that."

How has it been for you learning the offense?

"For me, it was simply a matter of terminology. I've long been a fan of the West Coast Offense. But specifically of Bill Walsh. I did everything I could to get my hands on their stuff, because I really admired what the 49ers did back in those days, talking about mid- to late-‘80s, early-‘90s. I had really incorporated a lot of those concepts in what I was doing. Everything is called different. For instance, when we talk about ‘stick' or ‘hank,' those were the same things that I did conceptually, but there is different verbiage. So it's still not quite automatic, as far as formations and those things."

So you need a bit of a translator?

"Well, yeah. I go back to what I've done for 20 years, because I've done my stuff for so long. Like what I call an ‘end route' we call a ‘dagger route.' So when I see it, I say ‘We have to run that end route,' and I correct myself. But Tom Cable is great. He spends a tremendous amount of time with me, however much time I need to pick it up. He has a great understanding of it, and a great enthusiasm for it, which really makes it fun. I have no idea how good we're going to be. But we're really having a good time working together. I've been around some good staffs, but I think in terms of really understanding it all, that we're in this together, it's been great. I haven't sensed any egos or ‘me' guys or anything like that. It's really been fun."

How do you change how you personally coach a quarterback – when you're coaching them within a different system?

"You dig. You first try to find out the finer points of the offense. That's why working with Tom has been so important. I have my own ideas, and then you mix them together. But first and foremost it has to be what we want to do, what Karl (Dorrell) wants to do. Karl and Tom have been together. (Coach) Embree, they've all been together and talk the same language. They've been open to anything I can interject. But really my role has been to understand it first. I can add a little something here and there, and there's been a couple of little things. Now, whether it changes how I coach the quarterbacks, no. Fundamentally, no. We're going to work on all the fundamentals, the drops, the ball skills. Many of the drills are the same, but some of the drills are derived from what you do in the system, too, so you're not wasting time. They're specific to what you do. So we spend a lot of time working on individual routes, making sure we have those timed up. But as far as foot work, we do things like working the feet in the pocket, shuffling up, getting out, getting rid of the ball. I think there's a core of things fundamentally that you coach all the time."

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