Coach and Quarterback success is so often intertwined. How often have we seen a coach essentially luck into a great QB and succeed, then without that player they fail. Big examples would be Bill Belicheck (in Cleveland) without Tom Brady, Mike Shanahan after John Elway. In truth most coaches never find that elusive great QB at all.
Very rare is the coach who can find and tutor multiple QBs, who can win long after the first hall-of-famer is gone. Identifying QBs with the intelligence and skills to succeed is the first hurdle; drafting them is a glorified crapshoot. For every Peyton Manning there’s a Ryan Leaf. For every Donovan McNabb there’s a Tim Couch. Bill Walsh stands out for this quality at the top of my head – he found Joe Montana and Steve Young.
But even after drafting or acquiring these players, you have to be able to mentor them to be NFL quarterbacks. This requires, in some ways, a completely separate skill set. The ability to teach a quarterback and build a team around him is incredibly difficult. Norv Turner has often been credited as a fabulous developer of QBs, having helped Troy Aikman and now Philip Rivers reach stardom. However, there were plenty of other talented players he couldn’t help, such as 49ers 1st overall pick Alex Smith and Redskins 3rd overall pick Heath Shuler.
That combination of talent-finding and talent-nurturing is rare. The question naturally becomes: does Andy Reid have both? The answer to that question shapes your entire view of McNabb or Kolb — because if Andy chooses to switch to Kolb, fans have to decide whether to trust that choice or not. Is Reid just another Shanahan, destined to search blindly for a successor to McNabb and never enjoying the same success? Or is he a proven evaluator and teacher of quarterbacks who knows when to hand the keys to the next guy?
We can get a better handle on this by looking at the quarterbacks Andy has at least helped find or mentor over the years:
- Brett Favre — Andy can’t be cited here for finding Favre, he was a lowly offensive assistant in Green Bay when Ron Wolf acquired Favre. However, Andy was there throughout Favre’s young prime years as offensive line coach and then as quarterbacks coach in 97-98. To some degree Andy helped shape Favre during his greatest years.
- Ty Detmer — Acquired through the draft Andy’s first year as offensive assistant with the Packers. As with Favre, Andy probably worked around and with Ty for the first couple years. Detmer never panned out as a starter, but was an adequate back-up for a number of teams.
- Mark Brunell — Similar situation to Detmer, but was traded and became a Pro Bowl quarterback in Jacksonville.
- Matt Hasselbeck — Here’s where Andy starts being more actively involved as QB coach. Hasselbeck was drafted out of Boston College in the 6th round, with Andy as “the one who worked out Hasselbeck before the draft and pored over his film,” according to the Seattle Times. Reid’s input certainly mattered a great deal, and he helped shape at least the rookie year of Hasselbeck’s NFL transition.
- Koy Detmer — Ty’s brother was in Philly when Andy got there in 1999, but he stayed as the backup to McNabb until 2006. Also perhaps the greatest placekick holder in NFL history.
- Donovan McNabb — The crown jewel of Reid’s QB accomplishments, Andy scouted and trusted him enough to make McNabb his first pick in 1999. Reid then helped McNabb grow into a 6x Pro Bowler and borderline Hall-of-Famer. He has built winners around him for 10 years.
- A.J. Feeley — Andy found him in the 5th round of the 2001 draft. Never a fabulous player, but a great backup who won 4 of 5 starts in 2002, saving the Eagles’ playoff aspirations.
- Andy Hall — 6th round pick in 2004 out of Delaware. Bounced back and forth between practice squad and regular roster before release in 2006.
- Kevin Kolb — Jury’s still out.
Honestly, this list is one of the biggest arguments in favor of letting Andy switch to Kolb. Obviously Reid didn’t play the largest role with all of these players, but overall it seems like he got the most out of the ones he worked with. Aside from minor pick Hall, Reid hasn’t drafted anyone who hasn’t in some way “panned out” — relative to their pick. That alone is a fabulous sign that he can diagnose talent. And his work with other low-round picks like Hasselbeck and Feeley that turned them into real NFL players is impressive. Finally, there’s the fact that his one previous high pick on a QB was spot on.
Andy’s history suggests that he may one of a few coaches who can both find and mentor great QB talent. That’s not something we should overlook, although we often do. If that history is any guide, Kolb ought to be a fine QB.