Dick Harmon: Doug Scovil remembered by prime BYU pupil
PROVO — If you are a football junkie in these parts, the name Scovil launches all kinds of memories. Doug Scovil is the full name, but just saying Scovil represents just fine.
Among BYU quarterbacks, he is a legend. Even today, his methods, his techniques and his personality are talked about by current and past players and referenced by those who followed him as coaches whether it be Ted Tollner, Mike Holmgren or Norm Chow. Even Ute head pilot Kyle Whittingham can pop out Scovil stories on cue.
In 1981, Sports Illustrated's Barry McDermott opened his feature on Scovil with this line:
Given his approach to football, it's easy to imagine Doug Scovil as a Mad Bomber sort. You know, thick glasses, darting eyes, a cackling laugh and a grenade in either hand. Wherever Scovil has coached, bombs bursting in air has had nothing at all to do with the national anthem.
Scovil died 24 years ago from a heart attack in the Philadelphia Eagles' training facility shortly after getting off an exercise bike. He was only 62.
This past week, I asked College Hall of Fame quarterback Marc Wilson about the record-setting first start he had in Fort Collins against Colorado State in 1977. I was in the press box that day and will never forget what unfolded on the field. Wilson threw seven touchdown passes against one of the WAC’s top defenses that featured three NFL draft picks.
The previous week, Wilson was backup to Gifford Nielsen, who had led the Cougars to blowout wins over Kansas State 39-0, Utah State 65-6 and New Mexico 54-19. In the fourth game, at Corvallis, Nielsen blew out his ACL in a 24-19 loss to Oregon State.
Scovil told Wilson he was up next.
Scovil had come to BYU from the San Francisco 49ers the previous spring. He wore an African safari helmet on hot two-a-days in summer. He was funny and a genius.
Wilson said when Nielsen went down, he was “nervous as heck” to replace him because it’s one thing to come in when you’re up 50 to nothing, but it’s another thing to start a game.
“Doug truly was a great, great coach,” said Wilson.
With Nielsen injured, Scovil called Wilson up to his office and put the playbook on the desk. It was 3 inches thick.
Wilson remembered, “He gave me a stack of sticky tabs and said, ‘I want you to go through this playbook and put a sticky tab on every play that you like.’ ”
So Wilson went home and pasted sticky tabs on all the plays he liked. It just so happened that all the plays he liked were rollout plays. The next day he met with his offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
Said Scovil: “What in the heck is this? We haven’t run a rollout play here in like forever. We’ve run a few in practices from time to time, but what’s the deal with these rollout plays?”
Wilson was honest. He said in BYU’s drop-back, pro-set system, a quarterback had to drop back and get to his progression extremely fast and then be able to get to that third read quickly. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to do that. “You had to do it in about two and a half seconds or you were going to have problems,” said Wilson.
“I told them I grew up playing in the streets where you rolled out and only had to worry about half of the defensive players. If something went wrong, you could always run and get a few yards. That way, if you limit my options and if everything is wrong, I’ll just run.”
Scovil said OK and then put in a bunch of rollout plays for Wilson.
“Think about that. We are leading the nation in every offensive category with Gifford as quarterback and this is a great offensive coordinator and I’m a nobody going into this game. He was willing to throw out everything we had been doing and design a set of plays for a nobody, a backup quarterback who hadn’t done anything and was going to play his first game.”
Wilson was a little stunned, but also gained some comfort knowing he didn’t have to repeat what Nielsen had been doing at the rate and precision he’d been doing it.
“That was Doug Scovil and that’s why Scovil was great with Roger Staubach, Gifford and me, Jim McMahon and everybody because Doug was willing to do that.”
Wilson said going into that game, CSU didn’t expect BYU to roll out in a million years, and was totally unprepared. He admits that had to be part of his success that day.
The Ram defense featured Al “Bubba” Baker, Mike Bell and a linebacker that were all drafted. “Their defensive ends were both first-round picks and that linebacker was a third-round pick,” said Wilson.
Wilson said CSU was probably looking forward to playing against Nielsen and probably didn’t practice like they would have if Nielsen had been there. They didn’t expect to have any problem with the backup nobody.
“For them, it was a whole different deal. We did some things they never expected and it was kind of an avalanche.”
That day Wilson completed 15 of 25 passes for 332 yards. He was named Sports Illustrated’s Offensive Player of the week. He threw seven TD passes. He was on fire. The Rams were cross-eyed as mice in a cheese factory from start to finish and the Cougars walked out of Hughes Stadium with a 63-17 victory.
To this day, Wilson credits Scovil more than his own skill and acumen for that day in Colorado and for the fame and fortune that came his way. Wilson ended his BYU career a consensus All-American, third in the Heisman Trophy voting, winner of the Sammy Baugh Trophy, first in the NCAA in total offense and set 19 NCAA records en route to being 1979 Senior Bowl MVP and the first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders.
Credit the guy in the safari helmet?
He should. The BYU quarterbacks he coached passed for more than 15,500 yards and all became All-Americans and NFL starters.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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