SALT LAKE CITY — Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of talk — on radio talk shows, fan message boards and around the office water coolers — about the quarterback choices our local college football coaches are making.
We've heard about BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall's "love affair" with Riley Nelson, how he won't even consider playing anyone else. Some Cougar fans are apoplectic that Mendenhall continues to play Nelson and say nice things about him. They think anyone would be better than Nelson, even quarterbacks who haven't played more than a few minutes in their whole careers.
At Utah, a lot of fans can't figure why Kyle Whittingham (or Willingham, as ESPN called him on SportsCenter Saturday night) would hand the reins of his offense over to true freshman Travis Wilson instead of senior John Hays. Ute fans aren't quite as outraged as the ones who root for the men in blue, but many believe the Utes might have won their last two games if the experienced Hays was allowed to play instead of a green freshman who is prone to turnovers.
As I wrote in a recent column, there's no one more popular than the backup quarterback. Starting quarterbacks are easy whipping boys for fans who expect perfection. Fans always think someone must be better than the guy who isn't completing every pass and winning ballgames every week.
But there's one thing I've known for a long time — as much as fans care about wins and losses, coaches care more. A lot more.
Coaching is their livelihood. Coaches spend a ton of time with their players, seeing them on pretty much a daily basis for four or five months of the year. They watch their players in practice for a couple of hours a day, then go back to their offices and watch them on tape for another couple of hours. They interact with them in team meetings and in the hallways of their offices. They know their players inside and out, their strengths and weaknesses, better than anyone. Certainly better than some fan on the street who watches a game for three hours every weekend.
Why would a coach choose to play a player who doesn't give him the best possible chance to win? Just because he likes their grit and toughness?
I don't think so. Coaches have egos and want as many Ws on their records as possible (one reason why practically every major program has a patsy or two on its schedule).
Coaches also like their big contracts and the security their job brings them. The coaching profession has become extremely lucrative in recent years with salaries increasing tenfold since the 1990s. Assistant coaches are making more than head coaches did as recently as a decade ago.
Do you think Whittingham or Mendenhall would want to jeopardize their million-dollar contracts by playing quarterbacks that don't give them the best possible chance of winning?
While I believe both coaches are quite secure in their jobs, all it takes is a couple of losing seasons these days and schools will start looking for a replacement.
So this idea that coaches are idiots who can't see that X quarterback is better than Z quarterback doesn't make any sense to me.
Mendenhall and Whittingham certainly aren't flawless coaches. They make poor decisions every game, and they'd be the first to acknowledge that.
But when it comes to choosing players to put out on the field, you can rest assured that they'll play the guys who they feel will give them the best chance of winning every week.
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