NCAA- With the last three Heisman trophy winners, all winning the most prestigious award in college football for schools for whom “they did not choose” coming out of High School, I thought a deeper dive might shed some light on several Head Coaches in college and their –player personnel- abilities. Being a master of X’s and O’s is one thing but since college coaches essentially act as their own General Managers too, let’s connect a few dots and throw a grade on their ability to evaluate and manage their own team’s rosters, at the games most important position- QUARTERBACK.
Some of the biggest and best programs in today’s game have made some risky and high-profile decisions concerning the face of their teams. Without speaking to the coaches to fill in the blanks, here is a look thru a former NFL GM’s and independent set of eyes. LSU’s Joe Burrow, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, and Jalen Hurts, Former Georgia QB’s Jacob Eason and Justin Fields are all part of this movement of “if at first you don’t succeed- move on”.
Let’s look at Baker Mayfield first. Walk-on at Texas Tech in 2013, spurned other schools offers to stay at home in Texas, earned starting job as a true freshman, got injured, then semi-replaced before gaining his job back toward season’s end. An adventure filled first year without a doubt. Then came the “depends on who you believe” part. TT Head Coach, Kliff Kingsbury hesitated on a scholarship commitment at seasons end and that sent Baker looking for another opportunity. I get it, unfortunately it came via the hated state to the north so things got messy but eventually got worked out. I also get the Kingsbury angle. He had in the same QB room, Davis Webb, who later was a 4th round pick in the NFL and Patrick Mahomes (who you may have heard of). Even though I would have committed a “free ride” to my current starting QB, at the time, I’m willing to give Kliffy a pass just because of who else he had at the time, even though Baker went on to great heights and hardware at Oklahoma. Kingsbury gets a B-minus but only because of the Mahomes factor.
Kyler Murray’s set of circumstances was a bit different but to me, totally understandable from Texas A &M Head Coach Kevin Sumlin’s perspective, and this key roster decision. Murray left after the 2015’ season, one in which he had competed and lost the starting job to Kyle Allen (current NFL backup QB in Carolina and now Washington). Kyler did have success after reclaiming the job during a late season window by throwing and running for over 100 yds in a game, including throwing for a TD to put him in a special category with Cam Newton as only SEC QBS to do so in first start. Sumlin had chosen Allen, at 6’3’, a prototype NFL QB in size and Murray (at 5’10’ and 200 lbs) was fearful that this would happen again, if he stayed. Him leaving had more to do with Murray himself and the fit, then Sumlin, the GM, not wanting him. Hard to fault anyone here. Murry sat out 16’ due to transfer rules, backed up Mayfield in 17’ then won his own Heisman in 18’ and became the first pick in the NFL draft shortly thereafter, for ironically Kingsbury, in the NFL. Sumlin gets a- semi pass- and a C grade.
For the University of Georgia and its Head Coach Kirby Smart, not so much. This one is a head scratcher. He chose his quarterback for the last two seasons, Jake Fromm over both Jacob Eason, who left to go back home after being replaced, due to an injury, early in his Soph year to attend the University of Washington and Justin Fields (who was the number one recruit in the country) who a year later transferred to Ohio St. Eason won the starting job in Athens his freshman year 2016’ and was very respectable. I was on the practice field at Georgia that year and remember being wowed by his size, his arm and his release. Had all the makings of a top-notch NFL first round pick. His star faded somewhat at UW playing in a suspect offense with mixed results but was drafted by Indianapolis this year to learn from Phillip Rivers. He might just end up being a starter in the NFL in time. Fields got a waiver to play right away in 2019 at Ohio St and is being touted as the favorite to win the Heisman in 20’, if we have a season. Coach Smart chose the local kid, with very good intangibles, in Fromm, but also the less talented, with less upside. Sure, Georgia won games with Fromm by choosing SAFE over DYNAMIC- but most talent evaluators, even some close to the Georgia program, would chose Fromm third of this group. I’d bet Kirby would like a “do-over” here. Grade C-minus, at best.
Ohio State has been on both ends of this transfer dilemma. Still Head Coach at the time, Urban Meyer struck out badly by letting this year’s Heisman winner Joe Burrow walk out the door to LSU when he chose Dwayne Haskins as his starter two years ago in Columbus. Burrow became one of the most sought-after talents in recent years in the NFL after 2 years in Baton Rouge and was the first pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Haskins was a first round pick as well but no talent evaluator at the NFL level is going to say, oh ya- “that one made sense”. Haskins led a very talented Buckeye team to success but is not a difference maker and is now fighting to hang on to a job with a new head coach in Washington who just signed a familiar backup from Carolina to upgrade the position. The earlier mentioned Kyle Allen (who beat out Kyler Murray at Texas A&M), none-the-less. Meyer gets a “D” for that GM decision. Current Head Coach Ryan Day is trying to right the ship with Justin Fields (our Georgia transfer). Time will tell but that move looks like an “A” at this point.
Is your head spinning yet? If not consider this. Nick Saban replaced his starting QB Jalan Hurts (who had already won one national championship for him) at Alabama in the second half of the National Championship game two years ago. He later became a grad transfer himself to Oklahoma, where he honed his passing skills and became a 2nd round pick. This, Saban move was questioned by everyone, including me who was at the Natty, in person. It turned out to be a genius move, when Tua Tagovailoa took over the game, won a championship and went on to take the QB position at Alabama to new heights. GM Saban grade- “A”.
In summary, here is my take-away.
1. Saban is still the KING, probably why he garners HC/GM responsibilities if he ever comes back to the NFL.
2. Lincoln Riley, offensive system at Oklahoma is the best to develop QB’s (now if he could just find a defense).
3. Urban Meyer isn’t perfect after all
4. Kirby Smart might need a good evaluator/personnel guy in a back room somewhere.
5. Kliff Kingsbury can recruit.
Look for more QB transfers to fill our TV’s this fall, if we have a next fall. KJ Costello, transferred to Mississippi St from Stanford in hopes to be the next Gardner Minshew for new coach Mike Leach. Look for him to have a big year. If USC QB JT Daniels elects to move, in portal now, but might stay and compete at USC, will be one to watch as well. He was the starter there before injury derailed a promising early career. And Kirby Smart at UGA gets a chance at redemption with Grad transfer from Wake Forest Jamie Newman. As The World turns- to be continued….