Coachspeak: Handling Quarterbacks

During the football season, editor Jim Young will be having regular chats with former UNC head coach John Bunting. In this edition, Bunting talks about the current quarterback issues causing ACC coaches to lose what little sleep they get.

Q:I remember a time when coaches never wanted to use two quarterbacks. They wanted one set guy. That was the big thing. Nowadays it seems like everybody and his brother has a two-quarterback system. How do you feel about using two quarterbacks?

A: I think that it can be done, but it has to be the right situation with the right personnel and a system that’s easily understood. That’s one of the problems, unless you’re down at Georgia Tech and running a system that’s so organized. It’s such a pattern of set operation for that quarterback. Coach Johnson can have two quarterbacks in that system because the system is never going to change..

When you’re in something like a West Coast offense, those offenses that get more complicated create problems for two quarterbacks. For Virginia Tech, if they want to use Tyrod Taylor and then throw Glennon in there, it’s two basically different schemes. So scheme can get in the way of a two-headed quarterback.

Q: I get the sense you’re not the biggest fan of having two quarterbacks play in the same game on a regular basis.

A: I do not despise, but I dislike the two-quarterback system. I think there is a time and place for it, but I do not like it. And I don’t think it’s an effective way to run an offense. So the answer is pretty obvious with me.

Q: Despite those reservations, you’ve gone with two quarterbacks before.

A: When I had the two-quarterback system it was for a different set of reasons. It worked extremely well with Ronald Curry and Darian Durant. We rotated them every two series. It came to the point where we wanted to relieve Ronald Curry of some of the burden. The fans and all the other pressures were getting to him. For Ronald, I think he got some relief. He knew he was going to play. He knew he was going to be the starter. For Darian, it was a chance to play with relatively no consequences. He was going to keep playing. Darian was not a great practice player, but he was a gamer. He had tremendous instincts.

So I had a great situation with Ronald and Darian. Then, when I had Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton, I had a bad situation. We didn’t want to have two. We wanted to have one. And we couldn’t get one between the two. Cam was too young. I think he freely admitted that after the great game he had last week against Miami. And Joe was just not ready to operate in the offense that we had.

Q: Why do you think the two-quarterback system has grown so prevalent these days? Boston College is using it, Miami is using it, Florida State is using it. Is this a product of the success Florida had using Tim Tebow and Chris Leak together?

A: Teams are doing it because the one guy doesn’t have enough. He doesn’t bring enough to the table. So they have to bring in someone else. Tebow was just another way for Urban Meyer to run another piece of his offense. Chris Leak didn’t have the qualities that Meyer used at Utah to run with Alex Smith. So Meyer threw Tebow in there to do some of the things he had with Smith.

With Cam and Joe Dailey, we had a competition during the spring, we had a competition during training camp. Neither one of them, we thought, was good enough to win on his own. We needed to have other players step up and help them. What looked good on paper – having the two of them compete and having the two of them start the season side-by-side, having one start and the other come in and play – just turned out to be a disaster. Because neither one of them were ready.

Q: What you said about Ronald Curry and the fan pressure reminds me a bit of what’s happening at Clemson with Cullen Harper. It seems as if Tommy Bowden really does feel Harper is the No. 1 quarterback, but the fans’ clamoring for Willy Korn appears to be having an effect on Harper’s play.

A: It happens. It was incredible for me to hear boos in the crowd for a guy like Ronald Curry, who brought so much to the University of North Carolina, in two sports. But I heard it. And it bothered me. And I know it bothered Ronald to an extent. But we worked it out so that Ronald left with a real good taste in his mouth. You’ve got to do what’s best for the football program. If you think this guy, Cullen Harper, is THE guy, then you’ve got to stick with him.

People talk about the ACC and how it’s weak right now. It starts at quarterback. The good teams usually have a quarterback that is consistent. He doesn’t have to win the game by himself, but he’s consistent.

Q: You mentioned that Durant was not always a good practice player but was someone who was able to turn it on during games. That sounds kind of like Chris Turner up at Maryland. This almost got Ralph Friedgen in trouble early because coming out of training camp Friedgen felt that Jordan Steffy was his No. 1 option. But during the games, it looks like Steffy tightens up while Turner turns it on.

How do you handle that? You want your players to take practice seriously and that’s usually your best gauge for whether a player is ready.

A: Knowing Ralph like I do, I can fully appreciate what he was going through with Steffy and Turner. I did the Maryland-Cal game on the radio for ISP. You could see in pregame warmup that Turner is a character. Ralph is an old-school coach. And Steffy has been a player who has never been as productive as Ralph probably had hoped. But Steffy is a first-class model for what you want in your quarterback for everything – except production.

Darian was a guy who would not look good in practice and would frustrate everyone. But then he’d go out and play well. It brought a lot of stress to the coaching staff. Ralph has got to manage the stress. Right now that team is back in business because of probably, a bit of luck, with Steffy getting injured and Turner being able to play within the system. The game plan for the Cal game had very simple passing – not very many opportunities for Turner to throw the ball any place else except to a designated receiver. You’ve got to make that quarterback do what you want him to do and give him very few choices.

Q: Georgia Tech named Jaybo Shaw its starter at quarterback, but for a while there was a question of how late Josh Nesbitt could come back to practice this week and still be able to start. Did you have a drop-dead time during the week where, if the starter’s not practicing by this time we’re going with the other guy? Even if that starter is a veteran who knows the playbook and doesn’t necessarily need that much practice?

A: There were times with Darian Durant where he would not practice on either Tuesday or Wednesday. But he needed to practice on Thursday, even if it was limited. It was my last day for an experienced guy. If it was a young guy like Nesbitt, if he’s not practicing on Tuesday then I’m going with the other guy.