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Savran: Before you give up on Stewart, take a good look around

Sunday, January 14, 2001

Of quarterbacks and coordinators...

If quarterback is the most important position on offense, perhaps on an entire football team, take a close look at those playing the position in the conference championships today. Three of the four entrusted to lead, or , at least, not get in the way of their clubs making it to the promised land, came within an interception or incompletion of being out of the league.


Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.


Trent Dilfer was a laughingstock in Tampa Bay. Kerry Collins was a pariah. No one wanted to touch him. Personal problems, inability to get along with teammates, you name it. Had he flopped on Broadway, his NFL show would have closed permanently. Rich Gannon has played for more teams than an international spy and didn't come into his own until he found Jon Gruden and/or Jon Gruden found him.

What does this say about what you need at the position to win in the NFL? What does this say about the quality of the quarterbacks in the NFL? What does this say about having patience with quarterbacks, painful and trying as that might be? Perhaps a word to the wise for Kordell Stewart's doubters.

The unfortunate death of Joe Gilliam brought to light the advancement in the area of black quarterbacks. What was once a novelty is becoming virtually unnoticeable. Of the 31 teams in the league, eight had starting quarterbacks who were black. Many others were employed as occasional starters or relief pitchers. The sole issue has become: Can the guy play?

This has also spotlighted the trend of mobile quarterbacks. Clearly, Indianapolis isn't likely to sour on Peyton Manning because he is white and isn't terribly mobile. Ditto Cleveland and Tim Couch.

But then neither Charlie Batch nor Jeff Blake run all that well, either. Bottom line: You cannot nor will not win if your quarterback's biggest weapon is his legs. If he can't beat you with his arm, how well he runs doesn't matter. A defense must fear the pass first. Perhaps a word to the wise for Kordell's boosters.

Note to Michael Vick. As boring as Blacksburg, Va., may be, you'd be best served by staying there another year. You might someday become an outstanding NFL quarterback. I'm betting it won't be anytime soon. I've seen you throw. Read the above paragraph.

The Heisman Trophy doesn't guarantee a quarterback's success in the big time. Check the past dozen years. Andre Ware, Ty Detmer, Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Danny Wuerffel. Make it a six-pack of pro failure by adding Chris Weinke to the list. You can't make it in this league if your delivery reminds folks of Kent Tekulve.

Offensive coordinator Les Steckel was surgically removed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers" coaching staff because (a) the Buccaneers didn't score a touchdown in their playoff loss to the Eagles (b) Keyshawn Johnson didn't like him (c) Shaun King didn't like him (d) Steckel isn't a cool-sounding name (e) The Buccaneers' offense stunk before Steckel got there, which was just this season.

I suspect all but (e) was considered. I don't know if Les Steckel is a good or horrible offensive coordinator. I do know that he was good enough to run the offense of a Super Bowl team (Tennessee) a year ago. I also know that he was good enough that Tampa Bay set a team record for most points scored in a season, although given its history, I suppose that's damning with faint praise.

I know that Johnson's mouth is bigger than his game, and that he consistently saves his most unproductive performances for the most important games. I know that King is, at best, modestly talented at this point in his career. I also know that the Buccaneers' offensive line isn't nearly good enough to play the kind of offensive football they try to play.

Nevertheless, Steckel was fired because he didn't solve the unsolvable. This isn't the same as Bill Cowher filing divorce papers against Kevin Gilbride. It would appear that irreconcilable differences were the primary reasons for that separation. But did Tampa once consider its players? Not to diminish the importance of the coaches' function, but I'll tell you what. I'll take the best players, you take the best coordinators, and I'll win most of the time.

Some choice they've given us. Art Modell vs. Al Davis. Famine vs. pestilence. Gas chamber or electric chair. Brussels sprouts or pureed squash. Yuck.

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