Quarterback is a solitary position.
On the football field, the stress and responsibility of running an effective, yet efficient, offense falls solely on one man's shoulders. It's the only position where, if even the slightest mistake is made, the consequences can be dire.
No other teammate is subjected to the type of burden associated with the quarterback's role, paving the way for one of sport's most powerful dynamics: the quarterback-head-coach relationship.
The bond has cultivated legendary results at the professional level, as pairs such as Tom Brady-Bill Belichick (140 wins), Dan Marino-Don Shula (116) and Terry Bradshaw-Chuck Noll (107) have earned recognition for being some of the most prosperous relationships in sports. At the collegiate level, the affiliation has become less and less common, with players' departures (often early) for the NFL cutting short many partnerships.
At Texas A&M, a culmination of unprecedented circumstances has led to head coach Kevin Sumlin and star quarterback Johnny Manziel forming one of college football's most unique and highly visible player-coach relationships.
Behind Manziel's revolutionary 2012 Heisman-winning performance and Sumlin's youthful charisma, the two have formed a strong bond unlike any other around college football.
According to Sumlin, their quarterback-head-coach marriage is rooted in the similar expectations and pressure, both internally and externally, that naturally come with each position.
"Every coach has a different style of dealing with players," Sumlin said. "I'm a firm believer that, as a head coach, your relationship with the starting quarterback has got to be a very unique one. Unlike a lot of the other players on the team, the quarterback, much like the head coach, gets way too much credit when you win, but most of the blame when you lose. The feeling that you have—the sense of responsibility that you have—is a lot different than with a lot of other positions."
Manziel's magnetic personality during the offseason transformed the 20-year-old into a media sensation overnight, as he soon found himself with his very own "Manziel Watch" on ESPN's ticker, and as the focus of pundits' criticism across the nation.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner sought refuge in football, turning to Sumlin for counsel both on and off the field. Even with the 2013 season underway, though, difficulties arose as friction from the concluded autograph scandal boiled over.
In the early minutes of A&M's season-opening win over Rice, Manziel and two Owls defenders began to jaw at each other following an Aggie touchdown, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the volatile quarterback.
The result: a live broadcast of Sumlin benching his star for the remainder of the game.
"He had a couple touchdown drives, a couple scrambles and a foolish penalty in the end," Sumlin said during the post-game press conference. "No matter what the comments are, he's going to face that every week with people chirping. That's not okay, and obviously I addressed that on the sideline right after the play. That's something he's going to have to deal with every week."
Less than a week later, however, Manziel and Sumlin showed the strength of their bond as the head coach spoke of his discussion with the quarterback on how to control his passion rather than unleash it, noting his emotional play was the factor that "separated Johnny from a lot of other players."
"Anybody who watches Johnny knows that he plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion in this game," Sumlin said. "It's my job as a coach to keep that passion and energy going, but make it positive. What you don't want to do is kill that emotion and that passion, because I think it's what separates Johnny from a lot of different players. What we can do is sit down and say, 'Listen, that same emotion, that same passion, can be used positively and here's how you can do that.'"
While Manziel and Sumlin's relationship may be unique, the former Houston head coach said he makes it a priority to create a strong bond with his team's starting quarterback, just as he did with former Cougar star Case Keenum. Due to the immense strain quarterbacks are under daily, Sumlin said the need for communication is vital.
"The ability for you to be able to communicate with that young man in a different manner is important," Sumlin said. "Whether it was here or Houston, the relationship I've had with [Johnny] and Case [Keenum] is a very different one because of the stress level they're under, not only during the game, but the whole time. From a relationship standpoint, I would categorize it as a close one."
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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