Earlier this week, Lisa Horne brought up an interesting idea . Did Urban Meyer fail to prepare Tim Tebow for the future? The future being, of course, the NFL.
It’s an idea that rustled some feathers, but also brought up some valuable points. Among those, what is the responsibility of a college head coach? Is it to simply win games, or is it to teach kids and help them get ready for the next level? A mixture of both?
Before we get into that, let’s get this out of the way: How the hell did Meyer “fail” Tebow?
Tebow’s biggest flaw as a next-level prospect from the outset was his throwing mechanics. He had hardly played college football and people doubted the way he delivered the ball. Among the various knocks was his side-arm delivery. This is often a bad habit of an undersized quarterback, but Tebow stands at 6'3". This limits his ability to throw the ball among bigger linemen because the ball is easy to bat down at the line of scrimmage.
The other criticisms? His slow delivery, his footwork, the spirals he threw, his arm strength, and how he carried the ball too low. Oh, and did I mention that he struggles taking snaps under center? No? Well, he does.
So again, how is that a failure of Meyer's? Well, the idea is that as a college coach, why didn’t he change dear old Timmy's mechanics? He knew the criticisms just as any fan did, but he never improved Tebow's delivery. Those same imperfections he had as a freshman, he has now as a graduated senior entering the NFL draft.
"You're going to have to change everything he does," said Brian Billick , a coach-turned-TV analyst. "He has a windup delivery. He carries the ball too low. And he needs to read progressions. He’s a helluva player, but how do you make him a first-round pick when you have to change so much?"
Meyer had failed to improve Tebow’s draft stock, and some, like Lisa, point the finger squarely at the Gators head coach.
When you recruit a kid out of high school, you know you are getting a raw product. Amidst the star ratings and hype, we still have a young adult who hasn’t fully developed physically and mentally and, along those lines, in their ability to perform on the field. That’s fine. These kids will come to school a semester before football even starts to get a handle on things and be drilled, drilled, and drilled some more.
All this in the name of progress and developing them into an elite athlete that professional teams salivate for.
Somewhere along the way, they go to class, take tests, and hopefully grow as a person. Never mind that, this is the age of the athlete-student, in that order. It’s unfortunate, but reality isn’t always an easy pill to swallow. Sometimes it’s like that damn pretzel that nearly killed the president.
So there is little doubt that Meyer failed Tebow in the department of fundamentals, but can you argue with success at the level you currently play?
Meyer’s Florida Gators run a spread offense that has been lambasted and ripped to shreds by NFL scouts and analysts. The formation is usually run out of shotgun—a key reason why quarterbacks from the spread often struggle under center—and focuses on quick decisions and short-to-intermediate passes. A spread offense can nullify size and strength by using superior speed and agility to jab through collegiate defenses like a fencer.
Unfortunately, the spread doesn’t translate as well to the professional ranks because there is a melding of speed, size, strength, and agility across the ranks of the players. You no longer have the hulking behemoths that just outmuscle people and get away on power alone.
Instead, you have some of the most gifted athletes to grace the planet. Defensive linemen that are 6'3" or taller, weigh over 280 pounds, and can chase down running backs with their sub-4.6 speed. The speed differences are remarkable, but it’s really no surprise when you consider that there are over 120 FBS teams—not to mention the numerous FCS ranks and teams within—for the 32 NFL teams to cherry pick.
Those key differences are part of why Tebow’s career is a double-edged sword: Timmy is often regarded as one of the greatest college football players ever, yet he isn’t highly regarded as a future NFL quarterback, partly because of the offense he played in that helped him be as successful as he was.
There is no secret that throughout his college years, Tebow did one thing exceptionally well: win. In fact, he won so well that in his four years as a Florida Gator, he helped the team win two national championships, 48 collegiate games (35-6 as a starter), two SEC conference championships, and even grabbed himself a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore—the first ever.
However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that he also excelled as a quarterback. Yes, you know he powered his team to victories, but I am talking about his accuracy, his passing efficiency, his touchdowns, and his interceptions. In his legendary career, Tebow never threw more than six interceptions in a single season and he accounted for 88 touchdowns through the air.
He completed 66.43 percent of his passes for 9,285 yards. Junior Sam Bradford, meanwhile, holds a 67.64 career completion percentage and has thrown nearly 100 less passes. Tebow also has a 170.79 career passing efficiency rating and, among his peers, only Bradford is higher. For a kid that has poor passing mechanics, it hasn’t helped opposing defenses much, and yet all of these numbers don’t take into account his other strength—running the ball.
To say the 6'3", 245-pound quarterback was an effective rusher would be an enormous understatement. Timmy plowed through defenses, racking up 57 rushing touchdowns (highest ever in the SEC) and 2,947 net yards on the ground. Even more impressive is that he earned a 4.25 yards per carry average over his collegiate years without a single running back accounting for more than 770 net yards in a season. His Heisman-winning season in 2007 saw Tebow pass for 32 touchdowns and run for 23, becoming the first player to ever account for 20 touchdowns passing and running in a single season.
On top of all the accolades and records, Tim also played in one of the toughest conference in FBS football—the SEC. Often times we see quarterbacks that succeed in the college ranks in lesser conferences fail to project highly in the NFL because the level of competition they played against wasn’t as tough. However, Tebow doesn’t have that flaw. He played in what many consider the toughest conference, year in and year out.
He rose to the occasion at Florida, becoming a one-man wrecking crew that defenses struggled to contain despite arguably having inferior offensive talent in the skill positions around him for most of his career. The lone exception is the remarkable Percy Harvin, who became the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year this season.
Tebow was more than just the do-everything player for the Florida Gators. He was the heart and soul of the team—perhaps even as a backup freshman. Timmy could be seen on the sidelines, getting his team focused and ready. He even talked to his defense at times, getting their minds clear and focused on the task at hand.
In 2008, after a failed 4th-and-1 conversion by Tebow culminated in a loss against underdog Ole Miss, he made one of the most famous speeches to ever occur during a post-game press conference. Simply dubbed “The Promise,” the words, immortalized on a plaque at the Florida Gators’ football facility, are below:
“To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I’m sorry. I’m extremely sorry,” he said . “We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida’s never done here.
“But I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season and you’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season. God bless.”
That season, the Gators blazed forward and won the national championship, and the speech lived on. Tebow has clearly accomplished a lot in his four years and, even as a junior, showed he knew what the college game was all about.
“You’re dealing with 18-to-22 year-olds,” said Tebow , after an Arkansas regular season victory in 2008. “Everything’s based on momentum, confidence, and that swagger that people talk about.”
For all the intangibles—a born winner, a motivator, a leader, and the knack to make a key play when you need it most—Tebow still has his doubters.
“I love his intangibles and the type of kid he is,” said one GM to CBS Sports , “but he has a long delivery, and he probably doesn’t know how to read defenses. He’s inconsistent with his accuracy, and you have to question whether he can anticipate in the pocket. Plus, he never played under center. I’d have to put him on the board to see how smart he is, but I can’t see him going in the first round. No way.”
However, Tebow and Meyer aren’t actually deaf to those opinions, then and now. In fact, in 2009, Tebow and Meyer actually took strides to eliminate some of the “flaws” that Superman had. Enter new quarterbacks coach for Florida, Scott Loeffler.
Loeffler’s pedigree is impressive, to say the least. In his six years at Michigan with Lloyd Carr from 2002-2007, Loeffler taught Brian Greese, Tom Brady, and Chad Henne the fundamentals and helped to prepare them to be a better player then and in the future. He spent a brief stint with the Detroit Lions, but had also been familiar with Superman from past experiences.
“When Timmy and I departed during recruiting, I told him we’d cross paths again,” Loeffler told USA Today . “He agreed. We just didn’t know it would be in his fourth year in college. I’m just happy we got to cross paths a little earlier than expected. It’s good stuff.”
Loeffler even appears to have had an influence in Tebow coming back for his senior year, despite having already accomplished so much in his college career to that point. The real question was what they would change and how much it would matter.
The three areas they worked on were Tebow’s footwork and drops, taking snaps under center, and keeping his arm closer to his body as he throws, tweaking ever-so-slightly the awkward three-quarters delivery to more of an over the top pass—or attempting to.
Did it work?
In Tebow’s senior year, he completed 67.83 percent of his passes, an improvement over his first two years as a starter (64.42 percent in 2008, 66.85 percent in 2007). Then again, without argument, his sophomore season is still his most statistically impressive, despite the team record of 9-4 that year.
Also of note, Tebow ran more this season than his previous three, accounting for his highest net yard rushing total. For everything they worked on, he didn’t show a vast improvement. However, that was within a year and really just an offseason. Just imagine if they had perhaps taken things seriously upon Tebow’s arrival at The Swamp.
“Coach Meyer said just don’t screw him up,” Loeffler told USA Today. Meyer reiterated that point to ESPN. “It’s called adapting,” Meyer said . “It’s not a wholesale change, but I was concerned about it. I watched it closely. I’m always thinking, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t change it.’” However, even amidst the fear of change, it seems everyone knew what was at stake. ”We have to do Tim justice,” Meyer said . “If it’s going to help him, we owe it to him to do it.”
So, we are left with a quarterback that still has fundamental flaws in his game, but who is to blame? Quotes from that same article detailing the plans to help Tebow in the offseason shed light on the situation—and perhaps college football.
“Game one, all preparation and concern for the NFL ceases,” Meyer said. The focus is on the present, not the future. Tebow stated a similar ideal, “Our goal is to win three national titles in four years. That is the goal and nothing else even comes close to that. I’m only going to focus on the things that I need to do to help my team win.”
This is evidence enough to see that Tebow and Meyer were looking at their current predicament and not looking down the road, at least during the season. That is admirable in the age of unpaid college athletes who put their bodies on the line to play the game. Don’t the fans, schools, and coaches owe a bit more to the players, though?
Shouldn’t we want players like Tebow to go on and have successful careers at the next level? To not only win during their college years, but also be setup for the future? Isn’t that the whole purpose of college? To refine your skills, learn new ones, and be ready to make the transition.
Somewhere down the line, we missed that part of the equation. While celebrating his present, we forgot about his future. This extends not just to Tebow, though, but to all players—we use and abuse them for our amusement, and we are largely indifferent about where they end up.
Now we have a rude awakening. Tebow, one our most celebrated—and even reviled—college players, has been one of the hottest topics of discussion in sports. Draft gurus like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, Jr. will tell us that Tebow projects as a tight end or a halfback, that Tebow will go in the second or third round, and just doesn’t seem like he will have the brilliant career he had in college.
Yet Tebow can correct a lot of those flaws. As CBS Sports points out , Kevin Kolb and Vince Young had a lot of trouble taking snaps under center too, but after being coached by Jerry Rhome, it was no longer an issue. Even Tim is willing to change, telling USA Today after the Senior Bowl, “I’m definitely open to improving my fundamentals.”
“I think I showed that by working and improving every day.”
Every day should have started a lot sooner for Tebow, though. He just hopes the NFL owners and coaches aren’t as shortsighted as he was. Then again, perhaps we can all learn a lesson here and quit worrying about the next few months and think about the next few years. Tebow isn’t likely to be the best rookie quarterback, and where he is drafted will reflect that, but if his main flaws are fundamentals—something correctable by coaching and drilling—who knows what the future holds?
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