Colt Brennan -- WWBWD? (What Would Bill Walsh Do?)

PaT GesualeCorrespondent IApril 25, 2008

Colt Brennan, the record smashing quarterback from the University of Hawaii has a legion of loyal fans.  But Brennan also has his doubters--those who don't believe he has what it takes to succeed in the NFL.

Bill Walsh, known in football circles as “The Genius”, and arguably one of the best, if not THE best NFL coach of all time—drafted, mentored and coached the legendary Joe Montana, as well as Steve Young, both Hall of Famers. He also liked Tom Brady.

So with less than 1 day before the 2008 draft, and considering the multitude of mixed opinions out there regarding Colt Brennan, I have to wonder what Walsh would say about him. Sadly, Walsh passed away last year, and we can’t ask him, but he did leave behind a legacy of coaching philosophy that has helped shape the last 20 years of football.

Former Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders had this to say when applying some of that philosophy to Colt Brennan: “'Bill Walsh used to say the most important attributes for a quarterback are accuracy, courage and intelligence. Those things all override a strong arm, and this kid has them.'”

Okay, so let’s break it down:

First, let’s look at ACCURACY:

During an interview at the Senior Bowl, 49er Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz said that technique and mechanics can be coached—accuracy is God-given; it’s something that can’t be coached.

Brennan set an efficiency rating record in ’06 with 185.96; in ’07, it was 159.85. His pass completion rate in ’06 was 72.5%, and 70.4% in ’07. These statistics are computed with yards, completions, TD’s and interceptions in relation to total passes attempted for each quarterback—so they are quite useful in comparing the accuracy and efficiency of one quarterback against others’.

 Former UH Coach June Jones had this to say “’He can make every throw. He completed close to 70 percent of his passes. I would say 50 percent of the quarterbacks playing in the NFL can't do that against air. He did it in games. He throws them all. He's accurate on the deep balls, the intermediate routes, the short throws.’” If you compare Brennan’s statistics that measure accuracy, to any other quarterback, they are remarkable. However, there seems to be a large population of fans who don’t understand basic statistics, and attribute Brennan’s superior statistics simply to the fact that he threw more passes.

So for simplicity’s sake, let’s compare apples to apples: the Combine was the perfect setting to compare QB prospects under the same conditions. Unfortunately, Matt Ryan chose wait to throw to his own receivers at Boston College’s Pro Day, rather than throw at Indy to unknown receivers. Andre Woodson had a hamstring injury and also did not throw. Nevertheless, Brennan was credited with 100% accuracy in the throwing drills, while I could not find any mention what the others’ scores were.

Honolulu Advertiser writer Stephen Tsai (one of only a few reporters allowed to observe the quarterback/receiver workouts first-hand) wrote this: “Former University of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan completed 20 of 21 of his passes during drills today at the NFL Scouting Combine in the RCA Dome. Brennan was given a 100-percent accuracy mark because his lone incompletion was a chest-high pass that ricocheted off Kansas wideout Marcus Henry's hands.”

Interviewed after conducting Brennan’s workout at his Pro Day in Carson California on April 1, 49er quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner had this to say: “’Colt had a good workout. His throws had a lot of zip. Some people say: Does he have the arm? He has plenty arm. He's very accurate. There's no question he can play at the next level. He can make all of the throws.’"

So how about INTELLIGENCE? In this day it’s recognized that there are multiple kinds of intelligences—traditional IQ is just one measure. Since players’ Wonderlik scores are not publicized, and I have not seen any comparisons of QBs’ multiple intelligences, I am assuming Walsh was referring to on-field intelligence.

Brennan says when starting Pop Warner at the youngest age allowed, his coach looked at him and said, “You’re a quarterback.” And no coach he’s had since had a different opinion—QB is the only position Brennan has ever played.

“’Line up all the great quarterbacks and they all come in different sizes and styles,’ says 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who coached Brennan at the Senior Bowl. ‘First you see if a guy’s accurate and if he can execute when the play works. Then when the play breaks down, can he still make a play? Those are the guys who make it.’”

Does Brennan have this kind of intelligence? You have to look at film from Brennan’s entire football career to get a feel for this—not just from the Sugar Bowl and Senior Bowls—from Pop Warner days through college. It’s Brennan’s ability to ad-lib and connect with his receivers when plays break down—call it a 6th sense, call it intuition , call it intelligence—Brennan has “it”.

COURAGE can take different forms in sports:

Courage to face public and media scrutiny: What draft prospect this year (or even in previous years) has had every aspect of his character and talent as scrutinized as Brennan? Brennan has endured waves of public criticism—much of it, I have observed, based on hearsay, inaccurate reporting, and internet blog “gossip”.

It’s probably fair to say that the criticism of his character began with Brennan’s well publicized incident at the U. of Colorado. To set the record straight: Brennan ended up being convicted of SECOND DEGREE BURGLARY and FIRST DEGREE TRESPASSING, "for not leaving the woman’s room in a timely manner”. Any sexual assault charges were DISMISSED FOR LACK OF EVIDENCE. In addition, Brennan passed his polygraph test that showed he was being truthful when he said the girl had invited him to her room.

Brennan admits he made a mistake, has paid his penalty, and has grown from the experience—his actions since then have been exemplary, and he has become a role model for young boys in Hawaii, even voluntarily visiting a juvenile detention facility near his apartment regularly, along with UH wide receiver Davone Bess. Yet, the general public and the media in general refuse to let this go—mostly out of ignorance.

Brennan’s demeanor is laid back, non-chalant—and he’s been extremely honest and forthright in his answers to the press. Although his transparency is admittedly “refreshing” according to some reporters, it has also been used against him. In his lengthy interview during the combine, Brennan was thanked by one reporter for his frankness, and then was berated by that same reporter who only printed “sound bites” of the interview—making Brennan out to be a whiner, while actual transcripts of the entire interview showed a much different picture.

Yet, instead of becoming defensive and bitter from all this, Brennan has responded with comments like: “I just need to turn all these negatives into positives,””I think all this adversity will make me a better football player,” and “I can’t listen to my critics”. I’d say Brennan’s ability to endure all the scrutiny and criticism—much of which is not based on fact—in an honorable way, indicates a great amount of courage. It is hard to imagine anyone, let alone any draft prospect enduring such scrutiny while maintaining his composure.

Courage to play, even though hurt: Recently we learned that Brennan had injured his hip the first day of Sr. Bowl practice (and he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair it). He “pushed through it” as he says, continuing to work out, earning the respect of his teammates and was voted team captain. He also did well enough in the coaches’ opinions during the week of practice to earn the starting position on game day.

So—Brennan showed up at the Senior Bowl 16 pounds less than his pre-season weight of 201, after having 2 bouts of stomach flu just prior to, got hurt the first day of practice, and yet still CHOSE TO PLAY in the Senior Bowl—while, Matt Ryan and Brian Brohm—the number 1 and 2 rated QB’s (who were completely healthy) chose not to participate at the last minute. I’d say Brennan showed a lot of courage.

Courage to keep at it, never quitting, always believing there’s a chance: Come back wins—21 to 0 in the first quarter, 28-7 at the half against University of Washington, and an overtime win against San Jose State—Brennan believes his team can still win, no matter how dire it looks. Never give up, never say die—even in the Sugar Bowl after 8 sacks, being rushed and knocked down, Brennan only left the game when he was forced by coaches to stay out because of a possible concussion. I’d say it takes courage for a QB to do those things.

Courage to do the right thing, even to the detriment of the start if his career: “Brennan said he was only told recently that he would require surgery.  His agent, Bruce Tollner,  said there was some debate whether to release the information. But  it was Brennan who insisted on notifying National Football League officials.  The 50 or so scouts attending Pro Day were told of Brennan's condition right before the weigh-in session. Each received a letter detailing the chronology of Brennan's injury and treatment." "'I didn't want to hide anything,' Brennan said.  'I wanted to be honest.'"

“’They said because you’ve been pushing it you haven’t given it a chance to heal. They said we can do a very small procedure, clean it out, fix it up; you’ll be down for about two months and be better than ever. I just talked it over and went over everything and I thought, “Let’s just do it.” I could sit here and hide the injury and do what some people might do, hide it from coaches, get drafted and then deal with it down the road. But that’s a no win situation for anyone. Maybe this hurts my draft chances, maybe it doesn’t, but   I wanted to show some integrity …’”

After the NFL Scouting Combine,  interest increased in Brennan. Now, Brennan acknowledged, teams will have to accept that he will not be at full strength for at least eight weeks.

’I know people were writing I was up there until the Georgia game,’ Brennan said, referring to UH's blowout loss in the Sugar Bowl. ‘When everyone thought I would be a high-draft choice, I told myself it only matters what you do after you get drafted. Now that I'm in this position, it still holds true.

All I need is a team to give me a chance,’ Brennan said. ‘I know that faith and just the way my life has turned out, I know I'll be on that football field on Sundays.  I just know it.’"

Courage, determination, and perseverance—a never quit, but BELIEVE attitude that helped lift his team to spectacular come-from-behind wins, and an undefeated season. Courage to do the right thing, even though it might be detrimental to himself. Courage to take full responsibility for losses instead of blaming someone else. Courage to play in the Senior Bowl, even though he was hurt, and 20 pounds under his normal weight due to illness. On the field or off—Colt Brennan has set himself apart in the courage category.

So here’s what I think Bill Walsh would say: “If you’re thinking about ‘stealing’ Brennan in a later round, think twice. Brennan is a special quarterback, the kind that doesn’t come around very often—the kind with the accuracy, intelligence, and courage it takes to win football games and take teams to the next level. He might be gone before you know it.”


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