That's the advice of Mike Holmgren—Super Bowl-winning coach and a former team architect—to the QB-needy teams considering drafting a passer in May. Will the Texans, Jags, Browns, Bucs and Vikings listen? Plus, reader mail
RENTON, Wash. — Mike Holmgren has been where so many coaches and team architects are, 23 mornings before the 2014 NFL Draft. He has been wondering where his starting quarterback would come from. So it seemed logical to ask him Monday: Approaching a draft in which every quarterback is a question mark and there are better players all over the board, what do you do if you really need a quarterback?
"You've got to take one,'' Holmgren said Monday over lunch here, a few long spirals from the Seahawks' training facility.
"You've got to, unfortunately."
In Green Bay in 1992, Holmgren had just gotten the job as Packers coach, and GM Ron Wolf wanted to trade for a backup quarterback who drank too much, and Wolf asked Holmgren what he thought of Brett Favre. Wolf pulled the trigger, but Holmgren approved the trade, because he didn't think he had a quarterback of the future on his roster. When Holmgren went to Seattle in 1999, he had a choice of either drafting a quarterback of the future or dealing for one, and he chose to trade for Matt Hasselbeck, who led Seattle to multiple playoff berths. In 2010, when he went to Cleveland as club president, Holmgren oversaw the drafting of Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden, neither of whom played well enough to win the job—and both are gone now.
"Somebody in that group can play, I feel sure of that," Holmgren said of the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class. "You list them, you evaluate them, you discuss them as a scouting and coaching group, and you pick one. Now—and this is very, very important—once he's with you, you never, ever let anyone believe he's not the right guy, not the quarterback of the future. In the building, obviously, that's a given. But in public too. Every time you talk about him, he's your guy.
"In Green Bay, remember when Brett was really struggling, and I held a coaches' meeting and took a vote on who should start—Favre or [Mark] Brunell? We were in the coaches' meeting, and Favre had done something stupid the last game, and Brunell came in and played by the numbers and played well. And I said, 'We're going to go around the room and tell me what you think. [Quarterbacks coach] Steve Mariucci wanted Favre. A lot of the other coaches, good football coaches, voted for Brunell. I said thanks. I went down, thought about it, called [Favre] in the next morning, told him he was the guy. I told him, 'We're either going to the top of the mountain together or we're going to the dumpster together. But we're in this together.' That's what you have to do. I'm convinced of it. Absolutely convinced.
"But what that can mean, however, and it's scary, is it can mean if it fails, you fail, and you lose your job. But that's part of it. You've got to be willing to pick a guy and be behind him. Coach your a-- off, fix what needs to be fixed, and you might not know what you have after one year or two years, but you'll know after three years. You've got to give him a real chance."
Words to the wise—for Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Minnesota.
Now for your email:
UCONN HAS A BAD GRAD RATE. With the caveat of being a proud, 3rd-generation Boston College alum out of the way, I think it's great that you're a proud Nutmegger as well as Ohio University alum. That said, I think you should list the other first-place finish for the UConn men's basketball team: the worst six-year graduation rate of the entire field of 64 schools. Casting aspersions at BC with such pettiness is way below your usual high standard of writing. Hat-tip to the Boston Globe on the stat.
—P.J. McNealy, Boston College, Class of '90
That's a good point, P.J. UConn should be ashamed of its graduation rate. It's a valid statistic to point out. But UConn has been allowed to field a team to play college basketball and played well enough in 2011 and 2014 to win the national championship. That gives the men's team four national titles in the past 15 years. And the women's team has nine national titles in the past two decades. It is amazing to me that there are not conferences tripping over themselves to retain the best combined college basketball programs over the past 15 years and make them members. As far as the slap at BC: I'm simply pointing out that the ACC chose BC over UConn, and Boston College in recent history has been a bad basketball team and UConn the best in America—not to mention the UConn women winning all the time. You don't think it's logical to ask whether the ACC fathers wonder if they messed up excluding UConn?
ANOTHER JERRY JONES CRITIC CHECKS IN. It feels like Jerry Jones has received a pass from the media in how he runs his team. At what point do we view him as Al Davis 2.0? He is surviving on the three rings from the 1990s. How much of that was his influence? It seems he's made multiple missteps while not garnering the same outrage/disbelief of moves, similar to Dan Snyder.
—DT, San Diego
I hear the criticism of Jones all the time, DT, and you would too if you lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Jones is a marked man by many in the area. There's no way he should be treated as the latter-day Al Davis, though. For the last decade of Davis' life, the Raiders were a total mess, consistently in the bottom three or five teams in football. Look at each franchise since 2003: Dallas has had two losing seasons and made the playoffs four times. Oakland hasn't had a winning season in the last 11 years, and hasn't made the playoffs once. I understand the frustration with Jones—I would be frustrated too, if I were a Cowboys' fan and my team could never get over the hump.
ON HALL OF FAME CRITERIA. Sincere condolences on the loss of your brother. Less importantly, a thought popped into my head the other day. Does the committee ever discuss ex-players' other contributions to the game in deciding Hall of Fame worthiness? I'm thinking of those like Pat Summerall, Kurt Warner, probably many others, who were good players in their own right, then went on to have careers which contributed to the game in other ways. Maybe some of the NFL office people like Gene Washington too. Anyway, not saying any of those specific examples are HOF worthy, but wondering if a person's total contribution is considered, or do they have to make it in one particular aspect?
Scott, we are asked to consider players for election to the Hall based solely on their playing careers. But I cannot tell you that when Dick LeBeau's candidacy as a player came up several years ago that many in the room didn't think of LeBeau's impressive résumé as a defensive coordinator and how important he has been in some of the imaginative pass-rush schemes that have been copied by a lot of coaches on all levels of football. I believe similar consideration was given to John Madden when he came up for entry and we were asked to judge him as a coach only; Madden's contributions to the game, through his broadcasting and his video game, paint a picture of one of the most significant figures in football in the last 50 years. Now, it's different for contributors to the game. For those men, we're asked to judge the whole of their contributions to the game.
I SEE IT DIFFERENTLY. Hey Peter, I really look forward to MMQB, even during the offseason. I was wondering about the Panthers, especially compared to other playoff teams like the Patriots and Broncos. It looks like they are content to play for third place in the NFC. Watching their offseason so far, it feels like they know they can’t compete with the talent level of the 49ers or Seahawks in 2014, so they’re looking at 2015. Is it possible a 12-4 team could basically surrender the next season simply because they know they have too many holes to fill?
—Gene, Charlotte, N.C.
I see why you'd think that way, and I agree that GM Dave Gettleman has been slow on the draw this offseason, particularly at wide receiver. But we tend to overrate what happens in March in the NFL. For years, Washington owner Dan Snyder was the king of free agency, and it never got him anything but crushing disappointment in the regular season. Gettleman had a good debut for the Panthers last year, and I think he deserves a chance to see if he is calling the right shots before we say the Panthers don't have a chance this year. But I do concur that Carolina has had a poor offseason so far.
THANKS. My favorite quote from Paul Bowles comes from The Sheltering Sky: "But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." Reminds me to take advantage when we can of all life has for us.
Wonderful, Bradley. Thank you for bringing that to my attention in this sobering week.