Super Bowl LVI is still over a week away, but the 2022 NFL offseason is already well under way. The coaching carousel is going full bore, and free agency rumors are flying around like hotcakes. Even with the 2021 Pro Bowl festivities currently in progress, the NFL football powers that be have given their ravenous public something more to fixate upon by having both the East West Shrine Bowl and the Reese's Senior Bowl games this week. Talk about a smorgasbord of pigskin delight for the huddled masses.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin gathered his entourage of assorted coaches and front office personnel together for a few fun filled days of scouting and hobnobbing around with many of the absolutely top prospects in this year's draft class down at the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama. This is an extremely important part of the evaluation process for any franchise, with some of the most vital information gained never to show up on a scouting report.
The Senior Bowl practices often gives each franchise's decision makers their first up close and personal look at each prospect. There will be measurements taken, interviews conducted, and game film to be reviewed. Every conceivable aspect or trait will be discussed, from each quarterback's hand size to how each prospect fits into a particular system. Some of the early information gained is concise, and some is simply projection. All happening before the NFL Scouting Combine and individual pro days have taken place.
Personality is an important trait for any prospect, one that rarely if ever shows up on a scouting report. It is especially important for any player who is going to be entrusted in a leadership position, like quarterback or middle linebacker for example. There is a certain level of confidence required to command a huddle or call out defensive formations. I had a coach who told me "You have to believe in yourself before you can expect anybody else to believe in you." Those are wise words to live by for anybody in a leadership position.
For this article, we are going to focus on the importance of personality and emotional makeup for the QB position. Especially how it can positively or negatively impact the quarterback/head coach relationship. The idea for this article came to mind after watching Terry Bradshaw's new documentary on HBO earlier this week. He speaks openly about his own maturity level when he was drafted first overall by the Steelers in the 1970 NFL Draft. He admits he was no where near ready for that type of immense pressure or to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Definitely not for the worst team in the league up to that point.
To make matters worse, he was immediately paired with the no nonsense head coach Chuck Noll, who definitely couldn't be mistaken for being warm and fuzzy. Bradshaw has always had a jovial personality, which immediately clashed with his intense head coach. Bradshaw admitted to not responding well to being yelled at or rebuked in front of his teammates by Noll, which happened often. This caused the young Bradshaw to shutdown mentally, adversely impacting his performance.
Eventually Noll's tough love style of coaching had the desired affect on Bradshaw, as he would go on to win 4 Super Bowls and have a HOF career. However, the turmoil of those early years created real animosity for Bradshaw towards Noll. He acknowledged that he was scared of Noll, and they never developed a real relationship as a result. Consider Dan Marino/Don Shula, Jim Kelly/Marv Levy, Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes to name a few. Shoot, Bill Cowher even kissed Kordell Stewart one time coming off the field. Bradshaw and Noll definitely didn't have that kind of a relationship.
Despite all that, they won 4 Lombardi Trophies together, while the pairings listed above only won a single title amongst them. So just how important is the chemistry between the quarterback and head coach? I think it is more important in today's NFL than ever before, thanks to the time constraints created by both free agency and the salary cap.
Bradshaw admitted that he would have most likely been released after his third season in today's NFL, but I question if he would have lasted that long. In today's game, first round QB's are expected to contribute sooner rather than later. Especially when you consider that fifth year option, and the importance of having a franchise guy still on his rookie deal for any team with championship aspirations.
For example, the Arizona Cardinals took first round QBs in back to back years. They selected Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, then turned around and took Kyler Murray with the first overall selection of the 2019 NFL Draft. They adhere to the keep trying till you get it right philosophy I guess. By the way, Josh Rosen's personality was considered a potential red flag going into the 2018 NFL Draft, far more than his overall talent. Based on many reports, it's played a part in the unsuccessful start of his career.
So what has the Terry Bradshaw/Chuck Noll dynamic taught us, if anything. It's showed us that the quarterback and head coach don't have to be best buddies to be successful, even if they are the NFL's version of the Odd Couple. However, success in these type of toxic situations are extremely rare. Sustained success is more common from similar personality pairings. It's always easier to communicate with someone who you actually want to talk to, rather than avoid.
There has been numerous clips of Tomlin and company having a quick conversation with a prospect after a play or drill, or reports of multiple interviews through the week. Tomlin even had a meet and greet introduction with Malik Willis' parents after practice. Willis happens to be an electrifying quarterback prospect from Liberty University, a player in which the Steelers are reportedly very interested in.
Each of these interactions may seem miniscule and mundane, but they are extremely important to developing a rapport with the players and getting a better feel for their personalities. Mike Tomlin is considered a player's coach, and it's not hard to see why.