By Randy York
Take it straight from one of the greatest if not the greatest offensive innovator in college football history ... Tom Osborne. Tim "Tebow is my kind of guy," Osborne said after watching the former Florida Heisman Trophy winner direct a run-oriented, collegiate-style offense into still skeptical NFL minds, not to mention a football-crazy nation's conscience. In the eyes of Osborne, a College Football Hall-of-Famer who turned down two NFL head coaching jobs, Tebow's leadership and the Denver Broncos' wild climb to pro football relevance is an achievement long overdue.
"I've often thought about interjecting some sort of option and some quarterback-run offense into professional football," Osborne said. "I thought it would really cause their defensive structure to have to change because right now, it's all predicated mostly on the drop-back pass. If anything, it was kind of stereotyped."
To reinforce his point, Osborne remembers talking to Dallas Cowboy legend Tom Landry a year after he retired from coaching. "I asked him if he watched a lot of pro football, and he said, 'Well, not very much,'" Osborne said, explaining how Landry preferred watching college football because of its offensive variety. "I think that's some of the appeal of college football," Osborne said. "Not every team runs the same stuff."
Some of that variety was created in Osborne's mind, and some of the more basic elements of Osborne's carefully crafted spread option infiltrated the NFL, but no one ever did what Osborne would have done if he would have accepted an NFL head job. "The big concern in professional athletics is you spend maybe five years getting a quarterback ready to play in the NFL, and then if you expose him to a lot of hits, he's going to be gone," Osborne said. "But my feeling was always that you would very seldom get a quarterback hurt running the ball."
Osborne believes a quarterback is more apt to get hurt standing in the pocket getting ready to throw. That's why he thinks a defender falling on a quarterback's leg in a blind-side hit is more dangerous than a quarterback galloping his way to a first down. "Of course, they've done a lot to protect the quarterback now in pro football," Osborne said. "But I still feel you're more vulnerable throwing the ball than you are running the ball."
Running QBs Less Likely to Get Hurt?
No wonder a big, physical and durable Tebow fits Osborne's criteria to turn the NFL upside down with a sophisticated, but simplified, run-first college offense. "I read an article not long ago where somebody kind of broke down quarterback efficiency," Osborne said, "and his whole argument was they all rate quarterbacks based on passing efficiency. But this guy incorporated everything - sacks, passing, running and getting the ball into the end zone. It was kind of interesting because even though Tebow's passing ratings aren't very high according to this guy's formula, he won over almost all the quarterbacks he played against."
To a Hall-of-Fame coach reading something most still consider counter-culture, if not outlandish, the unconventional quarterback measurement system made complete sense to Osborne.
"I've always thought that a mobile quarterback who ran a fair amount and who could throw reasonably well would give a defense more problems than somebody that's just a big pure passer," Osborne said. "That's why Tebow is my kind of guy, I guess, just because of the way he plays football. If I would have accepted one of those pro offers, we would have been very similar to what Denver is doing right now. And it's probably safe to say we would have incorporated a lot of the same things they're doing into our offense. Of course, to do it, you would have to draft some quarterbacks that have multiple skills like Denver did. I like Tebow because he knows what he wants, and he makes everyone around him better."
I asked Osborne which run-oriented quarterbacks he coached at Nebraska could create Tebow-like havoc in the NFL. Without even a second of hesitation, Osborne said: "Tommie Frazier, Turner Gill, Scott Frost, Steve Taylor ... all of them could have created some problems in the pros. Steve (Taylor), of course, played in the Canadian Football League, and Scott (Frost) played in the NFL, but he was a safety, not a quarterback."
Scott Frost Had Tebow-Like Qualities
To this day, Osborne wonders why an NFL coach wouldn't have tried to see what kind of defensive challenge a national championship quarterback like Frost might have created. "He probably reminds me most of Tebow," Osborne said, citing Frost's size, strength, physicality and intelligence. Frost also was a championship high school hurdler and bright enough to earn a scholarship and start at Stanford before transferring to Nebraska.
Osborne knows NFL general managers, coaches and scouts always have been enamored with quarterbacks that are pure throwers. "Even if you would start a guy like Scott Frost on defense," Osborne said, "I think you'd be smart to put in the Wildcat formation and see what a guy like Scott could do with a few plays, even if you just wanted to change things up for the defense."
If nothing else, Osborne believes Tebow is causing NFL coaches "to go back to the drawing board."
Whatever happens in Sunday's much ballyhooed quarterback battle between Tebow and New England's Tom Brady, Osborne will be content just to watch the next episode in this bold, but grand experiment. "A couple of NFL general managers approached me about coaching in the NFL," he said, "but I always felt my calling was to be a college football coach."
Pure Passer Rodgers Can Run, Too
We should point out that Nebraska's athletic director coached a future Super Bowl quarterback in former Husker All-American and Los Angeles Ram starter Vince Ferragamo. As much as Osborne prefers mobile quarterbacks, he has great appreciation for pure passers, too. "Aaron Rodgers is sort of the epitome right now of a pure passer at Green Bay," Osborne said, "but he's a pretty good athlete, too, and he's proven he can certainly run on occasion."
I didn't ask Osborne which team he would root for Sunday. I just know that whatever offensive production Tebow can generate is likely to deliver some measure of satisfaction. Who knows? Tebow might even bring a small smile to the stoic face of a Hall-of-Famer that would have enjoyed coaching "my kind of guy".
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