It won't happen, but I wish it would: NFL coaches should throw away the headsets and let quarterbacks call their own plays.
Football has become more like a chess match or a military campaign than a sport. Coaches orchestrate the entire game from the sideline or the coaches' booth like generals at the U.S. Central Command, or like teenagers playing Madden '14.
Just about every other sport is player-oriented – baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer. You name it. Football has become completely coach-dominated and something has been lost. Call it the human element.
"The quarterback has become a joy stick in a video game," says a former longtime NFL assistant coach and offensive coordinator who requested anonymity. "Today, most quarterbacks are radioed two or three plays in the huddle and told how to choose between them at the line of scrimmage. It's a series of commands."
Quarterbacks used to give the commands in the huddle before coaches started wearing headsets in the '80s. Jim Plunkett, Kenny Stabler, Y.A. Tittle – they all called their own plays. If they played today, they'd be taking orders.
Tom Flores called his own plays when he was the Raiders quarterback from 1960-1966. When he coached the Raiders from 1979-1987, he encouraged his quarterbacks to call their own plays, as well. Today, he's the Raiders' radio analyst.
"Paul Brown was the first coach who sent plays in with the guards," said Flores. "And then when Coach (Tom) Landry started coaching in the '60s, he sent all of his plays in. But other than that, every quarterback called their own plays.
"As the quarterback, you had a game plan and you had the quarterback meetings and you had a series of plays that you preferred, and then you had a series of plays for first down, a series of plays for the middle of the field, goal line, short-yardage plays, big plays – you categorized them all and it was up to you after meeting with the coach to decide which ones fit the situation. And plus, you talked about it on the sideline. The first play of every series, usually you talked about that with the coach before you went in. And during a timeout, if a coach wanted a particular play at a particular time, he would send it in."
Bill Walsh also sent in his plays with the guards before he had a headset. But Flores preferred to give his quarterbacks autonomy, even in the '80s. And it worked for him. He won two Super Bowls with Plunkett calling the plays.
"Jim Plunkett probably was the last of the dinosaurs," Flores said. "I'm not sure that anybody at the end of Plunkett's career was calling their own plays, other than teams that called their plays at the line of scrimmage. Jim was used to calling his own plays, he always had. And when he was winding down in his career, we started calling all of the plays for him because we realized every quarterback we were getting – at the time, we had Marc Wilson backing up Plunkett – had never called his own plays at any level."
One reason NFL quarterbacks don't call their own plays is coaches call them even in high school. Quarterbacks have no experience at calling plays. This applies to most quarterbacks since the '80s who never called plays in high school or college. Only a few quarterbacks in the past 30 years have been granted autonomy.
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