Berry: Don’t bash Mike Gundy over OSU’s three-man quarterback weave

Berry: Don’t bash Mike Gundy over OSU’s three-man quarterback weave

I’m not saying Gundy is a visionary. But the OSU coach’s reasoning for the three-man quarterback weave was sound. He couldn’t pick a QB who had stood out from the crowd, and who could?

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 26, 2023, 5:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 26, 2023, 5:00am CDT

Buddy Teevins died last week. Teevins was a long-time football man. Head coach at Tulane, Stanford and Dartmouth. Helped coordinate the famed Manning Passing Academy.

Teevins had an epiphany back in 2010. He was concerned about player safety on the gridiron, so Teevins decreed that Dartmouth practices no longer include player-on-player tackling.

Big Green workouts focused on technique, and for practice, players tackled dummies. But no player-on-player.

Some lauded Teevins’ stance. Some even followed suit. Others mocked the concept, essentially saying the country has gone to pot.

I’ll not enter the debate. But I will supply some facts.

Teevins became head coach at his alma mater for the second time in 2005. In his first five years back at Dartmouth, the Big Green went a combined 9-41. Then came the no-tackling edict. Dartmouth over the next five years went 31-19. And after that, still not tackling in practice, Dartmouth produced four 9-1 seasons — 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Did the tackling ban help? I have no idea. I do know, it didn’t hurt. And Dartmouth soared when it quit hitting so much in practice.

But I do endorse this: How about we be less quick to call for a dunce cap for coaches who try something new and quirky?

Mike Gundy, for example.

Gundy’s experiment with a three-man weave at quarterback apparently is over.

OSU rotated quarterbacks Alan Bowman, Garret Rangel and Gunnar Gundy for each of the Cowboys’ first three games. Each played roughly a third of each game, with none distinguishing himself.

Gundy widely was mocked.

Then Gundy went all the way with Bowman on Saturday at Iowa State. The Cowboys lost 34-27, Bowman played about the way he collectively had played through three games, but the OSU offense was better.

Who knows what Gundy will do a week from Friday against Kansas State? Go with Bowman? Go all the way with either Rangel or his son? Bring on freshman Zane Flores? Direct snap every play to tailback Ollie Gordon?

I don’t know what Gundy should do or will do. But I know what we should do as lovers of American football. Don’t be so quick to dismiss new wrinkles, no matter how ridiculous they strike us initially.

Innovation comes from experimentation, and many are widely panned. Fear of the unknown. Concepts from facemasks to the forward pass were widely panned yet quickly adopted. And what now is embedded in the game took decades to appear.

College football moved goal posts from the goal line to the end line in 1927, but the National Football League kept the posts in the field of play through 1974, apparently to cold-cock as many wide receivers as possible.

Spread offenses didn’t come to college football until the 1950s and weren’t widely embraced until the 1990s. Now only the obstinate won’t spread the field to create defensive gaps.

Some innovations are less successful. Arkansas high school coach Kevin Kelley became famous for never punting. In 2009, Time magazine listed Kelley’s no-punt offense as one of the year’s best inventions, in a group that also included the AIDS vaccine. Kelley eventually became head coach at Presbyterian College, where he went 2-9 in his lone season and resigned. And across America, virtually every football team continues to punt.

I’m not saying Gundy is a visionary. But he’s not necessarily a dunce, either.

Gundy’s reasoning for the three-man quarterback weave was sound. He couldn’t pick a QB who had stood out from the crowd. I was with Gundy. I couldn’t, either.

Some claim the rotation came at a cost, with practice reps and team chemistry and such. Maybe so. That’s quite possible. It’s also possible those elements were improved in Stillwater.

Spreading the practice reps creates more depth. And if Gundy and the rest of us can’t pick out a QB, seems likely the majority of the Cowboy roster would be the same. Giving each a chance might have enhanced team chemistry. Everybody’s candidate gets on the ballot.

Of course, the best reason to rotate quarterbacks is so one can emerge as the clear superior choice. That didn’t happen in Stillwater, which is part of the problem not just defending the three-man weave but the bummer start to this season. If OSU had better quarterbacking and better overall talent, this season wouldn’t have crashed into the ditch.

Fans and media — heck, coaches too — are loath to sign off on quarterback rotations because they see so few these days. That was not always the case.

Plenty of superb coaches have alternated quarterbacks, from Steve Spurrier to Tom Landry to Bob Devaney. Chuck Fairbanks dabbled in a QB platoon in 1972. And from 1949-52, three Rams coaches alternated Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, sort of an anti-OSU situation. Don’t know who to play because both were fantabulous.

But the QB platoon mostly gave way, and these days a coach has to be awfully comfortable in his own skin to go against such a grain. Especially alternating three.

Gundy’s ploy didn’t work. OSU’s offense stinks and the Cowboys haven’t found a quarterback. At least not yet. So stick the three-man weave deep into a desk drawer. It’s not likely to return.

But don’t stick Gundy deep into a desk drawer. Without coaches trying new things, American football still would look an awful lot like rugby, teams would be punting on third down as often as fourth down, and the Big Green of Dartmouth would have a lot more injuries and a lot fewer victories.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].
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