Musical chairs QB coaching @ 49ers and Iowa State — doesn’t work

musical-chairsI noticed with obvious interest that Iowa State will play Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl, a rematch of a game at which my nephew, as the starting quarterback, helped led the team to a decisive victory in the very first game of the season.

It’s “back to the future” after a tumultuous season where we went to several games. And not very exciting, either — though Memphis is a heck of a town for any student-athlete to visit.

Besides being a leader in the Tulsa victory, my nephew also helped lead the team to victory against Baylor, which will play in the Holiday Bowl against UCLA — a better bowl game.

He was QB when Iowa State beat Iowa back-to-back for the first time in a decade, and — at the end of the day — he was at the helm for four of the six wins this season as starting QB.

I couldn’t help but think that Iowa State would have received a better bowl game if it hadn’t played “musical quarterback” during the season, creating confusion about its direction from one week to the next, including a self-inflicted “QB competition” for the starting role two years running.

Besides striving to become “bowl eligible,” you have to think about your strategy for getting there. What kind of impression are you presenting to the bowl representatives? Are you in control or not?

It was a mistake for the coach to pull my nephew after a mediocre performance in the Texas Tech game in September, after he went 3-0, when he was sick with laryngitis.

You’d don’t read about this in the newspapers, but the players could not even hear the play calls. I was surprised the local media did not notice the unorthodox lineups.

The local media pressure was intense, however, focusing on the quarterback, not the whole team. It’s a coach’s job to help manage that, though.

Later my nephew received a concussion in the Kansas game, but that also was downplayed in the media. Instead, his performance was called into question — after being hit in the head. I think the coaches could have done a better job of clearing that up publicly.

All told, this indecisiveness among the coaches led to a “QB controversy” at Iowa State all season long, distracting the team and playing right into the media’s hands (which likes controversy). (Being in the media for my whole life, I know how it works).

Though unfortunate, this is hardly uncommon in the world of football. The San Francisco 49ers coach made the same mistake this weekend, replacing a veteran with a more inexperienced quarterback.

And his inexperience helped cost the 49ers the game against the rival St. Louis Rams. The 49ers coach is sticking to his guns as the media turns up the heat, but he made a bad call. It happens to all of us, but you should own it.

To be sure, both coaches — though relatively inexperienced as head coaches in college and the pros, respectively, from their previous jobs — have done wonders for their teams in a short time. I applaud that.

But coaches increasingly focus on the short term, influenced by the media, rather than planning for the long haul. They need to act more independently, just like a good corporate CEO who coaches past the quarter-to-quarter earnings.

I just hope that Iowa State can beat Tulsa again in their rematch, whomever plays quarterback. We still fly the Iowa State flag proudly at our Northern California home.

And I hope the 49ers can get back on track, too.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

5 thoughts on “Musical chairs QB coaching @ 49ers and Iowa State — doesn’t work”

  1. 49’ers lost against the Rams, it was a game they should have won. Seahawlks won and they are still in the running as a wild card.

  2. Well hmmm……..

    I can’t comment about the Iowa St. scenario but your analysis of the 49er situation seems extremely speculative.

    “But coaches increasingly focus on the short term, influenced by the media, rather than planning for the long haul.”

    How do you know that?

    I’ve worked in professional sports. I’ve had relatives play professional sports. I know people who are professional athletes or have been. What I know is that unless you’re in the dugout, sidline, bench or war room, you know nothing.

    1. I asked a rabid 49er friend of mine his opinion on the subject. He said: “Until they get a handle on the concussion thing, having two starting QBs is better than one.” Cynical, but true.

  3. You assign too much credit (or is it blame?) to the media and not enough to the ever-impatient alumni.

    Coaches play to win NOW because that’s what they’re paid to do. While a new coach always gets a four- or five-year contract to turn around a program, the reality it that the team better show a significant improvement by year three or the alums get restless and the athletic director starts wondering about HIS job security.

    Coming off a 12-14 record during his first two years at Iowa State, I suspect Rhoads felt the need to win big this year. When that didn’t happen immediately, panic set in and a game of musical quarterbacks ensued, no doubt amplified by a local sports media that has little else to write about. But Rhoads created the problem, not the media.

    It’s obvious to anybody whose watched football for awhile that quarterbacks who fear being benched for the slightest mistake rarely play up to their capabilities, but that’s the way coaches work when they’re feeling the heat. If your nephew was sick or injured and the coaches didn’t make that clear, well this is big-time football, where they only love and protect you when you meet the coach’s expectations.

    Your nephew’s done okay when you consider he had to overcome the handicap of playing his high school football at Nevada Union, where it’s always 1958 on the football field. While everybody else has moved to the West Coast and spread offenses, the Miners keep plodding along in their wing-T, oblivious the evolution of the game over the last 50 years. Woody Hayes would be proud.

    If your nephew had played in a high school program that let him develop as a QB and showcase his passing skills, his college career might have had a more positive outcome.

    As for the 49ers, there’s no quarterback controversy. Barring a major injury to Kaepernick, the 49ers will trade or release Smith before they have to pay him an $8 million roster bonus.

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