Friday, April 15, 2011

The Perfect Quarterback's Personality

People talk about what a risky business the evaluation of quarterbacks is, and they aren't joking. That minefield is littered with the wreckage of general managers and head coaches' careers who have latched their reputations to the backs of colossal busts. Or the ascendancy of geniuses like Bill Belichick, whose reputation is partially established by a quarterback he passed on 5 times in one draft.

Once a talent evaluator has established that a quarterback has the physical skills to play at the position, and the intelligence to read defenses, call audibles, and in general not lose the game due to plain ol' stupidity, what is left?

The personality of the winning quarterback. Don't hire a private investigator to see if the guy is snorting coke off of a hookers' backside in his down time, hire a psychiatrist to see if the guy is a pain in the ass to play golf with.

Let me explain. I think great quarterbacks share a few qualities, none of which are related to physical skills or test related intelligence. They are, as follows (with credit to grinch11, who jogged this post with a reply over at Fieldgulls):

Perfectionist. I think of the truly great quarterbacks, and I have trouble coming up with any who aren't perfectionists. Favre was the closest, but I saw him screaming his head off at teammates enough to know that even if he didn't demand perfection from himself, he demanded it of others. But Brees, Manning, Brady, Rivers, plus many of the retired greats I can think of demanded perfection out of others, and themselves as well. It is a perfectionism bordering on just plain type A jerkishness that the greats have in common.

Obsessive. I can't tell you what Peyton Manning's garage looks like, but I will bet it doesn't look like mine. His rumored obsession with game tape, watching it for any tiny edge, any small advantage, is the stuff of legend. I will bet Manning is still doing mental calisthenics over missing some bit of tape, some shred of evidence, that Tracy Porter was setting him up in the Super Bowl. That must just eat at an obsessive guy like Manning. Hell, I will bet that having a locker next to his not be perfectly tidy makes him grind his teeth in his sleep. Brees and Brady don't strike me as any less obsessive. The stories that New Orleans players and personnel tell about Brees throwing imaginary games into the twilight by himself on a Saints practice field only further show that this obsessiveness is a quality that all the best possess.

Competitive. The pure will to win that the greats in all sports show is mandatory in a great quarterback, in my opinion. When you hear stories about what happens in the huddle on the great game-winning drives in football history, there is no "IF we win"; it is assured in the minds of those quarterbacks. I can't see guys like John Elway or Joe Montana being at all happy about losing a game of tiddlywinks, let alone a football game. There is a very good reason those two were known for their 4th quarter comebacks. In a team situation, that competitive fire is contagious, and is what I think helps the great quarterbacks elevate the games of people around them. Or ruins the game of those who don't match that competitive desire. It isn't a football story, but the rumors about how Michael Jordan ruined the careers of guys like Craig Hodges by just plain destroying their confidence in practice, mostly because it irritated Jordan that Hodges wasn't competitive by nature, illustrate this level of competitiveness.

The one who has something to prove. The chip on his shoulder, the imagined slight, the always-felt disrespect. Brady has made his career partially on this feeling. If you watched The Brady 6, this emotion was palpable. Manning is an interesting study in this, as he was the first pick in the draft, and still imagines he is being disrespected at all times. When asked before the draft how he would respond if the Colts didn't take him first overall, he responded by telling them he would spend the next 15 years kicking their asses. Imagined disrespect. Brees is much the same, he still is upset about the way he was shipped out of San Diego to make room for Philip Rivers, and has taken it out on the league ever since. Of all the 4 qualities listed here, this is the one that drives Matt Hasselbeck the most, I think. He has mentioned his late selection enough times for me to know that it fuels his efforts on and off the field.

Like I said, the mental tics that make the great ones great would make them lousy golfing partners. So maybe if John Schneider wants to get to know what lurks in Ryan Mallett's mind, hit the links with him. Or the bowling alley, like he did with Russell Okung. If he has what it takes to play in this league, you won't be able to stand him by the time the tenth frame is done or the last putt is sunk. Doubt his skills a few times during the game just to see his response, Mr Schneider.

Substitute any name for Mallett's, but the question remains the same: is he an obsessive competitive jerk driven to prove everyone who ever doubted him wrong by working his ass off?

Looking backwards, the big busts all lacked in a couple of these areas. I mean, what about Jamarcus Russell indicated he had even a trace of these psychological traits? His love for purple drank and the game tapes he brought back to headquarters still in their shrink wrap? Or Ryan Leaf? He was a jerk, but not a competitive jerk. Certainly not obsessive, and the chip on his shoulder was shaped suspiciously like an empty head. The sense of entitlement he so obviously displayed is the complete opposite of an obsessive, competitive need to win.

So, how do 2011's prospects stack up in the psychology department? To what level do they show these 4 traits?


  1. Dude, the BEST article I've read in awhile, spot effing on with bringing a psychiatrist to these interviews. Completely agree with that all winners share similar traits, 'Hawks need a good psychiatrist on payroll. Can we memo this to Pete Carroll?

    I believe Matt has these traits, but in your opinion, does Whitehurst and if not, who do you see among the possible rookie QB's?

    What about other positions?

  2. Personality testing at interviews wouldn't be a bad idea. However, I do see some problems: I think players would bullshit their asses off to make it look like they had these traits. They'd have someone coach them so they answer the questions correctly. I don't know if you've ever seen what personality questions are like, buts it's pretty easy to recognize the questions that would make you look perfectionist or obsessive.

    Also there's only so much you tell about someone's personality in an interview. There's been many studies done in the usefulness of personality testing recruiting (not just the world of sports). And there's often not much of a correlation between how employee's test and performance.

    But this is really besides the point. The article is about the traits of successful QB's, all of which I agree with. I just don't think having a psychologist in an interview is likely to help identify those traits. Their best bet is to talk to the player's former coaches.

  3. Kevin, I do think mental evaluation is important, and Dave, bullshitting a shrink is harder than it might first appear. Particularly in a setting where they are occupied. Do you think Carroll and Schneider took Okung bowling because of a passion for that sport? No, they were learning about him in a setting he couldn't prepare for. And as you said, Dave, obsession and perfectionism are things you would see, not hear.
    But I would never rely on his college coach for accurate information. He has too much to gain from the high selection on his former players in the recruitment of his future players. Talk to the wait staff at his favorite hangout, talk to the equipment managers on his team, the food staff at the college commisary, his arresting officer, anybody but the head coach. Other people with nothing to gain will know what his practice habits are like.

  4. I like it a lot. With all that negative press, if we somehow miraculously got mallet, i really think he would take that resentment onto the field and channel it into great football, fingers crossed. Great read Brandon

  5. This was Scott's article. :)

    And yeah, this offseason of mudslinging could well fuel Mallett for a long career of successful football, should he keep his head straight.

  6. Sorry Kevin, I missed your last couple of questions.

    No, Whitehurst does not have these traits. I don't see a burning desire to compete, little about him seems obsessive, and if there is a chip on his shoulder is does not show.

    Other positions are so different than quarterback. If I had to say there was another position or two on the field that required these 4 traits, it would be first both kicker positions, and then cornerback. Even cornerback to a degree is more dependent on innate talent. Quarterback is so unique, such a wide variety of athletic levels have had success, as compared to other positions on the field. A tackle with short arms and no ass will struggle no matter how much of these 4 character traits he has.

  7. Excellent article, and I agree completely that Whitehurst doesnt have that special "it" factor that the greats seem to have. Hindsight being 20/20, it looks as if Schneider and Carroll made a huge mistake in overpaying to get him.

  8. With the recent Kaepernick rumors swirling, I went to read up some more on him and found this interesting Fall 2010 ESPN article on him. Based on it, he may fit this mold.


    "At Pitman High in Turlock, Calif., he ran the wing-T offense. Though he was 6-foot-6, he only weighed around 170 pounds and was described as "paper thin." Pitman did not want him to get hurt, so he just threw the ball and handed it off. Recruiters came to watch teammate Anthony Harding, who eventually went to Fresno State. But Kaepernick barely got a sniff. He joked that his rushing numbers at Pitman totaled around "minus-50 yards."

    "But the season he is putting together is one of his best yet. He has bulked up to 225 pounds to withstand the punishing hits he takes when running the football. When he got to Nevada, Kaepernick thought he would be throwing much more than running, but Ault saw an athlete who would be the perfect fit for his Pistol offense."

    "Kaepernick dedicated himself to the weight room, and had to learn how to run and increase his speed."


    "He got only one scholarship offer to play football."

    "Kaepernick desperately wanted to play football in college. He may have been getting scholarship offers [and was later drafted by the Chicago Cubs] to play baseball as a standout pitcher, but he put all his hopes on the football field."


    "Football season had ended. Kaepernick was playing basketball, so Sacks decided to go watch him play.

    "A basketball guy who I knew from the Central Valley told me, 'This guy tore up one of the top ranked basketball teams,'" Sacks said. "We're not recruiting basketball players, but it's one of the tools you can use to evaluate an athlete. You can see not only his athleticism, but his competitiveness and his toughness."

    The night Sacks showed up, Kaepernick had a 102 degree fever. But he played the entire game and dominated. It was all right there in front of Sacks, the intangibles Nevada wanted from its players. Sacks called Nevada coach Chris Ault after the game and raved.

    "Coach, this guy is unbelievable," Sacks recalled telling Ault.

    "Let's go on him," Ault replied.

    "The final key to pull the trigger was because of the way he competed that night," Sacks said.

    Something to Prove:

    He attended elite football camps, with guys like Matthew Stafford, Jake Locker and Josh Freeman and held his own. After all, he had a heck of an arm, even if his mechanics were a bit off.

    "When I got done there were parents coming up to me asking who I was and where I was going to school," Kaepernick said in a phone interview. "It was hard telling them, 'I don't have a scholarship offer.' Everybody was like why not? That was frustrating for me. Ever since then, I've had a chip on my shoulder and something to prove."


    The more I learn about Kaepernick, the more I see someone who has that mental fire needed to possibly be a franchise QB.

  9. Sorry, forgot the article link.

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