Steve Young


Steve Young has resumed his weekly discussions about the NFL, quarterbacks, and whatever else comes up in the course of the conversation.  He’s always interesting and has a unique perspective on the NFL.  When I started posting on this last year, I explained that I believe there are lessons that can be applied in any setting.  Steve Young talks about player development, strategy, communication, attitude and many other factors that determine success in the NFL or anywhere you find yourself.

This week he gives his thoughts on Randy Moss and talks about what it takes to be a successful quarterback.  What I find particularly interesting are the different paths to success in the NFL.  Conventional wisdom suggests that you need a player like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees who can spread the ball around and utilize his formidable weapons to take advantage of a defense’s weaknesses.  Steve Young takes a more nuanced view.  I included some excerpts below but I encourage you to listen to the whole thing.

Interviewer2:  Do you see Andrew Luck as the last of the classically-trained pocket quarterbacks?
Steve Young: I think it will be a mix.  You’ll see guys like RG III (Robert Griffin III) press the edges.  You’ll see Michael Vick do it less and less as he matures.  Hopefully you’ll see more guys with legs that can stand the test of what it takes to be an NFL quarterback, to deliver it from the pocket.  If you’re one of these efficiency-championship quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning) you’re going to do really well.  If you can do the job and have the legs you get capitulation from defenses.

Interviewer1: I took the playoff teams from last year and tried to figure out what the common denominators were and the 3 most prominent stats were turnover differential, quarterback rating, and quarterback efficiency (TD/Int ratio).  It wasn’t necessarily that you had to be Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady and throw for 300 yds/game but when you threw the ball you better be efficient.  You wouldn’t consider Alex Smith to be in the same class with those other guys but his rating was very good and his efficiency was very very good last year and that was one of the reasons the 49ers were in the NFC Championship game.
Steve Young: No question.  That’s why there are 5 new starting quarterbacks in the league this year.  Teams know if we can get a guy and develop him we have a chance to be there.  You don’t get there unless you have a guy that can dictate to defenses, be efficient, put the ball in the end zone instead of kicking field goals, and generally dominate from the spot the league has put you in a place to do it.

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Football fans in San Francisco are well aware of the trevails of Alex Smith.  For those of you who aren’t from San Francisco here is a brief summary.

  • 3 head coaches
  • 7 offensive coordinators
  • Separated shoulder in 2007
  • Broken bone in shoulder in 2008
  • Pay cut in 2009 (in lieu of being released)

Below is an exchange between radio hosts in San Francisco and Steve Young on the development of Alex Smith.  I always hear something worth remembering in these interviews.  Sometimes its about leadership.  Other times its about coaching.  Below are some thoughts on why Alex Smith is succeeding under Jim Harbaugh.

Click here to listen.  Its better to actually hear the exchange but I understand if you don’t have time or desire.

Young: “Alex [Smith] is successful because he has someone calling plays for him, focuses on his strengths and weaknesses.  They are not making mistakes.  Jim came in and saw the ability, saw the ember in him, and got some flame.  How good can he be?  I don’t think even Alex knows.

Host: “Last week you said you’d like to see them do what they ended up doing, which is come out and put this on Alex and see how it works out…and they did exactly that.”

Young: “I think he expanded on what happened last week.  I think he did more.  They trusted a little bit and he responded.  I think he made some throws that really mattered.  I think that they’re building on that…He made some big plays.  Alex is slowly becoming part of the reason that they’re winning.  Some people say ‘oh, he’s a manager.’  That’s 70% of the job!  That ‘s Michael Vick’s problem right now.  He’s not doing the little things.  By the end of the year I’d like to say Alex Smith is the reason why they’re winning.”

Host: “When they do get to Alex, as they have the last couple of weeks, occasionally, I’ve noticed something.  He doesn’t drop his head.  His chin doesn’t drop any more when he’s scrambling.  To me that makes me think he feels more comfortable.  The game has slowed down a bit…he seems to know the rush is coming.  I’m going to move here or here but keep my eyes downfield so I can see what I have in front of me.

Young: “He was a broken guy.  He wasn’t sure.  What Jim [Harbaugh] was saying made sense to him.  You get a guy who understands quarterbacks, game playing, organizations, it feels good…[San Francisco] is a place for quarterbacks again.”


Some other excerpts
Tom Brady: [He is] doing the simplest little things.  It was musical to me.

Tim Tebow is a great competitor.  [He] understands the big pieces of what you have to do to move the football.  Its 11 on 11.  At some level its a matter of will…In the long run, in the NFL, with the speed of the players it is astronomically faster than college, if you tell me you were going to line up and run the spread option solely you will have no chance in the NFL.

A lot of guys self-select out of the league.  How long does it take to self-select out of the league?  It depends on the amount of things you’re missing.  If you’re just missing one key element of twelve, I’m going to say it takes quite a bit longer but it does get you in the long run.  But if you’re missing four or five a guy’s playing  two or three years and that’s it.

This is coming from a guy who played 14 years in the league and has been an NFL commentator for several years.  What do I take from this?  Steve Young knows what it takes to be successful in the NFL on and off the field.  If you are in the position of evaluating talent and making personnel decisions that involve key players on your team you have to know what it takes to be successful.  There is no other way to equip a person for success.  How do you know if the person is making the right improvements?  How do you know when to coach them and what to coach them on?

Documenting the characteristics that lead to success in any job is not glamorous.  I’m sure Steve Young hasn’t done it.  Neither did Bill Walsh or any other great coach.  However, it might make the difference maker your staff needs you to do.  That’s an under appreciated aspect of leadership.

I can’t link directly to the interview.  Click here to access the broadcast archive.  The interview date is October 21st.

Steve Young has some interesting insights on Tim Tebow’s start this week.

He’s going to run around, he’s creative, he’s resilient, he’s smart.  He’ll figure stuff out.  He doesn’t have the ability to drop in the pocket and throw the ball but he’s going to figure stuff out.  I worry that he can’t do the job.  The job is to throw the ball from the pocket in a pro game.  He has not shown that he can do this.

This is an important insight because it boils the job down to its essence.  People talk a lot about leadership and intangibles when it comes to the being an NFL quarterback.  But if a player can’t master the basics those qualities don’t matter.  Can you describe your job or the job of those you supervise in a single sentence?

If you’re going to play him and have some success you better be running the Florida offense.  You have to find ways to do that in the pro game.  Spread it out.  Use the shotgun.  Option fake…If you’re going to have Tim Tebow on your team, embrace who you drafted.  Take the opportunity to give him the offense and give him the best opportunity to succeed.

How do you enable him to succeed?

Give him every opportunity to do the things that he’s comfortable with.  Change the system in the next two weeks to make sure you have all the packages that, maybe 30 plays he can run and feel really comfortable with and really succeed at and see what happens.

How often do we throw a new person into a roll without a plan to help them succeed?  We don’t take the time to consider whey we chose them in the first place.  We don’t give them a chance to experience success.  We don’t build up their confidence.  We don’t look at their strengths and build on them.  Learning a new job takes time.  A person can only have long-term success if they have confidence.  This can only happen if a person feels like they can succeed.  My advice to supervisors is to find a way to give a new employee success early.

In the rest of the interview the hosts discuss Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers.  If you love football I think you will enjoy what he has to say.  If you hang on until the end you’ll hear an interesting story about Al Davis.

Steve Young, the Hall of Fame quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, is a weekly guest on a local sports talk show in San Francisco.  After enduring the speechifying by the hosts, it is a treat to hear him talk about what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.  His insights on leadership transcend football (see below).

Let me tell you what we’re all looking for.  And I look back on my whole career the one thing that I’m most grateful for.  Was the platform to find out how good I was. So many guys in this league don’t even have a platform.  Look at what happened in Jacksonville.  Look what’s happening around the league in a number of cities.  The quarterback does not have a chance.

I think the full half hour is worth listening to so I will continue to share insights from this broadcast throughout the football season.

Here is one other noteworthy exchange from the Sept. 7 broadcast.

Host: Can you ever see Alex Smith lifting the Lombardi Trophy?
Young: He has been dealing with people for four or five years that look at the quarterback position as just another place…another guy.  And that is the worst way to ever get anything out of your quarterback.  So, with that in mind, is it possible that Alex has that ability…if the team can play well and they can build a repertoire and build a great history together and have a great locker room like the Packers have developed, in five or six years he’s that grizzled veteran that can take them there I can see that.  Because I know what a big difference a great coach, a quarterback coach, a play caller, who can put combinations of plays together.  Who can prepare you in a way.  That looks at you as different.  The position is different.  And when I got to San Francisco and was dealt with that way it was as if I was given the platform to be good, even better than good.

Steve Young is passionate.  He also knows what it takes to win.  He knows how to motivate.  Watch the video below to hear him speak about rising to a challenge.