Scene One: A dimly lit lecture hall. Standing in front of a sparse assembly of students stands a middle-aged professor with a button down shirt untucked in the front, wearing loosely fitting khaki pants. A strange array of “Toto” posters adorn each wall of the lecture hall. Various plays are drawn on the overly messy whiteboard in the front of the room. “Development is not linear” is scribbled in messy handwriting at the top of said whiteboard.
“Okay gentlemen, I see that our time together today is coming to an end. As you all know we have reached the midyear portion of ‘NFL Quarterbacking 101.’ That means it is time for midyear grades to be disbursed. The way I do this is during my office hours period. I would like each of you to stop by so I can meet with you in person and give you your grades and share some thoughts with you on how you can improve, what you are doing well, and various other matters. Any questions?
“Yes, you Mr. Finley.”
A reserved student sitting in the back raises his hand.
“Mr. Schofield? I just arrived in this class, just this week alone. Am I going to be getting a grade even though I just got here?”
“That is a wonderful question Mr. Finley. Very perceptive. At this time it would be unfair to pass judgment of any kind on your performance to date. Perhaps in a few weeks. The same goes for Mr. Stidham, Mr. Grier, Mr. Lock, Mr. Stick, Mr. McSorley and … oh right, Mr. Rypien. Each of you will be receiving an “Incomplete” at this time, and do not need to meet with me. As for the rest of you: Mr. Murray, Mr. Jones, Mr. Haskins and Mr. Minshew, I expect to see you at office hours. Now remember gentlemen, I have been known to grade on a curve, and as such your grades might be a bit more ... inflated than what you are expecting. Also I know the rumors around campus ... that Mr. Schofield is a bit of a wild card and does not exactly know what he is talking about. Well, be that as it may, you’re in my class, so you’re getting my grades.
A hushed din arose as the assembled students packed up their things and made their escape. Free, for the next few hours.
Scene Two: An overly messy office, poorly lit with only one window. The office is in a basement of an older academic building, and the view out of the lone window is into some shrubbery that serves as a barrier of sorts to keep the nearby garbage bins concealed from view. On the desk various playbooks are strewn about, some dating back to the days of Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi. A smart device is on a bookcase shelf in one corner of the office, playing an odd mix of 80s synth pop and current country hits. Professor Schofield sits at the desk, doing nothing in particular on the laptop computer that rests in front of him on that same desk.
There is a knock at the door. Professor Schofield arises slowly to answer the sound.
“Ah yes, Mr. Minshew. A pleasure to see you. Please, please come in and sit down. I’ve been expecting you.”
“Excellent. Excellent. Let me just find your report here ... ah, here it is.” The professor pulls a piece of paper from one of the assembled stacks on his desk and hands it to the student, now seated in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. A desk which more resembles the overgrown ivy at Wrigley Field than that of a composed professor. “Please give this a quick read and I’ll be happy to walk you through my findings and thoughts.”
“An A-Minus? That’s it?”
“Right to the point, I see. I always liked that about you, even dating back to your days at Washington State and of course when we met down at the Senior Bowl. Well, Mr. Minshew, remember that playing the quarterback position is incredibly difficult - something I have stressed with all of you since the first day of class - and that even when you do almost everything right, there are still areas for improvement.”
“Improvement? Like what?”
“Well, the jorts for one thing.”
“What’s wrong with the jorts?”
“Umm ... nothing, nothing at all. Apologies, just a little humor to try and lighten the mood a bit.” The professor shifted his weight nervously, and his eyes darted to the concealed fridge underneath the desk, filled with White Claws. Too early, he thought to himself…
“Mr. Minshew, the fact of the matter is you have performed extremely well to this point in the year. You were not expected by many to even be in this class, you were to bide your turn, wait a year or two and then enroll in this course. You were put into a difficult situation but have done admirably. Your processing speed is ahead of where some expected it to be, your competitive toughness is off the charts, and perhaps most notably, you have taken on what seems to be a true leadership roll with your organization. You should be most proud of your efforts so far.”
“Great. But why just the A-Minus then?”
“Well, if you must ... let’s take for example your game against the New Orleans Saints. Beyond the bottom line numbers - a completion rate below 50 percent for example - that game showed some of your inexperience, and areas for improvement. I mean look at the interception you threw, early in the third quarter. What did you do wrong here?”
It was the student’s turn to shuffle in his seat for a bit.
“Well, I know what you’re probably going to say. I stared down my target the entire way and never moved my eyes to anywhere else on the field.”
“And ... and anything else?”
“Um ... well we were not on the same page, so the throw was too far inside and to the middle of the field.”
“Exactly. Is that something you think you can fix going forward?’
“Good, that is exactly what I want to hear. Mr. Minshew, you are a confident young quarterback and you are making the Jacksonville Jaguars your team. For that alone you deserve some of the highest marks I’ve ever given out at this point in this course. But there is a long way to go, and you will surely face more adversity along the way. Yet you should be proud of how you have progressed.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank yourself for what you’ve done. Now unless there is anything else, you can send the next student in.”
The young passer got up from his seat and, stepping over some more books lying haphazardly on the floor, exited the room. In came another of the students.
“Mr. Murray. Welcome, welcome. Please, do have a seat.”
“Thanks, Professor Schofield.”
By this time the professor had stood, and was standing behind his desk looking upward into the quarterback’s eyes. As the pupil took his seat, the professor remained standing for a few more moments.
“Now before I hand this to you, how do you think you have done so far?”
“Well, to be honest, it’s been tough. I mean, I knew life in the NFL was going to be difficult, but I did not know just how fast everyone else was going to be, just how fast this game can be, and how fast the defenders are.”
“Very true.” The professor finally sank into his office chair, but kept his eyes trained on the young quarterback in front of him. “But despite all that, are there things you think that you have done well.”
“Some. I mean, I think I’m still the same passer that I was while in college, but I think people might be seeing that for the first time.”
“You might be right. Here, take a look at your grade to date and my assessment, and we can talk.” The professor handed over a slip of paper, and the quarterback began to read it over.
After a few moments, the quarterback’s eyes moved from the paper to his professor’s.
“Yeah, I know. My mechanics are still a bit inconsistent. I get that.”
“Remember what we say in this class, Mr. Murray.”
“Right, right. Mechanics don’t matter until they matter.”
“And have your mechanics been a problem on some of your poor throws and interceptions?”
“Only a few.”
The professor smiled. “Actually, it is probably even less than that. Look, Mr. Murray, you have not thrown an interception since Week 4 of this season. You have progressed very well. You have started making more and more anticipation throws from the pocket, and your presence back there is improving. But there is always room for growth.”
“That’s why the grade is a B, right?”
“Well, in part. Look, there are still times when you are not trusting your eyes. You will double-clutch on route concepts, you will miss opportunities to make anticipation throws, and you will be slow with your reads. But that being said, you have shown improvement over the course of this season. Your play has cleaned up in recent weeks. The mistakes have been fewer, and quicker reads and throws are piling up, and the arm talent and athleticism is still there. It might be a B right now, but I have all the confidence in the world you can turn this into a much better grade by the time the year is over.”
“You really think so?”
“I know so.”
“Okay, I’m glad to hear that. Thanks, Professor.”
“Thank you Mr. Murray. Now please, send in Mr. Jones, I already saw him lingering outside.”
As the young QB excused himself, the professor got up from behind his desk and walked over to a wobbly table in another corner of the room. “I’ll fix this in the offseason,” the professor muttered to himself, as he grabbed a notepad off the misshapen wooden end table. Just then the door drew closed, and the next student had entered the office.
“Mr. Jones, thank you for coming in to see me. Please, do sit down.”
The professor walked back behind his desk and pulled out yet another sheet of paper. Similar to the one given to his two previous guests, this had a bottom line grade as well as some strengths and improvements. After double checking that this was, indeed, the right report, the professor passed it over to his student. As Jones began to read, the professor returned to a seated position behind his desk.
“A B-Minus. Could be worse, I guess.”
“Could be worse, could be a lot better. Started off a lot better too, wouldn’t you agree?”
“So where do you think you can improve. And please, don’t just regurgitate what you see there. Tell me what you think.”
“Well, I think we already covered a lot of this in my previous progress report. I can be much too slow with my reads at times, I can still be found to stare down routes in progress, and hold on to the ball too long before making my throws.”
“All very true. Let me ask you this. What do you think can be done to speed up your growth? Perhaps, to make things easier on you?”
“Can I be honest?”
“Well, I think I need to use my athleticism a bit more. I’ve heard this from other places and from other professors. That as one learns the position, using their legs and their athletic ability is a great way to stress defenses while putting the quarterback in position to succeed.”
“Well Mr. Jones, I think that is a great idea for you. Anything else you’d like to add?”
“Again, can I be honest?”
“Well, the rumor around campus is that you say every student in this class - Quarterbacking 101 - has to be faster with their reads. Almost as if it’s a bit of rote constructive criticism, that almost carries no weight. I ... I just guess I’m wondering if that’s something I really need to be doing, or if that is just something you say to everyone.”
Now the professor was on his heels a bit. He leaned back in his seat, and fumbled with one of the stacks of papers in front of him.
“Well, perhaps I do outline that bit of criticism often. But it is true, Mr. Jones, that for young quarterbacks speeding up their processing is a big hurdle for them. So perhaps I say it often, but that is because it is usually applicable. Does that make sense?”
The student sighed, and stood up. “Yeah, I get it. Anything else?”
“Not right now Daniel. Look, don’t take this too hard. You know just as well as anyone else what my thinking was before you enrolled in this course. I was not sure you were even ready for it. But you have surpassed my expectations, and for that you should be very proud of how far you have come. Yes, you have some work to do, but I did not imagine that at this point I would be handing out a grade like this to you, at least not yet. So, be proud.”
Jones nodded his head and left the room.
The professor turned away from the doorway and cast his eyes out of the lone window in the room. He could see a few scattered pairs of ankles walking past the shrubbery, perhaps some maintenance workers or maybe even some students depositing some trash en route to their late afternoon seminars.
There was another knock on the door. Professor Schofield turned around to see the fourth and final student waiting on a grade, Dwayne Haskins.
“Can I come in?”
“Ah yes, Mr. Haskins. Please, do have a seat.”
Professor Schofield gestured to one of the empty chairs in front of his desk. The quarterback sat down, and the professor followed suit.
“Mr. Haskins, before I show you your midyear grade and report, let me ask you this: How do you feel?”
“Well, to be honest ... if I can?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“It has been really tough. I keep hearing that my first coach did not even want me, our new head coach wants to just run the football, I keep hearing in the media that I do not know what I am doing and that I am a long way away from being ready, and it does not make sense. I mean, you of all people were out there saying how smart I was, how ready I was, and it seems like, well, you were wrong.
“Were you? Were you wrong about me?”
The professor drew in a deep breath, composing his response in his mind. He then leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands in front of him on the desk.
“Dwayne, I’ll be honest. Everything you said can be true, and is true. Coming out I was very impressed with where you were mentally. But, unfortunately, you have gotten out to a rocky start. And what concerns me, as you will see here, are some repeated mistakes.” The professor then handed over a grading sheet. “Now look, the grade of a C is obviously not where you want to be. But I think in the context of everything around your organization - and the start to your career - you should not take this too hard.”
The pupil took a few moments to look things over, and placed the sheet of paper on the desk in front of him.
“So how does this get better for me?”
First off, you honestly need stability in the organization around you. As a quarterback yourself, you know what I am going to say: Clean up your lower body mechanics, get faster with your reads, and stop locking onto targets.”
“But how can I do that? I mean, I’m in and out of the lineup, we’re making coaching changes, and things are just a mess.”
“Dwayne, that’s probably a topic for Ownership 101, if we are being honest…”
The quarterback shuffled his feet, staring at the laces on his sneakers. “Okay then. I’ll just, I’ll just do the best I can.”
“That’s all we can ask of you Dwayne. Things will get better for you, I promise.”
The quarterback got up, circled back to the doorway and made his exit.
The professor stared at the empty doorway, half expecting another young passer to come in for a visit. But as the moments passed, he realized he was left alone, again.
With nothing left to do but crank up the Toto.