The Coker Conundrum
By Larry Burton
While it may be true that the signing of Jacob Coker puts a good and talented quarterback on a team of question mark quarterbacks, there remains some issues that the press has not chosen to ignore during the “honeymoon” phase of Coker joining the team.
But before we hit the bad, let’s look at the good.
Coker is much more than “another team’s backup quarterback”. He is a gifted athlete with a much bigger arm than any quarterback who has started during the Saban era. At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, he looks like what you’d draw up on the board for a prototypical signal caller. He has great footwork, elusiveness and can make yardage with his feet better than McElroy or McCarron could.
So why was he a backup?
He had the unfortunate circumstance of coming in while EJ Manuel was breaking ACC records and becoming a top NFL pick and then having to fight for a job against the nation’s number one quarterback recruit who lived up to his billing. Being slightly less fantastic as EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston is hardly a slap in the face.
So some say he “doesn’t know our playbook and system”.
Neither does any other quarterback on Alabama’s team. When Nick Saban brought in Lane Kiffin, it was his intent to shake things up a bit. But without sounding insulting to Alabama fans, the Alabama playbook of the Nick Saban era is basic math. Coker proved he can learn and operate in Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher’s offense which is more like calculus. To say Coker is behind because he doesn’t know our system, simply doesn’t understand the differences and complexities of the Florida State offense.
So does Coker have what it takes to be the best quarterback of the Saban era based on ability, size, speed and arm. But does he have what it takes between the ears? Had Saban not thought so he wouldn’t have played with dynamite in bringing him in.
And there is the problem.
What does it say to the recruits that Saban’s brought in, who have worked their tails off, kept their nose clean and run the “process” that he brings in a two season at best show pony that keeps them on the bench another year or two. Yes, keeps them on the bench. Forget the quarterback battle, if Saban did not think that Coker would be the starter, he wouldn’t have brought him in.
But more important to proving that point is that Coker knows that Jameis Winston will be gone by the end of Jr. year and that he would have had his senior year to show his goods and attract an NFL offer of his own. Had he not all but been assured that the starting job was his either by Saban or someone else in the system, he would not have left the team he loved and a sure starting job in another year to risk sitting on the bench somewhere else.
The other dynamite is that Coker could be a one and done much other quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson was when he left North Carolina State for Wisconsin. His one season there didn’t gain the season the Badgers may have dreamed about, but they did go 11-3 and go to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champs. But by not letting a quarterback gain experience that would stay with the program, the Badgers went 8-6 the next year and 4-4 in the Big Ten.
Also Houston Nutt took the gamble in forgoing working for the future or using in house talent to bring in Jeremiah Masoli in 2010 for a one and done year. The former Oregon Duck QB was supposed to come to Ole Miss and light up the scoreboard. Instead, they went 4-8 in a terrible season and without any experience in place, went 2-10 the next season. The Masoli gamble blew up in Nutt’s face and not only cost him embarrassing seasons, but his job.
Perhaps the most famous one and done was Cam Newton. He led Auburn to a national championship, but left an Auburn team with a quarterback quagmire and that team went from national champions to an 8-5 team and in the next year, a team that didn’t win a single SEC game in a sad 3-9 2012 campaign.
So bringing in a possible “one and done” quarterback has been a path to a good and bad seasons for that one year, but the mess it left its wake has never been good.
While no one else is speaking of the potential problems that this brings, it is important for Alabama fans to know that there are some that could materialize.
One of the potential problems may have already occurred. Alabama had the nation’s number 2 prospect committed to the team, but he decommited from Alabama and instead commited to USC. Was this the first ripple of bringing someone else in? Also Alabama lost a promising prospect that was set to battle for the starting job when Luke Del Rio, who spent his freshman year at Alabama, left for Oregon State. Was that also because he knew that Coker had the inside track? No one knows for sure.
Alabama and their fans expect great teams each year and while another national championship would be a cherished thing, should it cause problems down the road for a season or two, not all Crimson Tide fans would be willing to take that deal if that does indeed happen.
However, getting away from the doom and gloom, Coker could come in and win back to back national championships, tutor his heir and leave Alabama in great shape for runs into the future. With Nick Saban’s hand on the tiller, this is not only what Alabama fans expect to happen, but in all probability will happen but at least now you know the problems that could occur.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter