Columbus East graduate Gunner Kiel has his professional life riding on his decisions, so give the kid a break.
Those who would like to criticize Kiel, who red-shirted his freshman season, for apparently deciding to transfer out of Notre Dame (although neither Kiel or the Irish have said those reports are true yet), can’t be familiar with the college football machine.
It is a system that grinds up quarterbacks and spits them out.
If I was walking around in Kiel’s cleats, and it would be nice to be blessed with that much football talent, I would have my bags packed, too.
For many college quarterbacks, the decision to transfer is the absolute correct one.
OK, you are stunned. How could you leave a program that just went to the national championship game?
Take a look at what Kiel was facing. Everett Golson led the Irish to the title game as a freshman. The kid had three more years of eligibility. It also should be noted that Golson is 6-foot tall and weighs about 185, so he isn’t going into the NFL Draft anytime soon. He will be at Notre Dame for the long haul.
Coaches treat their starting quarterbacks, the good ones, like their sons. Aside from a long-term injury, it’s tough to get a starter out of there if the team is winning.
Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly has five scholarship quarterbacks on his current roster. Well, five if you include Kiel.
Then you hear the argument that a quarterback worth his salt would stay and win the competition in practice. But those who watch college practices realize that back-ups get far fewer snaps than the starters and often aren’t being put in an equal position to succeed or compete. Be honest. How often do you see a coach flip-flop quarterbacks during the season when his team is winning?
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh did it last season and it was earth-shattering news. It is rare, indeed.
The norm is that the backup quarterback has two chances to start. One, if the starting quarterback is injured. Two, if the team is losing.
Kiel has to know that there is no guarantee that he is going to be handed a starting spot somewhere else. That being said, he must want an equal shot and my best guess would be that he didn’t feel he was going to get that shot at Notre Dame.
Quarterback is so unlike the other positions on the football field. Backup linebackers get first-team snaps at crucial points of the game. So do running backs and wide receivers, or defensive linemen. A backup quarterback just doesn’t get crucial snaps on game day. At least not very often.
Coaches often say, “A quarterback is one play away from starting.” But should that backup hope for the starter to break his arm?
The bottom line is that we all hear about the success stories that involve starting quarterbacks. How often do you hear about the backup on draft day when these players get their payday? Not very often. Kiel has to be concerned about his future.
I don’t think Kiel will have any trouble attracting interest, either. As the nation’s top quarterback recruit a year ago, head coaches will be lined up.
What happens from here is somewhat dependent on how Notre Dame treats the situation. If Kiel is given his release from Notre Dame and his letter of intent, then things are likely to happen quickly. If Notre Dame decides to fight the transfer, then the process could grind to the halt for the time being and ultimately affect the process in terms of schools that are interested.
Having been around the college football block a few times, I would hope that Kiel has a few priorities such as not choosing a program where he is going to land in the same situation. Hopefully, he is going to look at some programs where the quarterback figures to be gone after next season. For example, Alabama will have a senior quarterback in A.J. McCarron. Kiel could sit out his year (by transfer rule) and then be eligible when the position opens up.
Don’t pick a program, like USC, where a successor to Matt Barkley is going to be picked this season, as Golson was at Notre Dame last season.
Georgia, Nebraska, Virginia Tech and Clemson all have senior quarterbacks who will be finishing up their careers in 2013, so those programs will have an opening when Kiel is eligible again. Places like Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel) and Louisville (Teddy Bridgewater) have ultra-talented quarterbacks who figure to leave for the 2014 NFL Draft even though they still will have some eligibility. Those choices are interesting but more of a risk.
Rumors have swirled about Ball State and Northern Illinois, but certainly the spotlight won’t be shining so brightly. Northern Illinois did, however, just earn a BCS berth, and its quarterback, Jordan Lynch, will be a senior next season, so the position will be open. But if A&M is interested, well, you be the judge.
Then there is that thing about Kiel changing his mind too often because he turned away from LSU and Indiana to attend Notre Dame after his days at East. LSU’s Les Miles criticized Kiel and questioned his ability to lead a program.
To that I would ask if Miles ever continued to recruit a player who had verbally committed to another school?
Kiel stood up like a man and admitted he made mistakes during the recruiting process.
Now that takes guts.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 379-5632.
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