San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana was a guest on Rusillo and Kanell and he discussed a wide range of topics from the talent of Tom Brady to if he thought about his legacy while he was playing. You can listen to the entire podcast here. The Montana segment starts at the 43 minute mark.
Some of his most interesting comments, however, were about the quality of quarterbacks coming onto the NFL as a result of college offenses being simplified. Listening to Montana describe the complexity of the offenses he ran and what other quarterbacks thought of Bill Walsh’s offense, after being coached by him in the Pro Bowl, is very interesting (They thought it was quite challenging).
Montana’s two sons explained the offenses they were learning to their father and that’s where the conversation gets interesting. When asked about young quarterbacks being challenged in the league he spoke about what he believes is one of the reasons:
I think part of the problem we have today is the college systems are dumb-ifying the quarterbacks more so than ever. And if you look and you watch...you know, I had to ask my two boys who played in that type of system, “What happens when you’re under center and then all the sudden everybody looks to the side? What do those cards mean?” Well, one tells them the defense and the other tells them what play to run. I said “You’re joking, right?” And he goes, “No.” (laughing)
They don’t learn how to read a defense and that’s the most difficult part, I think, coming to the NFL. If you don't understand what’s going on when you have to pick you’re head up, it’s too late. And I’ll tell you, it’s tough and there’s great athletes on the other side, but you have to be able to understand and not have to be able to rely on something from the sideline because it changes that quickly and I think that’s where most quarterbacks struggle, is that they just don't have the ability to read a defense and be able to anticipate because most of the time those read option guys are throwing to guys that are wide open, the majority of the time.
When it comes down to anticipating a window from the pocket or getting a ball up on time or making a change, they never change a play themselves. In college we were able to even change plays but you don’t see it from the young guys because they just were never taught how, and why, they would change it.
Montana describes what he saw watching a college game, presumably with one of his sons playing, and you start wishing he would coach, if you hadn’t already.
I went to a college game and they ran, we called it cover one, where the free safety and the corner double over on one side and they had two receivers on like a slot on the other, and they were all singled up. The inside guy on the slot goes up, and if he goes across, shallower than 10, that defensive back turns and helps the outside guy. Well, the outside guy always thinks he has help. It took this team, I'm going to say five plays after they ran it the first time to figure that out, that all they had to do was run the inside guy up a little deeper than 10, and they had guys wide open for a post for a touchdown. And then it took them another 15 plays to come back to the same play again. I [said] “You got to be kidding me." Not sure who, the defensive guy or offensive coordinator needed to be shot. (laughing)
When the fact that the 49ers use sign/signals on the sidelines was brought up, Montana was asked if Chip Kelly’s offense could be successful in the NFL.
I think it’s tough to have a system where you can’t rely on the quarterback. I mean you have to be able to see things and change things other than, “I’m going to read that tackle, and if he goes down I’m keeping the ball” or whatever those reads may be. I think it’s hard. If you don’t teach that guy how to play the game, whether it’s Chip’s offense or whoever else has anything similar to that in the NFL, I think its very difficult to be successful. Oh, they’ll have their times and they’ll have good times but the majority of the time, they have way too good of athletes on the other side of the football that can stop that read option. Everybody thought that would be the next phase but you don’t see it as much as you used to.
Needless to say, Montana doesn’t have a very high opinion of the read option because it doesn’t develop quarterbacks to be successful in the NFL. That, combined with the fact that quarterbacks are expected to play and contribute immediately after being drafted is what contributes the low quality football that is frequently seen in the early weeks of the season.