|Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press|
|Todd Haley and Kurt Warner were on the same page when the quarterback and coordinator were together in Arizona.|
There is a moment that an offensive coordinator knows when he has made the long-awaited breakthrough with his quarterback -- when their relationship grows beyond that of a coach merely calling a play into his headset, a player hearing it inside his helmet, and then relaying it to the rest of the offense.
"He turns around toward the huddle, because the play I was calling was the same play he would have called on his own," Arians said. "For a coordinator, that is the greatest feeling. That's when you know you're on the same page."
Talk with any coordinator and quarterback in the NFL, and they'll tell you it is imperative that they be of one mind. They will tell you they must be able to anticipate each other's thoughts and have a thorough enough understanding of each other's personalities that they know how each will respond to the many variables that come up during a game.
"Essentially, you've got to be the same guy, either on the field or off the field," Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. "You've got to be thinking the same thing and reacting the same way because, as the quarterback, you're the coach on the field. You've got to relay that information to the huddle with that same level of poise and composure that the coach had when he relayed it to you."
Such dynamics are not achieved overnight. They can take years to develop, and they don't always work out. Coordinators get fired or hired away as head coaches. Quarterbacks depart in free agency or are traded.
When the relationship between a coordinator and a quarterback has a chance to grow, there's only one form of glue capable of holding it together through the best and worst of times and constant pressure of the league's win-or-else culture: Trust. Trust that the coordinator is calling a play that puts the quarterback in the best position to succeed. Trust that the quarterback is going to make it work.
That's how the quarterback and his coordinator spend their week, "getting to where there are going to be no surprises on game day for either one of us," said Todd Haley, who was named head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason after a successful run as coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals.
In fact, the direct communication is so important to Haley that on Monday he removed the middle man between himself and his quarterback with the Chiefs. He fired coordinator Chan Gailey and will take over the play-calling duties himself.
During the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Haley and the Cardinals' Kurt Warner formed as tight a bond as any coordinator and quarterback could have. It reached a point where they communicated on an almost 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis during the season. If they weren't talking at the Cards' practice facility, they were exchanging text messages and phone calls.
On many occasions, Haley would be crawling into bed at night when, suddenly, he'd have a thought about a particular play or how an opponent's weakness could be exploited and would have to immediately share it with Warner. Or Warner would fire off a text message to him with an idea or question. There was no time like the present to discuss the best way to handle a certain pass rush he expected to face on Sunday.
"I couldn't total up the hours that we spent together, but it was a lot," Haley said. "It was after meetings, before meetings, even on Saturdays before an away game. Normally, that's a time where everybody's kind of just getting their stuff together to get on the plane, but Kurt and I, we're watching film. We're watching on the plane. I'm taking my computer back to him, showing him a couple of things, or he's coming up with a sheet of paper with his favorite (plays) or what he likes or last-minute thoughts."
Last season, all of that time and effort went a long way toward generating a prolific passing attack that helped the Cardinals clinch the NFC West and reach Super Bowl XLIII. Warner ranked in the top three in the league in practically every major passing category, including yards (4,583, second), touchdowns (30, third), completion percentage (67.1, second), and passer rating (96.9, third).
Not every coordinator-quarterback relationship results in that sort of success (and it doesn't hurt when your receivers are Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin), of course. But here are a few key elements that the good ones have:
»Transparency. "There can't be any secrets with your quarterback, and that goes to how you feel about the personnel around him," Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron pointed out. "You've got to make sure he understands how you feel about the personnel that he has, what the strengths and weaknesses of those people are. Be honest with him, scheme-wise, so that he knows where the problem issues are. You can't be afraid to let the quarterback know that, even though you want to, you're not always going to be able to put him in certain positions because he doesn't have the right people around him."
»Being ready and able to adjust on the fly. "On the field, there's got to be dialogue each series, because a quarterback sees things that the coordinators don't, as far as (a defender's) body language, or hearing (defensive) calls on the field," Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "And if you keep an open line of communication that way, you're able to make better adjustments with your quarterback on game day."
»The realization that earning trust is a never-ending process. That was one of the first discoveries Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made about working with coach Mike McCarthy after Rodgers replaced Brett Favre as the starter last year. "It's a push-pull factor and the trust is really built over the experience of 16 weeks of him calling plays for me and me trying to get us in the best situation possible with the plays he's called," Rodgers said. "When you get on the field, he gives you a leash. If you make the right calls and get us in a good situation, the leash is going to get a little longer. If you kind of go outside the box, he's going to tighten it up a little bit."
Still, the most vital part of a quarterback's communication with his coordinator happens well before they're connected via wireless technology during a game. It takes place in the middle of the week, when they go over the plays that will be included in the game plan.
Most of the time, the quarterback offers an opinion of the plays he likes and doesn't like, usually based on how they were executed in practice. Generally speaking, a coordinator will defer to the quarterback's wishes and dispose of plays that drew a thumbs-down reaction. However, there are times when a coordinator will try to change the quarterback's mind about a play he has rejected.
"With young guys, you need to push them through some things that they may not like for whatever reason," Cameron said. "I had a couple of experiences on a couple of plays with some young quarterbacks, and all of a sudden, after they got a couple of big plays out of the play that they thought they didn't like, they liked it all of a sudden. You've got to be careful with young quarterbacks. If they get the ability to take things out of the game plan they don't like, sometimes they can't grow.
"Now, with a veteran quarterback, it's completely different. I'm talking about guys who have played significantly and won. If a winning quarterback tells me he doesn't like something, it's out because there are plenty of other plays to go to."