Bo Pelini is a headmaster of Old School football, in the fine tradition of patriarchs like Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Vince Lombardi. The locker room is family. Coach's way or the highway, your pick.
Steve Calhoun is a professor of passing in the New School of football. He is an independent contractor, running the “Armed and Dangerous” passing camp in Los Angeles. He's tutored Cam Newton and Jake Locker. He has pupils across the country, ages 8 through college.
Pelini is quarterback Taylor Martinez's coach.
Calhoun is quarterback Taylor Martinez's coach.
How does this happen?
Sometimes, to get where you want to go, you gotta embrace progress.
What we saw from Nebraska's junior quarterback last Saturday was unequivocally progress. Armed with new mechanics and fresh confidence, Martinez completed 76 percent of his passes and threw for five touchdowns against Southern Mississippi. It was an inspired, breakthrough day.
And Calhoun and Pelini, along with offensive coordinator Tim Beck, all deserve the credit.
This unlikely scenario began last spring when Martinez, eager to polish his passing mechanics and accuracy, hooked up with Calhoun in Martinez's hometown of L.A. During spring break and again this summer, Calhoun had 13 sessions with Martinez.
Pardon this old-school hombre, but isn't that what Martinez's coaches at Nebraska are getting paid for?
It doesn't work that way anymore. In today's world of sports specialization, there is a cottage industry out there of quarterback gurus, free-throw coaches, swing doctors and pitching mentors.
It's a brave, new world for the high school or college coach, who has to compete with a kid's select coach, AAU coach or hired-gun teacher in the name of future greatness.
Calhoun estimates that there are 100 passing coaches like himself just in the state of California. Pick a college quarterback, he says, and that kid has a guru on the side.
When you consider the NCAA's limitations on how much time a coach can spend with athletes — they can't work with them in the summer — using a guru begins to make more sense.
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“Just anybody out on the street, no,” Beck said. “But Steve is a class guy and well-respected and understands the game. I didn't invent the game by any means.
“He did a great job with Taylor. It's great that Taylor took it upon himself to get some extra help, to be able to improve his game, with all the NCAA guidelines. It's paid off. There's a process you go through to have success. Taylor is learning that.”
Good for Pelini, Beck and Martinez.
It's well-documented that the trio are all learning their craft on a big-boy stage. But they also have a willingness to learn and try new things. Neither Pelini nor Beck — nor Martinez, for that matter — is saying they have it all figured out. They want to get better. They weren't afraid to invite a stranger into their house and entrust him with their quarterback.
Calhoun fits right into the Nebraska family, though. Former Husker Ralph Brown, a friend of Calhoun and Taylor's father Casey, brought those two parties together. Calhoun is also friends with former Husker Brenden Stai, a current intern with Pelini. Stai hooked up Calhoun with Beck.
And though Calhoun and Beck have only spoken over the phone four times, they've become friendly colleague with one big common interest.
“I have an open relationship with coach Beck, which I really appreciate,” Calhoun said. “He tells me what he wants Taylor to work on. Then coach Beck and Joe Ganz are in charge of getting Taylor to understand where to throw the ball.
“Coach Beck said, ‘Anything you can do to help Taylor become a better quarterback, I'm all for it. There's no egos here. I just want the young man to have success.'
“I'm the same way. I will do whatever Nebraska wants with Taylor. We are speaking the same language. I don't want to steal the spotlight from the quarterback or the program. I'm just a piece of the puzzle.”
How do you become a passing guru? It doesn't take a glitzy résumé.
Calhoun grew up in Orange County and played at Santa Ana College and New Mexico State (1991-93). He played for the Fresno Bandits of the AFA Semi-Pro League, then had a seven-year run in the German Football League of Europe. He had coaching stints at a small college and two high schools in the L.A. area.
Ask him where he learned his craft, and he says from watching all quarterbacks, from Joe Montana on down the line. And taking notes along the way from his various coaches.
“I think I provide a great service,” Calhoun said. “I work hard at my craft. What I teach is not complicated. It's basic fundamentals. I believe in good balance. I created a drill for every possible movement a quarterback can have in a game. So it becomes muscle memory in a game, and he goes right into the fundamentals.”
Calhoun worked with Martinez's upper body and feet. In a golf vernacular, he gave the quarterback some key swing thoughts to remember.
He said he told Martinez to pretend his left shoulder, right shoulder and belly button were all cameras. When the quarterback sets up, he told Martinez to take a picture with all three cameras pointed at the target, “so the upper body moves as one.”
Then he told Martinez that his left foot was “his GPS navigator.” Where the left foot is pointing tells you where the ball is going, Calhoun said.
“Ninety percent of the weight needs to be on the left foot and 10 percent on the right foot,” Calhoun said. “That keeps you from throwing off your back foot.
“When I first spoke to Taylor, he told me he was injured last year, had a high ankle sprain and a torn ligament in his left foot. That made sense to me, why he would throw off his back foot, because he didn't want to put weight on his injured foot.”
Coincidentally, Calhoun used to tutor Johnny Stanton, the Husker commit and Elite 11 quarterback from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., from sixth to eighth grade. But Calhoun said Stanton's high school coach won't let the quarterback work with Calhoun.
You can't get 'em all. But Calhoun also works with Washington quarterback Keith Price and Nevada's Cody Fajardo, who led the Wolfpack's upset over Cal last week. In fact, Calhoun will be at LSU on Saturday to watch Price take on the Tigers.
He broke the news to Martinez earlier this week that he wouldn't be in the Rose Bowl on Saturday for his pupil's big homecoming game against UCLA (Calhoun is going to the Nebraska-Ohio State game on Oct. 6). But the two had a good phone conversation. Calhoun told Martinez that he was proud of him.
“I just watched the game film from Southern Miss and Taylor looked good,” Calhoun said. “I mean, he looked great. I was very happy. Everything we worked on, you could see it in the game.”
Now, can Martinez show that form again this week? Some Husker fans wonder. But not Calhoun. This is only the beginning, Calhoun says. Only the beginning.
“We just had 13 sessions,” Calhoun said. “Wait until we have another offseason to work together. He's going to be an unbelievable passer.
“In fact, I think Taylor has a shot to play in the NFL, with another year of development. He is a phenomenal athlete and you can't teach that. Look at what Russell Wilson is doing. NFL teams will pay attention to that.”
There's a long way to go before that. But New School is in session. The pupil passed his first test, with flying passes.
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