All due respect to the center position and those who play it, but from the playground to the Superdome, the coach-on-the-field role almost always falls squarely on the quarterback’s shoulders. They’re the field generals, so it’s no surprise to see many of them succeed as coaches after their playing days.
But even though it’s a fairly common transition, it seems Nebraska has had an unusually high number of quarterbacks go on to coach at the game’s highest levels. Most played under former Husker coach Tom Osborne. And on a given fall Saturday, Osborne can flip through the channels and see his fingerprints on as many as five NCAA Division I college games.
There’s Liberty head coach Turner Gill (Husker quarterback from 1980-83), LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph (1988-1991), Wyoming wide receivers coach Mike Grant (1989-92) and Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski (1986-89). That Scott Frost guy, too.
“I think it’s just the nature of being a quarterback,” Joseph says. “Coaching is not a 9-5 job, and I think that’s appealing to a lot of quarterbacks. I think once you get involved with football, you want to stay in it. And the way to stay around the game is to coach. You’re a natural competitor, and the job gives you a way to keep competing.”
But wanting to coach and being good enough to coach major college football are two different things. That’s where Osborne comes in. Joseph says he had some conversations with Osborne when he first started out — his first job was coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers at Omaha North High School in the mid-1990s. But more than those conversations with his former coach, Joseph says he was influenced by simply observing how Osborne managed his Husker teams.
“I think I just learned a lot because of how organized Coach Osborne was in our meetings,” Joseph said. “And when you start out as a coach, you go by how you were coached. So I try to be really organized in our meeting rooms and I think that’s helped me. The way Tom was organized and the way he was a great teacher — I learned from that and I try to bring that to my job.”
Osborne says he's not surprised to see his former players moving up the coaching ranks — Gill, Grant and Gdowski all started their coaching careers as graduate assistants at Nebraska. Osborne knew then they were headed in the right direction.
And when they were players, Osborne says he could tell that Joseph and Frost had all the attributes of a coach.
"Our quarterbacks, we gave them full control on the field," said Osborne. "And in order to handle that, you had to understand defensive structure, coverages, what the weaknesses of the defense are and how to exploit them. And you have to be a good manager to make sure everybody is where they're supposed to be.
"So I think if you've played quarterback in a system that is fairly complex like ours was, it certainly gives you a pretty good jump start to being successful as a coach. You have to have pretty good organizational skills to get it to all work out."
It's not just at the college level that Osborne's former quarterbacks are thriving, either. Jerry Dunlap, who was a quarterback for the Huskers from 1987-91, won multiple championships as the head coach of Napa High School in Napa, California, and is now the athletic director at Napa Valley College.
Closer to home, Matt Turman, who was a quarterback at Nebraska from 1992-96 has been a prominent high school coach in Omaha for more than a decade. In his 14 years at Omaha Skutt, Turman has led the SkyHawks to three Class B state titles.
"It doesn't surprise me at all that he's been very successful at the high school level," Osborne says of Turman, fondly remembered as the Turmanator after he filled in for injured Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer. "Football is football. A lot of people think it's a different deal from high school and college, but there's a tremendous amount of similarities between the two. You still have to do certain things and do them very well at every level."
The trend of Nebraska quarterbacks going on to be coaches has continued in the years since Osborne retired, too. Zac Taylor, who played at Nebraska for two seasons and in 2006 threw for 3,197 yards, which ranks second in school history, has been a coach in the NFL since 2012. He's currently the assistant wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams.
As for the man in front of Taylor in the single-season record books? Joe Ganz, who played at Nebraska from 2004-2008, threw for 3,568 yards in 2008 and now coaches tight ends at Youngstown State.
"Being a quarterback just forces you to study all areas of offense and defense," Taylor says. "So of all the positions, that's the one that prepares you the most for what you need to do as a coach."