The recent take given by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk on Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's handling of his quarterbacks was an interesting referendum on the amount of obsessive detail work that must go into the development if a successful signal-caller. In a blog post entitled "Kyle Shanahan emerges as a full-blown control freak," Florio recounts recent comments by Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman about the specific teaching points given to him by the son of Washington head coach Mike Shanahan.
First, the Grossman quote from PFT: "During the course of a regular game, Kyle Shanahan wants you to run the offense exactly how he wants it, down to the amount of hitches you take to go through your progressions," Grossman told Zig Fracassi and Solomon Wilcots, per [Dan] Steinberg [of the Washington Post]. "And if you really study that and rep that in practice, then it becomes a lot easier during the game. You're not thinking as much as your body just goes through the progressions. That's some of the things that's really helped me start the second half of my career, and I feel like I'm a much better quarterback because of that."
Florio takes extreme issue with this level of detail, saying that this is why the Donovan McNabb era didn't work ["An established, franchise quarterback will be the last player to ever allow himself to be grossly micromanaged by a silver-spoon assistant coach three years younger than the established, franchise quarterback'] and bemoaning the general control-freak nature of the quarterback coaching profession.
The first person to disagree with Florio's take, at least publicly, was former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon.
Now, think about that. Gannon enjoyed a 17-year NFL career in which he had his most successful seasons in Oakland under the tutelage of Jon Gruden, a coach with a limited resume before his Raiders job. Gannon was just two years younger than Gruden, but the two men joined forces to help make the Raiders very relevant for a short time, despite the interventions of Al Davis. Gruden learned about quarterbacks from Mike Holmgren in Green Bay, and Holmgren learned about quarterbacks at the NFL level from Bill Walsh in San Francisco.
If there's one thing above all else that Walsh (who, in my opinion, is the greatest football mind ever) brought to the modern NFL, it's that quarterbacking must be a profession of precision first and foremost. Walsh's "West Coast Offense" (born in Cincinnati as it may have been) was based on quarterbacks understanding the timing of their drops, reads and throws, and receivers exactly when to cut, plant, and be ready for the pass. Walsh cut a wide swath through the league with his precision offense, whose concepts have become so ubiquitous at this point, there's almost no need to refer to the WCO anymore.
And when you look at the precision Walsh demanded from his quarterbacks at all times, it's pretty clear that everyone — whether you're talking about Joe Montana, Steve Young, or Jim Druckenmiller — was subject to the same level of demand. The Shanahans, who run a base WCO with some different sub-concepts, accept that need for precision on a for-granted basis. The problem with McNabb wasn't that Kyle Shanahan was asking him to do too much; McNabb thrived in Philadelphia in an even more complex — but fairly similar — system. The problems had more to do with the Shanahans jerking their personnel around, rotten protection from the offensive line, and McNabb's own declining skill set. But if what you're about to read was good enough for Montana and Young, it should be good enough for anyone else.
When he wrote his book "Finding the Winning Edge" — which is the best football book I've ever read — Walsh went through all the concepts of quarterback play, from basic to advanced. He went through QB-101 stuff like stance, hand position, drop-step footwork, movement in the pocket, throwing action, the three- five- and seven-step drops, and drop and read progressions. Each basic aspect of the position came with several teaching points that could be spun onto nearly infinite permutations as the needs for the position became more advanced.
That's the eternal value of Walsh's philosophies, and why they carry so much weight to this day. Walsh saw a changing league in which more complicated defenses would demand more precision and efficiency from the offenses he created, and he also understood that every move he invented would be countered — in one famous example, the legendary Dick LeBeau came up with the zone blitz concept to address the problems caused by a shorter, high-completion offense.
Professional football is about so much more these days that just "drop back and fling it." Whatever the problems may be with the way the Shanahans are running the Redskins, offensive complexity is not among them.