Choosing and Developing the Generation Y Spread Option Quarterback


Kurt Earl Post

This is a post by Coach Kurt Earl, offensive coordinator at Lincoln Christian School and publisher of Compete4Christ, a football blog. You can follow him on his Twitter Handle, KurtEarl14.

Coaching the Generation Y Spread Option Quarterback

We work in a rapidly changing profession. The generation of young men that fill our rosters, commonly referred to as Generation Y, perceives and engages in football very differently than we did or do. The most important player on the Generation Y football team — and in the evolution of the current game — is the spread option quarterback.

If we are going to effectively lead this generation to success on and off the field we have to be willing to change and grow while maintaining our core values and integrity. We have to understand our players and know how to relate to them, but we must never compromise what it means to be a man of maturity in the process.

This is no simple task, but it is a worthy task, particularly in regards to choosing and developing quarterbacks because they are the natural leaders of the school. If we’re going to help the young men on our rosters navigate their way through this globally connected, technologically advanced society we had better start with the quarterbacks. Like it or not your team and your community will head in the direction your quarterback is taking them.

The work of the quarterback coach is critical to the success of the team, but it is paramount in developing a proper culture within the program and the community. The work of developing quarterbacks on and off the field isn’t work that should be done it’s work that must be done.

Much could be said about what makes Generation Y tick, but I think this chart from Tim Elmore’s book Generation iY sums up the characteristics most important to coaches. Elmore is founder of Growing Leaders and is considered to be among our nation’s top experts on leading Generation Yers.



Generation Y

Birth years




Life paradigm

You owe me

Relate to me

Life is a cafeteria

Attitude to authority

Replace them

Ignore them

Choose them

Value system



Shop around

View of future

Create it!




What we see here is staggering. First and foremost we must be aware, as coaches, that Generation Y athletes view life as a cafeteria. Essentially they view life as one long shopping trip in which they are the constant consumer of goods.

Similarly, the young men on your rosters are shopping around looking for which leader they will follow and which value system they will subscribe to. Because they are constant consumers who have grown-up in an era of phenomenal advancements they are also highly optimistic. They don’t realize humanity hasn’t always been moving forward at this incredible rate.

What does this mean for football coaches? First and foremost it means that Generation Y players are consuming your program for their benefit. For the most part previous generations grew up dreaming about being a member of the team. This generation of young people grows up dreaming of the ways they will reap benefits from the team.

kurtearl-spread-option-qb-ingameTo Sell Is Coaching

Generation Y players aren’t going to respect a coach as an authority worthy of following simply because he bears the title coach. Why? Because as Daniel Pink, author of To Sell Is Human, points out we live in an era of information symmetry. They have access to far more information about football simply by using Google than our coaches ever did. They follow supposed football experts on Twitter and they watch Edge NFL Match-Up. Have you ever considered how many players and parents of players have purchased season passes to the Glazier Clinics and watch presentation after presentation online? I bet the number is staggering. The bottom line is that they think they know as much as we do and, to be quite frank, some of them probably do know as much we do.

I think this paradigm shift explains why so many schools are experiencing a decrease in player participation. Gone are the days when young men went out for football because they couldn’t fathom not being a part of it. The young men of Generation Y must be sold on the idea that being on the football team is a good idea.

The 21st Century Coach has to sell himself and his program to the young men in his school. Therefore, if you’re going to establish yourself as a coach worth following in the eyes of a Generation Yer you had better be proactive in your approach. What follows are some ideas I have for proactively establishing yourself as a great coach in the eyes of Generation Y.

1. Be relevant, but not cool

The goal for the coach of Gen Yers is to be relevant; which is completely different than trying to be cool. Never, ever try to be cool. You’re a shepherd of men not a DJ at a dance party. You’re about substance not flash. The goal is to have lots of sheep not lots of peeps.

2. Get out and coach

If you’re serious about finding them there are dozens of opportunities to coach in the spring and summer in your area. Contact local small colleges about working their summer camps, apply to work camps at the major universities and popular position camps. If they turn you down offer to just observe. Many of my best off-season opportunities have started when I was doing nothing more than observing and struck up a conversation. Refrain from being pushy, but make an effort to get out and coach.

Write a blog post

Pick the most unique aspect of your program, write a 1,000-1,500 word post about it and submit it to a blog. Your post may or may not go live on the blog you submitted it to, but either way you’ll get better. I have found that writing short articles about how I coach really sharpens my ability to coach. It’s ok if you are a terrible writer. The writing process will make you think critically and improve your coaching. If your post does go live be sure to share a link to it with your friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

4. Have a Facebook and Twitter account

Social media is an open door into the minds of your players that is open 24/7/365. Why wouldn’t you use it to your advantage? Again, remember the goal here is to be relevant not cool. Be careful about the jargon and hashtags you use and who you follow. Set a professional example. Share pregame pics of the stadium, your thoughts about how practice went, times when you notice any team on ESPN running your schemes, and motivational quotes.

Feel free to share personal photos and highlights of your week from a personal side as well. Generation Yers are highly relational and want to see what you’re like behind the curtain. If you are simply not ready to have a personal account I would encourage to create team accounts and use them in much the same manner.

5. Create an EPIC experience

Create an EPIC experience. Elmore talks frequently about creating learning experiences that are experiential, participatory, image rich, and connected. I take our quarterbacks and senior wide receivers to Colorado for a two day camp. We stay with my parents in the house I grew up in, spend a day in the mountains, tour Boulder and Denver…O, and we go to a QB/WR camp. The trip is a highlight of being a part of Crusader football and the kids look forward to it every year.

6. Teach them why before you teach them how

Before you teach a skill to your Generation Y QBs always show them why you’re doing it. Remember, we live in an era of information symmetry. They think they know as much as you and they will be quick to doubt your leadership. Therefore, one of the biggest things you can do to build trust is show them the method to your madness. Make sure they trust that every skill they learn is contributing to their development within your offensive system.

7. Be a Hudl guru

Hudl is so much more than simply a video sharing tool. In fact, it may be the greatest teaching tool in any setting for any application in the world. Learn how to use it and use it effectively. Attend the Hudl session at your next clinic. Knowing how to use Hudl will revolutionize the way you teach. Also, the kids think it’s pretty cool. The more you use voice overs, playbook, and various other features the more they think you’re Jon Gruden.

8. It’s about influence not image

To be clear, I am not proposing you need to change who you are or begin managing your image. This article isn’t about improving your image or impressing people. This article is about influence. It’s about developing a realistic approach and learning to communicate in relevant ways in order to increase effectiveness as a leader.

Choosing a Spread Option Quarterback

With up and coming quarterbacks in a spread option offense it’s important to start from a realistic paradigm. The proper paradigm has two main components:

  • There are no silver bullet players. Operating a spread option offense takes more than physical and/or mental talent. You are not looking for a superstar. You’re looking for a player you can mold into a superstar.
  • Even if you have one of those silver bullet like players, he can’t become what you need him to be if you don’t know what you are doing. The right choice + bad coaching = no fun season.

Here is the list of criteria I look for when selecting our future quarterbacks. Please note they are listed in the order of importance.

1. Character

Have you ever seen a selfish, lazy kid make a great play in a critical moment when the team was depending on him? Me neither. Enough said?

2. Uninterested in the status quo

You have to choose a kid who wants to get better. This is true regardless of the quarterback’s talent level. Desire to get better + good coaching = fun season. Your quarterback, more than anyone else on the team, has to be committed to getting better every day. Remember, he’s the leader whether you like it or not so he has to be someone uninterested in the status quo.

3. The most coachable

Think about your kids who are uninterested in the status quo. How many of them are coachable? I’ll bet you have at least a couple of them are not. At least a couple of them are committed to getting better, but they want to do it their way. Even though you are doing your best to engage them as Gen Y athletes they aren’t buying in. Those guys are out. Being coachable is critical.

4. Trenches tough

If you can’t picture the kid by your side in a trench in World War II don’t pick him. You need to pick the type of kid who would never get in a street fight, but would totally win if he ever found himself in one.

5. Most talented

Once you’ve narrowed your search by eliminating all the lovers of the status quo, who lack character and toughness and who aren’t very coachable, pick the one with the most talent. The key ingredient here is evaluating talent based not on generic quarterbacking skills like arm strength, but on quarterback skills necessary to be successful in the spread option offense. Below are some things I look for when evaluating talent:

  • Sheer athleticism—I’m talking about measurable athleticism. 10 yard dash, pro agility, vertical jump, etc.
  • Effective ball carrier—He has to be able to run the ball effectively. If he can’t run the ball he can only be a spread offense QB and not a spread option QB. There’s a difference. It’s like the difference between Peyton Manning and Marcus Mariota.
  • Able to learn to throw—I have completely destructed and reconstructed all of my QBs’ throwing motions. None of them throw the way they did in junior high so I don’t get too worried about how well they throw when I get them. The key is whether or not they capable of learning to make the throws in our offensive scheme.

Own the choice

Look at your roster, apply these criteria to your guys, make a choice and own it. You have just selected the player that is best equipped to run an effective spread option attack. You have also just selected the player with what John Wooden called competitive greatness. If you develop him properly he will be at his best when his best is required of him. You can’t ask for more than that.

Developing the Spread Option Quarterback

Once you have chosen your spread option QB you have to develop him. Ultimately, what you desire most is that he would change; change his mechanics, change his attention to detail, change his outlook on the game. The key is to create a culture in which ongoing change and development is an expectation rather than a bonus. Below are seven ideas I have for creating a culture where continuous change is the expectation.


Coach Earl with his QBs.

1. Let them know they are chosen

Typically, my first official interaction with a young man as a potential future QB in our system occurs in the spring of that young man’s 8th grade year. I routinely gather all of the QBs together for workouts after track practice and we always include the up and coming 8th graders in those workouts.

The 8th graders are totally overwhelmed in the first workout. They hear the words, “No, do it like this” over and over again. They get frustrated and they start to get a hopeless look on their face. It’s at that point I stop the workout, put my hand their shoulder and say, “We handpicked you for this. You’re the guy we believe is going to be the next starting QB.”

Remember, this is the me generation. This is the generation with custom everything. Asking them to submit to an idea that is not their own is like asking them to donate an organ. If you’re going to get them to buy in you have to let them know you handpicked them and will see them through the process.

2. Create a culture of coachability

Thanks to helicopter parents and the fail safe environments the adults in their lives have created for them, Generation Yers struggle with criticism. That’s a problem because if I can’t critique you I can’t coach you. Therefore, I stress to our QBs that I am not their fan. I am their coach. If they want to be our QB they have to be coachable.

During those first QB workouts in the spring, the returning QBs get a big kick out of watching me correct everything the new QBs do. We have a running joke that Coach Earl won’t tell you “good job” for two years. I don’t apologize for that. I teach our QBs why I am so critical and that they should appreciate that about me. Also, we emphasize the fact that we are all on a journey together. Being a QB in our system is a four year process. The goal is to get a little better every day.

3. Develop scheme specific skills

My wife and I are huge Denver Broncos fans. We both grew up in Colorado and were in high school when John Elway led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins. We even have a yellow lab named Elway. Naturally, I’m also a big Peyton Manning fan.

I recognize, however, that Manning wouldn’t be a good fit in our offensive scheme. He’s not the type of runner our scheme demands. As a result, I don’t coach our kids to be Peyton Manning. I coach our kids to be what we need them to be.

The point I am making here is that spread option QBs need to develop a set of skills that are specific to their scheme. At Lincoln Christian, we spend roughly 80% of our QB workouts on drills that develop skills that specifically fit into our schemes and plays.

In other words, 80% of our workouts are spent using the exact footwork, making the exact reads, and making the exact throws we use in the games. Our drills are highly specific to our offense. We spend the other 20% of our workouts warming-up, developing generic QB skills, and learning what to do when plays break down.

4. Coach every rep

My younger brother is a college basketball coach. Anytime the two of us get a chance to go watch a team practice we seize it. We don’t really care what sport it is because we aren’t going to see if we can pick up any new drills. We go to watch how coaches coach and to consider what we might learn about pedagogy and communication. One of our pet peeves is coaches who don’t coach. At nearly every level of play we have seen coaches who put kids through drills, but fail to coach. It drives us crazy.

My brother and I vowed long ago to coach every rep. Always give clear and immediate feedback. This means that simply saying “Good job” isn’t good enough. Be more specific than that. Say “Good job keeping your elbow up” or “Did you feel your momentum get away from you? Push off that back foot harder.” Remember, you’re a lot more than a practice organizer who puts kids through drills. You’re a coach so coach clearly and continually!

5. Be demanding

Generation Y routinely takes a beating for being selfish, entitled, and shallow. Frankly, those assumptions aren’t all wrong. I have found, however, that if Gen Yers believe in you they will die for you. Let me give you an example.

Every year at Lincoln Christian we have a players and coaches only meeting a couple days after our last game.The seniors lead it and it’s always a highlight of the year. Anyway, after the meeting this year our projected starter for next year came up to me and said, “When do we start QB workouts?”. He wanted to start immediately. I laughed and said, “As soon as basketball is over.” Once you have earned the trust of a Generation Y athlete you have the freedom to be very demanding. Don’t believe me? Two words: CLUB SPORTS

I believe in being very demanding within a culture of love and grace. As a Christian I am following the example of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He came that grace would be received by all who believe, but man is He demanding. He wants my best effort all day every day. Therefore, I do my best to be gracious, to forgive, to embrace my QBs where they are at, but to always push them to be better and better; as men first and as QBs second.

This frame of mind is probably best described by the old adage “Be easy to please and hard to satisfy.” Being demanding in a culture of love and grace is an incredibly difficult thing to do, but it’s what the kids deserve.

6. Be obnoxious about the details

On occasion, when I’ve corrected a tiny detail about a young QBs mechanics he asks, “Does it really matter?” Without fail I respond with “A thousand details make one big difference. Do the little things right!”.

I have found that my attention to detail is overwhelming at first. Generation Y kids have received positive affirmation almost exclusively throughout their lives so when I bombard them with a thousand things to improve on it hits them like a ton of bricks.

Generation Yers, and people in general, have no idea how detail oriented they can become. You must teach them how detailed oriented they can become. Demand an attention to details; your kids will embrace it. In fact, when I was preparing for this article, I asked my QBs what one thing they think we should share with other coaches. You know what they said? “Coach, tell them about how much we pay attention to details.”

7. Teach attitude and effort

Quite often you’ll hear coaches, particularly at the highest levels of football, proclaim that they don’t and won’t teach attitude and effort. I always think to myself, “Really? You’re not even going to address one of the most important aspects of being an effective player?” I implore you to teach attitude and effort.

Teaching attitude and effort begins with being able to articulate “the why.” In other words, if you can’t explain to your QBs why striving to be the best football player they can be is important then you won’t be able to teach them how to have a great attitude and give a great effort.

At Lincoln Christian, our “why” is the glory of God. We believe we can bring great honor and praise to God’s name by the way we compete and we believe being as excellent as possible is an important aspect of doing so. Your team needs a “why” and you need to be able to articulate it and use it as motivation for having a great attitude and effort. The “why” is the ambition and it fuels the flames of motivation.

It’s About More Than Football

This fall our team finished 9-2 and set several school records in the process. Offensively we were as close to unstoppable as we may ever be. Our average yards and points per game were off the charts. The season ended shorter than we would have liked, however, and we were left with a bad taste in our mouths.

In the days that followed our last game, the entire team, coaches and players alike, were disappointed and frustrated with the way things ended (we flat out got beat by a well-coached team). In the wake of the disappointment I received a thank you email from one of our offensive linemen. I want to share excerpts of it with you here because it highlights what I want to be about. It reminds me that I want to be remembered for being a mentor to young men who always did my best to lead on and off the field. Furthermore, I want to encourage each of you to do the same.

As much as I have enjoyed watching myself and my teammates improve over the years, I have also enjoyed watching you grow as well, as a coach and a leader… You have also been a very relatable leader. Just as you have watched us mature, we have seen you mature into a leader, mentor, and someone who can lead this team in place of [our head coach] when the time comes. I’ve been blessed to have you as a coach and I believe that God has given you a very unique talent as an OC. I just want to thank you for the opportunities I have had in this offensive system. It may not have seemed like it all the time, but I really respect you and what you have helped make this LCS football program.

That’s what it’s all about. It’s a journey and we’re all in it together.

Coach ‘em up!


2 thoughts on “Choosing and Developing the Generation Y Spread Option Quarterback

  1. JJ Ekeler

    I am one of the owners of The Driven Academy, in Lincoln, NE. I got to your page through a share by Tim Aylward (I also teach at Pius). On January 4-5 I’m hosting a softball coaching clinic. The softball community here is tight, and also rather large (over 200 youth teams). Last year we had a good showing – around 50 registered. We are again bringing in coaches from around the nation, including DIII’s all time wins leader. Wondered what interest you’d have in speaking at our event for a session? How long is your presentation and what is your rate?

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