Among the many reasons I'd make a poor NFL general manager: I thought Brady Quinn would be a legitimate starting quarterback.
I wasn't alone. Charlie Weis, his coach at Notre Dame, thought so. The Cleveland Browns thought so. There were others, but whether they'd admit it now or not, that's on their consciences.
Quinn will start this week for the Kansas City Chiefs as they host the playoff-seeking Indianapolis Colts at 1 p.m. Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium. It'll be his seven start this season, and fifth in a row since taking over for the ineffective Matt Cassel on a team that's 2-12 and can't reach the end of the season fast enough.
The trouble with Quinn since he's been in the league is that he shows signs, every now and then, of the promise that he displayed as a record-setting quarterback for the Irish.
Take his game against the Carolina Panthers earlier this month: Quinn completed 19 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-21 win on the emotional weekend of linebacker Jovan Belcher's suicide. Quinn's completion percentage (82.6) set a Kansas City single-game record. The Chiefs have been around awhile, and they've had a few decent quarterbacks. Len Dawson and Joe Montana come to mind.
The rest of the season Quinn has zero touchdowns and six interceptions.
That's his career in short: Flashes of brilliance and stretches of mediocrity.
Quinn spent the last two seasons with the Denver Broncos, sitting behind Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. If Cassel hadn't bombed this season and the Chiefs hit the skids, he'd probably still be watching.
“It's always a blessing to be able to play quarterback in this league, regardless of the circumstances,” Quinn said. “I try to take a positive attitude and affect the guys around me.”
Once the season ends, the quarterback shuffle will likely ensue with a number of NFL teams, including the Chiefs, the Jets, the Cardinals and others. This is a big chance for Quinn to display his skills if he hopes to get another job.
In the two weeks since his solid game against Carolina, Quinn completed 28 of 53 for 295 yards, no touchdowns and two picks. The Chiefs lost to the Browns 30-7 and the Raiders 15-0.
“Obviously, the past couple weeks we haven't accomplished what we wanted to do on the offensive side of the ball,” Quinn said. “We didn't get off to a fast start and we put ourselves in a hole.”
Despite adversity, Quinn hasn't lost his sense of humor.
Asked if he had an update on his ribs (he was injured last week), he joked about several places in Kansas City where you can get some great ribs.
Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel, who might find his job in jeopardy at season's end, praised Quinn, although not effusively. Crennel also coached Quinn in Cleveland.
“He does a good job managing the game and he doesn't turn the ball over (too much) and those were some of the reasons I made the change to try to help the team,” Crennel said.
Quinn said he believes he is still making some improvements as a pro quarterback.
“One of the things is seeing things out here on the field, decision-making, reads and so forth,” Quinn said. “I see things much more clearly than before. When you're coming into the league, it takes awhile before you can do things differently – (calling) audibles, checking out of things and seeing things more clearly.”
In a conference call with Colts reporters, Quinn talked a bit about Notre Dame's national championship and how the Irish fit into the college football picture.
“I think it says a lot, not just from the perspective of history and the tradition behind Notre Dame football,” Quinn said, “but as far as Notre Dame having the No.1 graduation rate in the country. You can accomplish both, academically and athletically. That's the way it should be. That's why everyone is called a student-athlete, and that's what sets Notre Dame apart from the rest.”
Quinn's career at Notre Dame didn't include championships, but he set 36 passing records, some of which have seen been broken. He twice finished in the top four of the Heisman Trophy voting. He was considered a possible franchise quarterback by some entering the league, but he slipped to No.22 in the 2007 draft, waiting for what seemed like an eternity to be drafted.
Quinn eventually started in Cleveland and had at least one spectacular game – 304 yards and four touchdowns against the Lions in 2009 – but could not maintain consistency.
Why do some great college quarterbacks make the transition and thrive in the pros and some struggle to even maintain a career? That's the great mystery.
Quinn looked like he had all the tools at Notre Dame. He sometimes looks like he misplaced his hammer in the pros. But his potential remains, and he has a chance to spoil the Colts' quest to clinch a playoff berth this Sunday.
"We don't try to look at things that way," Quinn said. "We have a big challenge on our hands looking at their defense and what they bring to the table."
Give the man this much: Six years into the league, he's still pushing forward in search of his NFL niche.