8. Brush Your Teeth Before Practice. The Huddle Will Appreciate It.
— From “100 Ways for a QB to Lead His Team: A quarterbacking handbook by Bill Musgrave.”
Bill Musgrave is nothing if not detailed. He’s 44 and hasn’t met the unturned stone, as evidenced by what’s in the 4-by-6 purple booklet that he’s just pulled off the top shelf in his Vikings office at Winter Park.
“100 Ways for a QB to Lead His Team: A quarterbacking handbook by Bill Musgrave” is 21 pages of mostly straightforward common-sense advice that reminds quarterbacks that they need to be a leader in every facet. Musgrave wrote it 11 years ago as an assistant at the University of Virginia. It was meant as a keepsake to hand out to high school kids at coaching clinics, but Musgrave has had the courage to keep updating the cover and distributing it to millionaire professionals along an NFL journey from Jacksonville to Washington to Atlanta and now Year 2 as Vikings offensive coordinator.
“Matt Ryan memorized it his rookie year,” said Musgrave, referring to the Falcons quarterback. “But he was single and didn’t have a girlfriend, so I think he had a lot of time on his hands.”
The book became a bonding tool between position coach and the quarterback who would win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008. Musgrave would blurt out one of his 100 tips in practice, a meeting room or even in passing inside the cafeteria. Ryan, according to Musgrave, would smile and shout out the corresponding number.
“I’m not buying that,” Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said. “But I did read the book. There’s some funny stuff in there, but there’s also a lot of detail. That’s Bill Musgrave. Right down to the smallest angle of your foot on your throws, he’s thought of or seen everything.”
A year ago, Ponder was 2-8, completed 54.3 percent of his passes and threw as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns. Heading into Sunday’s game against the 49ers (2-0), he is 1-1, leads the league in completion percentage (75.8) and has no interceptions. But while Ponder has improved, he’s still trying to prove he’s a long-term solution for the Vikings. So, too, is Musgrave, according to Musgrave himself.
“I think I’ve felt like that my whole life, whether I was playing or coaching,” Musgrave said. “So, yeah, I feel I’m trying to prove myself here.”
75. Once Every Blue Moon, In Order to Shock Your Team, Run Wind Sprints After Practice In Your Jock, Helmet and Shoes Only. People Will Question Your Sanity, Which Is OK.
“There’s definitely a lot going on in Bill Musgrave’s head,” says receiver Percy Harvin, a rare athlete who has become a virtual science project in Musgrave’s Winter Park laboratory. “Just a lot of creativity going on up there.”
Creative describes one particularly memorable offensive meeting at training camp in Mankato last month. After an especially lethargic effort by the offense, an angry Musgrave, who’s even-keeled but capable of snapping on occasion, got an idea as he walked across campus toward the meeting room. He began gathering leaves, wood chips and sticks. Then he filled a small garbage can with water and came into the meeting room with both arms full.
“He put all the leaves and sticks and stuff right there on the table,” Ponder said. “He was talking about how the offense is responsible for starting the fire. He kept trying to start it and then he pulled out a lighter.
“I’m thinking, 'No way he lights it.’ Then he lights it. And then I’m thinking, 'How big would this be if he can’t put it out and he brings down the whole building?’ But he threw the water on it. It was definitely a Bill Musgrave thing to do.”
Musgrave said props are a part of getting through to today’s young people. Mission accomplished, according to Harvin.
“You know why I like Musgrave,” Harvin asked. “Because he’s not just standing up there going, 'Blah, blah, blah’ while nobody’s listening.”
79. Never Show Up A Teammate On The Field With Gestures Of Disgust. No One Ever Intentionally Drops Passes or Busts Assignments. Support And Encourage Them Instead.
Some of Musgrave’s 100 tips don’t quite fit the NFL. Such as No. 31 (volunteering for the hands team on kick returns). Or No. 78 (bringing teammates some of your mom’s cookies).
Then again, many of them will stand the test of time at any level. Such as No. 84 (Don’t be the guy to get distracted by his girlfriend(s)). Or the one above about never showing up a teammate. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler caused a national stink when he violated that one during a nationally
televised prime-time game at Green Bay last week.
“When Bill was backing me up in Denver, you could always tell he was gathering information that he was going to use as a coach one day,” said John Elway, a Hall of Famer and the Broncos executive vice president of football operations. “I’m not surprised by the success he’s had with young quarterbacks.
“His knowledge of the game is exceptional. He’s played the position. He’s enjoyable to be around. He’s very intelligent, so his sense of humor is very dry. He’ll help Christian a lot.”
Musgrave was a four-year starter at Oregon when the Cowboys drafted him in the fourth round in 1991. He spent that summer behind Troy Aikman before backing up Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco (1991-94) and Elway (1995-96). He also spent training camp with the Colts in 1998, the same year they took a guy named Peyton Manning No. 1 overall.
“Just watching all those guys made me realize how valuable it was to make the practices as much like the game as you could,” Musgrave said. “And each guy was so different that it made me realize that there’s more than one way to skin the cat.”
83. Do Whatever It Takes To Make The Game Of Football Fun For You.
Musgrave tries to make time for fun off the field with his co-workers. While under then-Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio in 2003, he returned from such an outing with more than just his memories.
“It was a deep-sea fishing trip,” Musgrave said. “Jack, Smitty [then-defensive coordinator Mike Smith] and I went out 15 miles. It got a little rough. I went down below just so I wouldn’t get sick out there on the deck. I took about a five-hour nap instead of watching my line. From then on, I was 'Captain Muskie.’”
Muskie went with the flow. Like he did as a player when the 49ers defensive backs would make him stay after practice and throw to them.
“Especially Deion [Sanders],” Musgrave said. “Deion didn’t want to drop anything. He would catch literally hundreds of balls a week from me.”
Sanders repaid Musgrave in a big way in the waning seconds of the 49ers’ blowout of the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
“I’m pretty sure Deion knew my name, but he ran up to me on the sideline saying, 'Hey, Musty, I’m putting you in,’” Musgrave said. “I said, 'I’m OK, Deion.’ He said, 'No, I already talked to [coach] George [Seifert] and you’re in. Right now!’”
Told to call “anything he wanted,” Musgrave called 22 Hank, a basic West Coast play. On third-and-25, he completed a 6-yard pass to the tight end.
“And that was it,” Musgrave said. “I became the all-time leading passer in Super Bowl history.”
Musgrave laughs at the thought of even joking that a career backup with 69 professional passes would rank higher than the legends that he played behind and studied for so long.
Obviously, they all brushed regularly, right?
“Oh, I forgot about No. 8,” Musgrave said. “I must have gotten stuck and needed a few more to stretch the book out to 100.”