Mike Gundy and his OSU football staff didn’t choose between Wes Lunt and Clint Chelf for a spot on the roster. This isn’t like the NBA. But the Cowboy coaching staff clearly did choose Lunt and Chelf (and J.W. Walsh) to quarterback the 2013 Cowboys, and Chelf apparently is the man. Which hastened Lunt’s decision to transfer.
And that’s perfectly fine. Coaches are bound to make such decisions based really on one tenet. Who’s the best man for the job? Who has earned it? Who is the most reliable? Who can be counted on?
Of course, sometimes decisions are more difficult than others. In spring 2012, the OSU staff was doing guesswork. Lunt, Chelf, Walsh. None had played meaningful minutes (Walsh and Lunt hadn’t played at all), and all wore green jerseys in practices and scrimmages, so that was a decision based on feel and faith more than knowledge and evidence. OSU went with Lunt, he showed much promise, then came the injury carousel that made the OSU quarterback rotation look like this: Lunt-Walsh-Lunt-Chelf.
All three quarterbacks produced, all three proved they could do the job and suddenly OSU had the most quarterback depth in America.
But as the NFL long has proven, while having multiple quarterbacks who have proven they can produce, such abundance also brings a new set of problems. Quarterbacks who have tasted success on game day aren’t likely to be content going back to holding clipboards and signalling plays. Matt Flynn in Green Bay was the latest example. There are plenty of others who also decide to do the pro-version of transferring. They leave in free agency or orchestrate a trade.
When the NFL makes such decisions — Joe Montana or Steve Young, Jeff Hostetler or Phil Simms, Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith — all kinds of factors are involved. Money. Age. Offensive system. Personality.
When a college coach has to make such a decision, the factors are less. Money isn’t involved. All college players are paid equally. Or at least we hope they are. And in most cases, age is not a big variable, because a career is a maximum of five years, typically four, and a quarterback who has proven himself usually has been around awhile. So there’s not a big difference.
But in Stillwater this spring, there was a big difference. Gundy and Co. were deciding between quarterbacks with three years eligibility remaining (Lunt and Walsh) and one year eligibility remaining (Chelf).
I don’t know if that played a role in the decision to go with Chelf, which Gundy hasn’t announced officially although he basically said in December and March that Chelf would go into the spring as the No. 1 quarterback, and nothing in the spring indicated that had changed, except Gundy saying he wouldn’t talk about the quarterbacks.
But the idea that OSU was blindsided by Lunt’s transfer? Well, that’s just silly. Of course Lunt was going to consider transferring, when it became apparent Chelf was the anointed quarterback for 2013. Same as Chelf would have considered transferring had Lunt been crowned, maybe even moreso because Chelf has graduated and could transfer and play immediately at a variety of schools. Walsh was in a little different spot, since he apparently is guaranteed to play no matter, with OSU’s short-yardage package, though transferring might have been enticing to Walsh had Lunt been picked.
Quarterbacks want to play. Only one usually gets to. When they see the road blocked, they look for other routes. Some bolt, some don’t. But quarterbacks almost always consider their options. So it was no surprise when Lunt transferred.
And Gundy now knows the result of his decision. The Cowboys took one year of Chelf at the expense of three years of Lunt. That’s a bad trade. It might be a necessary trade, because if Chelf clearly was the better quarterback, then you’re inviting problems to do anything other than give him the offense. But it’s an unfortunate trade. Lunt clearly has more potential than does Chelf. Better arm. Bigger body. Just as much game experience despite being three years younger.
This kind of discrepancy happens all the time in college football. Players with less potential play over guys with more potential, because coaches have to make decisions based on the here and now, especially at quarterback. But rarely are such decisions made when both players have played. Gundy’s 2013 quarterback decisions are based on a great deal of game evidence.
The game evidence was not decisive. Lunt, Walsh, Chelf, all three had their pluses and minuses, depending on the quality of the opposition. Lunt looked great at times against Arizona, but he also threw three interceptions. Lunt looked solid against TCU, the best defense the Cowboys faced. Chelf played great against West Virginia and Purdue; not quite as great against OU and Baylor.
And OSU chose Chelf. Odds are he will shine. Most OSU quarterbacks do these days. But if Chelf struggles, it will intensify the sting of picking one year of Chelf over three years of Lunt.