System quarterback

A system quarterback is an American football quarterback who flourishes under a particular offensive system, specifically one that focuses on passing. The term is often seen as a pejorative, for it implicitly downplays a quarterback's talent or skill by implying that a successful offense is due to a particular scheme or that a quarterback is successful due to his employment under specific circumstances. Russ Lande of Sporting News traced the term's etymology, or at least currency, to the early 1990s, when two University of Houston quarterbacks failed to carry college success into their professional careers.[1] First, Andre Ware, in head coach Jack Pardee and offensive coordinator John Jenkins's run and shoot offense, had a record-setting 1989 season that culminated in a Heisman Trophy. He was the seventh overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, but did not have success in either the National Football League or the Canadian Football League.[2] David Klingler took over for Ware at UH and was the sixth overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. He too, failed to find exceptional success in the NFL.[1]


Recently, the appellation was commonly applied to Texas Tech quarterbacks that operated under former head coach Mike Leach and offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's spread offense. In the 2000s, the school had several different quarterbacks that threw in excess of 4,000 yards in a season. According to some pundits, this demonstrated that the quarterback had simply been an interchangeable part in a prolific passing offense. Some Texas Tech quarterbacks, with their college tenure in parentheses, described as such include:

The label is not restricted to Texas Tech, however, and pundits and coaches have referred to players from several other schools as benefiting from systems. In 2007, then Hawaii head coach and offensive coordinator June Jones infamously defended his own alleged system quarterback, Colt Brennan, by making the counter-accusation against Tim Tebow of Florida.[12] Players from schools other than Texas Tech that were described as system quarterbacks include:



  1. Russ Lande, A 'system QB' in Hawaii? Not Brennan, The Sporting News, August 8, 2007.
  2. The List: Biggest Heisman Flops, ESPN, retrieved February 14, 2009.
  3. Quarterback: 'System' label a burden come draft time, Dallas Morning News, April 22, 2005.
  4. Quarterbacks Harrell, Bomar are battling perception, Dallas Morning News, January 23, 2009.
  5. Sonny Cumbie Stats, ESPN, retrieved February 14, 2009.
  6. Shaking the 'system' label Archived 2008-10-11 at the Wayback Machine, Pro Football Weekly, July 5, 2008.
  7. '09 NFL draft: Top 10 QB prospects, Sports Illustrated, February 12, 2009.
  8. Graham Harrell Stats, ESPN, retrieved February 14, 2009.
  9. Cody Hodges Stats, ESPN, retrieved February 14, 2009.
  10. Player Bio: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech University, retrieved February 14, 2009.
  11. Cumulative Season Statistics, Texas Tech University, 2003, retrieved February 14, 2009.
  12. Heisman candidates could make history -- and change minds, ESPN, December 7, 2007.
  13. John Murphy, Rating the quarterbacks, Yahoo! Sports, February 15, 2007.
Positions in American football and Canadian football
Offense (Skill position) Defense Special teams
Linemen Guard, Tackle, Center Linemen Tackle, End Kicking players Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist
Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System) Linebacker Snapping Long snapper, Holder
Backs Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback Backs Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback Returning Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman
Receivers Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End Tackling Gunner, Upback, Utility
Formations (List)NomenclatureStrategy
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