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Annals of American Meritocracy II: The Ballad of Clipboard Jesus

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After endorsing Barnwell’s take on Marvin Lewis, let me proceed to this excellent description of the career of Charlie Whitehurst:

• Whitehurst grows to 6-foot-5.

• He spends four years at Clemson, during which he fails to complete 60 percent of his passes (ending at 59.7 percent) and throws nearly as many interceptions (46) as touchdowns (49). The Tigers go 30-19 during his time in school.

• The Chargers draft Whitehurst in the third round of the 2006 NFL draft.

• Whitehurst spends four years as the third-string quarterback in San Diego behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek. He does not attempt a regular-season pass. His only experience comes during the 2006-09 preseasons, during which Whitehurst goes 104-of-197 (52.8 percent) for 1,031 yards (5.2 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.8

• Seattle’s new brain trust of Pete Carroll and John Schneider targets Whitehurst in a trade, getting their man by sending San Diego a future third-round pick and swapping Seattle’s second-round pick (40th) for San Diego’s (60th) in the 2010 draft.9 They also immediately give Whitehurst a two-year, $8 million contract extension.

• Whitehurst enters into a quarterback competition with 35-year-old incumbent Matt Hasselbeck.

• Whitehurst loses that quarterback competition.

• Whitehurst plays in nine regular-season games over two seasons with Seattle, starting four, most notably the division-clinching win over St. Louis in the fail-in game on Sunday Night Football in Week 17 of the 2010 season. He is benched in his last start after seven pass attempts for an already-injured Tarvaris Jackson. Over the two-year span, Whitehurst goes 84-of-155 (54.2 percent) for 805 yards (a terrifying 5.2 yards per attempt) while throwing three touchdowns and four picks.

• Returning to unrestricted free agency, Whitehurst signs a two-year, $3.05 million deal with the Chargers, including a $1 million signing bonus.

• Now 30 years old, Whitehurst spends 2012 and 2013 as the backup to Philip Rivers without throwing a regular-season pass. He takes 12 snaps during his stint with the Chargers, producing six handoffs and six kneel-downs for a total of minus-5 yards.

• Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt takes over as Tennessee’s head coach and brings Whitehurst along for the ride, giving the now 32-year-old a two-year, $4.3 million deal with $2 million guaranteed.

And it’s the first point that’s crucial here. He’s a tall white guy with a strong arm, so the fact that he’s never shown the slightest evidence of being an NFL quarterback can be overlooked. Coaches think they can teach non-prospects like this to play. They can’t, but they like to think they can. As I’ve said before, the Billy Beane outlook has never been about statistical analysis per se; in part, it’s about not letting your image of what a good player is supposed to look like cloud your talent evaluations.

The other striking thing here is that this isn’t just terrible organizations or obvious incompetents involved here. Wisenhunt isn’t a great coach but he did take an organization with virtually no history of success to within one play of the Super Bowl. Carroll and Schneider have built the best team in the league (granting that they’ve always been better identifying and developing defensive than offensive talent.) Perhaps one lesson here is that good organizations are ones that learn from their mistakes: Russell Wilson is the bizarro Charlie Whitehurst (short for an NFL QB, African-American, doesn’t have a cannon arm, has always been highly productive.)

[PC] See also.

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