Being a college football starting quarterback can be one of the most thankless jobs out there. Unless your team is a perfect beacon, there are always people second-guessing your ability, your leadership, your character, your manhood, etc. Those stories are common, and overplayed, and endlessly replaying each autumn.
There are those stories. But there's also the stories of the ones that get lost in the shuffle, the ones that never get a moment to play.
Say you develop. You practice. You get heralded. You get signed. You get pumped up as the next great deal. You show all the necessary assets to be considered If things go badly on the field, everyone looks at you as the hope for the future.
Then before you get the chance to show your stuff, you get passed over by someone else. It's not your fault by any means, it just happens that someone else outperforms you. Given that there are a good number of quarterbacks competing for that job, it's bound to happen.
You fight back. You get a chance to see the field, but it's clean up duty, completed long after the game is in reach. When the starter has his struggles, you try to reenter the conversation. But the coaches have made up their minds. They have their guy for the long-term, and regardless of what happens, he will still be the guy at the end.
So you have two choices: Stay, and try and hope you can ride against the impending wave of inevitability.
It sucks that it had to end like this for Zach Kline and Cal. But his story is hardly uncommon. Vince Ferragamo saw the writing on the wall and bolted when Steve Bartkowski became the man. Perry Klein did what he had to do when Dave Barr stepped up to become Keith Gilbertson's quarterback (HT Aurcurisine for the history). Even Jeff Tedford had to do it with Kyle Reed when he made it clear Kevin Riley was Nate Longshore's heir apparent.
Kline's departure seemed like a real thing by October when Sonny Dykes called Jared Goff the "long-term solution" at quarterback. Dykes and Tony Franklin were sticking with the player that performed better in practice, the player that fit the system the two had brought with them from Louisiana Tech. It's a system that worked perfectly for Goff's strengths and fed directly into Kline's weaknesses.
Kline did his best to fit into the new offense. He definitely tried to be the type of player that could work well within the new system. But small samples of success aside, it just didn't inspire enough confidence for Dykes and Franklin to consider making a change at any time. Goff went 12 up and 12 down, and will probably do the same next season.
It's not a bad reflection on Kline: Sometimes players don't fit specific offensive schemes. Often it's because they're mediocre anyway (think Kevin Prince and the Pistol, Brady Leaf and the Oregon blur, or even Kyle Reed and the Tedford offense), but sometimes good players just need a reboot (two Auburn quarterbacks come to mind, but probably more honorable contemporaries include Russell Wilson and Ryan Mallett) to get their footing.
And maybe it's for the best. Kline is going to get another shot somewhere, and he's going to try and prove that he is worthy of being a starter for a big team.
Did the coaching staff give Kline a fair shake?
Honestly, it's a perplexing question, but people seem convinced the fix was in. Yes, the coaches gave Kline a fair shake. He got plenty of chances to come into the game and help coax Cal back into winning situations. But his success was too fleeting to be relied upon as a starting quarterback, and there were too many other deficiencies in too many places to really think that a change in quarterback would have made any difference in the end result of nearly all of our contests.
Probably a more nuanced question is whether Franklin refused to adapt to his scheme to suit Kline's strengths (I don't know how flexible the Tony Franklin system is, but I presume there are adaptations that could be made), and whether Dykes went along with his offensive coordinator because he defers to Franklin on all things offense. That isn't a criticism of him, just a possible breakdown of how things went.
(NOTE: I'm not sure at all what happened to Freddie Tagaloa, but the few times I did see him in one-on-one matchups he struggled mightily.
Should Cal have let him go so easily?
This is one decision I'm not at all sure of. I'm not a fan of letting one quarterback go THIS early. Both Goff and Kline are in their first year of playing at Cal, and the coaches are that certain that Kline can't make a difference?
Many possibilities comes to mind.
- Kline is so badly matched (or Goff is so perfectly matched) with the Tony Franklin System that the coaches felt that he wouldn't get a fair shake here.
- Luke Rubenzer is on his way, and the coaches feel that he's very likely to pass Kline on the depth chart simply because of his familiarity with the system.
- The coaching staff wants Kline to get a shot somewhere where he can succeed without stunting his development.
- Dykes does not want the quarterback debate to divide the locker room into next year. He wants the players who can buy in now and knows that wiping off the dead weight of the Tedford era is paramount. Cleaning house now is his focus, for better or for worse.
Where will he go?
Kline is a pro-style quarterback, and maybe he just needs to get back into that scheme to get his footing. I imagine he'll end up in the Mountain West in a pro-style offense like San Jose State or Fresno State (who will both be losing their NFL-caliber talents this offseason).
I'd be surprised if Kline ends up in the Pac-12. There is zero chance he'll end up at Furd with five quarterbacks likely to duel for the starting spot in 2014. USC has Max Browne waiting in the wings if Cody Kessler can't hang on. Washington ... no. If I had to pick a school, in the conference, Colorado or Utah come to mind. They're teams in desperate need of good quarterback play and will try to get their hands on any quarterback they can find.
One possibility: I think Kline will wait and see if Jeff Tedford gets a job this offseason. If he doesn't, then he'll try and find a place with a solid pro-style offense somewhere in the West.
Will I miss him?
Of course. Kline is one of the few recruits that I knew was 100% sold on Cal and was 500% ready to get any player he could try into Cal. Where do you find top-notch high school talents like that these days?
He was instrumental in getting recruits like Treggs and Harper and Powe and Harper on board, and he was instrumental in getting them to stick. Kline was a kid who grew up a Bear and wanted to be the player who led them to the Rose Bowl since he was a kid. He was fiery and competitive. He still has plenty of talent to excel in a new environment.
At the same time, Goff won the job. He was the better quarterback in practice when announced the starter. He performed well enough the first three weeks that even the majority of the fanbase seemed relatively happy that Goff could lead the Bears the right way. Then the team fell apart via injury and transfer and dismissal and what not, and Goff became the lightning rod. You know, just like the first story of any starting college football quarterback.
Kline is the second story, and he's going to have to start over. Hopefully, he'll be able to make the necessary strides in the right offense for him, and both Goff and Kline will enjoy greater success in the upcoming years so that everyone gets the ending they deserve.
I just want to be a little selfish though. I wish the end hadn't come so soon here.
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