How one QB coach is training an ACC recruit he’s never met
Paul Troth’s last football game as a quarterback came against the Parma Panthers, the same team John Grisham wrote about in his book, "Playing for Pizza." The one-time Elite 11 QB (Class of 2000) wasn’t just playing for the Cineplexx Blue Devils from Hohenems, Austria, he was also serving as the team’s offensive coordinator. For Troth, who once had been in minicamp with the Houston Texans and had a brief stint with the Arena league’s Tampa Bay Storm, it was as much fun as he’d ever had playing football.
But Troth knew he needed a real job since he couldn’t make a living long-term overseas, staying in his owner’s basement, off 500 euros a month.
Troth left Europe for a $25,000-a-year job as the wide receivers coach for the FCS-level Campbell University Fighting Camels but has since settled in as a happily married 32-year-old father of three daughters coaching at Dominion High School in northern Virginia and working as a PE teacher. Troth’s also become a big part of an interesting technological advance in the sport.
To Tanner Morgan and his dad, Troth is a key reason why the high school sophomore QB from Kentucky was able to land his first FBS scholarship offer last month. Wake Forest offered Morgan on April 15, one day before he turned 16. "Tanner wouldn’t have gotten where he is" without Troth’s assistance as the kid’s private QB coach, said Ted Morgan, Tanner’s dad. Troth began working with Morgan last season and they’d talk about every three weeks, focusing primarily on his footwork.
"It was a ginormous help to my fundamentals," said the younger Morgan. "My throws became more crisp and accurate.
"If you have wild feet and a wild base, you’ll have some wild throws."
Morgan’s team, the Hazard Bulldogs, started 2-2 but proceeded to go 8-1 over their next nine games. The amazing part of Troth and Morgan’s relationship is the two have actually never met in person.
Coach and pupil are separated by about an eight-hour drive. They connect through eCoach, a digital coaching platform designed to help coaches instruct players through video and annotated screen-grabs. One of the men behind eCoach, Rich Hempel, lives in Morgan’s area in Kentucky. Hempel’s son, Conner, who just finished up his college career as Harvard’s quarterback and was invited to the Indianapolis Colts’ minicamp, was actually the first one to work with Tanner Morgan. Conner was a 14-year-old who had just gotten back from a football camp with lots of good pointers and showed the then-8-year-old some of what he’d learned.
The idea behind eCoach grew from Conner Hempel’s experience at that football camp a half-dozen years ago. Rich Hempel came away thinking what a beneficial time his boy had there. In terms of the tangible takeaways, his son received a picture with his coach and an evaluation form.
"I think if someone had said right there, ‘You can have 10 additional lessons with this coach,’ I would’ve said sign me up right now and I’d have paid for it," said Hempel, an old IBMer.
eCoach was the way to tether those kids to coaches who may not be in their area. Prior to this, golf had been one of the few sports that had been able to leverage the technology as a teaching tool, but eCoach, which has started to gain traction in the past year or so, also has made inroads into baseball, basketball and tennis.
Initially, Tanner Morgan trained with former University of Kentucky QB Mike Parker, who works with the Elite 11 group primarily in an analytics role. Parker told Ted Morgan he thought he’d taken Tanner about as far as he could training-wise and suggested Troth, another Elite 11 staffer, as a possible coach.
Troth and the Morgans spoke last summer before getting to work in the fall. The Morgans would send Troth tape of Tanner, and then they’d go over it together. Ted Morgan, a former high school offensive lineman who coaches at Tanner’s high school, said he sent all the footage — the good, the bad and the ugly.
"Tanner had a good stroke already," Troth said. "I really worked on tying his eyes to his feet. It’s the most simple thing to say, where it’d be lined up where you throw, but teaching him that turn at that top (on his drop) that we do at the Elite 11 increased his accuracy throwing to his left."
Another point of emphasis for the young QB was that he was overemphasizing his steps, hustling to get back from center. "He’s thinking he has to get so much depth on his drops that his footwork has gotten so choppy," Troth said. "It’s gotten a little sloppy. Too aggressive. When that happens, it’s changing his perception of his ‘eye’ because his head’s going up and down like on a boat where it’s rocky seas. You’d rather see it like a duck on water."
The elder Morgan said he was skeptical at first that a quarterback could be coached remotely like this. "I’d thought you gotta be face-to-face," Ted Morgan said, adding that eCoach and Troth have been "a life-saver."
Later this month, there is an Elite 11 regional at Ohio State, where the Morgans and Troth plan to finally meet. Troth’s primary QB coaching business is still back in northern Virginia with about 35 young quarterbacks. His eCoach work with Morgan was for a fraction of what he makes when he’s more hands-on with a client, but it’s been very rewarding to see the results. He also is intrigued by the potential.
"I’m not an ex-NFL guy and I’m not trying to be a ‘guru’," he said. "But I know I’m good at this. Eventually, the goal is to get to that kid from the inner city DC who maybe can’t afford private QB training, or maybe the kid doesn’t have a car or has a single parent and they can’t get to me. But I’d still be able to help him and still make a big difference for them."
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.