The book on Tim Tebow, from the guru who tried to fix him
When I first saw colleague Jay Glazer's report Sunday that Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles were about to sign Tim Tebow, I thought, This might break the Internet.
Hyperbole? Of course, but it didn't take long for the old Florida Gators Heisman winner to be the top trending subject in the country. And you knew Tebow's return to the NFL was going to be the big story on all the TV sports shows this week.
As I looked around Twitter on Sunday night, there was a bunch of ridicule and outrage regarding Tebow. Mind you, this is the Eagles signing a 27-year-old quarterback who's actually won an NFL playoff game, as their fourth QB to a one-year minimum contract.
This is a guy who does everything right off the field, and he's an issue?
Tebow doesn't warrant another chance, yet a bunch of guys who've been in all sorts of trouble do?
Again, fourth QB. One-year minimum contract.
Tim Tebow is perhaps the most polarizing sports figure we've seen in years. For many, he resonated because of his clean-cut image and because he was devout. He spoke about his faith in public settings, visited prisons and even referenced Bible verses in the eye black he wore during college games. He was a bona fide phenomenon, but that came with a hefty undertow. Many recoiled at Tebow -- or at least the idea of Tebow -- as if he were some oversaturated pop-music act. He was like a one-man version of Duke basketball or Notre Dame football. People got sick of him, or hearing about him. But that's actually more our fault in the media than it is his. Tebow's return is one thing, and then you add in the fact that it's to Chip Kelly's team it becomes even more combustible subject.
Before I started working on my book "The QB," I had no intention of writing anything about Tebow in there. However, one of the main characters in the book, Tom House, a former journeyman major league pitcher who has turned into the country's leading sports biomechanics guru, had been working with Tebow for months. Every day for hours. This was after Tebow had been released by the Patriots two years ago and Tom Brady, who has become a protege of House's, recommended the former Broncos QB see House at USC, where he has an office above the third base line.
House is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever written about. The word guru gets thrown around way too much in sports. I'm guilty of it, too, but he's actually the closest thing to one I can think of. He was Nolan Ryan's coach, and Randy Johnson’s, and then he started working with Drew Brees at the beginning of his NFL career. Brees swears by him. Said House changed his life. Brady has been a believer for a few years now. So have about a dozen other NFL QBs who make a pilgrimage in the offseason to see him. In The QB, I refer to him as The Mad Scientist. Watching him teach a dozen 20-something pro pitches was riveting.
House has a PhD in performance psychology, a Master's degree in marketing and an MBA and has written almost two dozen books.
According to House, one of the big mistakes quarterback coaches make is getting too caught up in trying to make all their QBs throw exactly the same way. Bodies are different. Physiognomy. Conditioning-wise.
"They're wired differently," he said. "What you need to do is identify the critical variables. And do you have a fix for the variables that aren't efficient? Then, if they're efficient and effective and they're repeatable, they play. And we do as well with quarterbacks who are just trying to get better to go to college as we do with Drew Brees and Tom Brady, who just want to get 1 or 2 percent better."
Tebow needed a lot more than 1 or 2 percent improvement, though.
"Everybody's afraid of Tim," House told me back then. "There's too much stuff that comes with Tim. When he showed up here, he was 10,000 reps behind any other NFL quarterback. He'd never been given a tool kit on how to fix [his mechanics]. With good intentions, he wasn't getting any help. Everybody pulls for him, but good intentions with bad information is just as bad as no information at all."
For the first month of training sessions, Tebow asked House not to allow people into the stadium because the former college star didn't want anyone to know he was there.
House didn't bother to look at Tebow's old film. "I don't look at bad film," he said. "We work with what our statistical model has validated, and then we work from there. It's what we're supposed to be dealing with right now. We know for a fact that he had premature rotation issues on the front side, and his back foot came off the ground too soon, but that shows up when he's throwing. You don't have to look at it on film."
House also examined Tebow's diet and determined that the QB was taking in too much protein and didn't have enough balance. House wanted to make his body more "quarterback specific, so he doesn't look so much like a linebacker anymore."
House dismissed a lot of reasons why people said Tebow struggled, from being too stiff in his neck and shoulders to a penchant for over-striding.
"There is no such thing as over-striding, but there is something about not having the right timing in the foot stride," he said. "Guys like Brady and Carson Palmer have much bigger strides than Tebow, but they had better timing with those strides. When we start teaching, we look at timing first, then kinematic sequencing, and then the mechanics of the throw. So if you're not timed right, no matter how good you are with the mechanics, it's gonna look weird. It's called the step-wise regression analysis."
The "fixing" of Tim Tebow, the quarterback, would take some three months. House's diagnosis of why Tebow was inaccurate all came back to timing issues with his body. Once they could get his body in sync, the mechanics were actually pretty easy to fix, the former major league pitcher said.
"He still does what he's always done with his throwing arm. We just fixed the front side and gave him a better posture to do it and made him time it better." Beyond that, House said Tebow learned why he would misfire whenever he did, which “The Professor” said was vital for anyone to be at their best.
"We allowed him to understand why the ball goes right or left, why the ball goes high or low and how to spin the ball and how to physically prepare from feet to fingertips and to take it out and make the dynamic movement work for you and not against you. Does the term muscle-head make sense? He muscled everything. He can muscle it when he needs it, but now he's got kinematic sequencing. He's muscled down for efficiency."
Another underlying problem that tied into Tebow's issues in the NFL that House ID'd: The former All-American quarterback had no confidence in his throwing ability.
"He didn't think he could make that throw, so he went to what he was confident in, and that was his legs," House said.
After my time around Tebow and House last year, I went to the NFL Combine, where the reaction from coaches and personnel people to claims of a Tebow transformation was a collective shrug.
"The problem isn't really his arm," said one veteran NFL defensive coach about Tebow. "It's that he's not wired to process what he's seeing once the ball is snapped, and if you don't have that, you simply can't be a quarterback in this league."
How much, if at all, Tebow can remedy that aspect of his game remains to be seen. Chip Kelly, who knows more about mobile QBs than any coach in the NFL and may be the most creative guy in the sport, thinks it's worth a shot to see what happens. It'll be interesting to see what Kelly may do with him. As for the specter of any media distractions, Kelly apparently isn't fazed.
Tebow is pushing pause on a promising TV career, one that no doubt will still be there for him after his time is done in the NFL. He has a dream, and he isn't giving up on it. He's worked his butt off to try to make it happen despite hearing from so many people both inside and outside of the sport about why it won't work. And I’m happy that he'll get a chance to find out just how far he's actually come -- although I may not turn on the TV much in the next few days.
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.