An offense can only effectively function if a healthy relationship exists between the quarterback and the coordinator. They need to operate as extensions of each other. They go through everything together. Progressions, routes, strategies, and schemes. One mind, two bodies.
Since he matriculated at Boston College, Chase Rettig stood still as a revolving door of offensive coordinators spun through Chestnut Hill, each bringing a new system for the quarterback to learn on the fly.
And entering a pivotal campaign, both for the junior in his third season under center for the Eagles and for a program that’s trended toward the negative over the past few years and finished 2011 with a 4-8 record, Rettig and new coordinator Doug Martin were thrust into the offensive fire together.
Good thing they’ve become so close so quick.
“When he first got here, I told him, ‘Look, I want to do big things this year,’ ” Rettig said. “And he had the same mind-set. We have to work with each other. I have to be an extension. I’m just investing as much time as possible into football.”
Martin was hired late last year after seven seasons as Kent State’s head coach, but when he migrated to Boston in the spring, his family hadn’t yet made the move. “Look, I don’t have anything to do,” Martin texted Rettig. “No family, so just come by and watch football.”
Rettig stopped by the coach’s office every night. Together, they watched football, talked schemes, and got to know each other over pizza and subs.
“I think there has to be a great deal of trust for this thing to work,” Martin said. “I’m always eating something up here, and he’s always stealing it.
“He’s a student of the game, he wants to coach, he wants to learn. When a kid wants to be coached like that, it makes your job easy. He’s had to learn two or three different systems, and I think it’s paying off for you now, because he’s been exposed to different strategies and schemes, so when we start talking about it, he gets it.”
This season, the Eagles are transitioning to a multiple one-back offense, the passing game featuring West Coast route progressions with heavy play-action and plenty of timing routes. It’s what Martin has always done, from his seven seasons as the offensive coordinator at East Carolina to his time running the Golden Flashes.
“When you’re this multiple, you can fit tight ends in this scheme,” Martin said. “Four wideouts, it still works. One back, two backs, still works. No matter what your personnel, you should be able to adapt the offense.
“The biggest selling point was how fast our players learned the offense in the spring. Literally after the first week, they really understood what we’re doing. Then it becomes perfecting the skills and the techniques.”
Rettig struggled to grasp the mental components associated with quarterbacking at the college level through his first two seasons at BC, when he recorded 21 starts, including 20 straight. But he spent the offseason tediously pouring over film, flipping through the new playbook, learning a system he feels is better suited for the cerebral, given its potential for audibles at the line of scrimmage.
“Just his confidence has gone up,” said Bobby Swigert, a junior wide receiver and close friend of Rettig. “In practice he knows exactly what he’s doing every single time, he knows what to look for. He understands the offense. He knows the plays we run very well, he understands what they’re going to look like against certain defensive looks. As soon as he sees that, a trigger goes off in his head and he reacts from there. He’s definitely confident, playing faster, and going from there.”
Physically, Swigert pointed to Rettig’s “big-time arm,” the one that completed 13 of 17 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in the season finale, a 24-17 win at Miami. Martin reported that Rettig lost about 10 pounds over the summer, resulting in better scrambling capabilities and mobility in the pocket.
Over the years, Martin has become close friends with former BC offensive coordinator Steve Logan, who helped develop Matt Ryan into the ACC Player of the Year and the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Martin credits Logan with influencing his beliefs in quarterback play, and coaches the position in a similar manner. They vacationed together in North Carolina’s Emerald Isle on the Outer Banks, where Martin spoke about his newest quarterback, and Logan drew parallels to his situation with Ryan.
That relationship has translated into fall camp, where a “two-way street” has formed between quarterback and coordinator.
“[Rettig] and Doug get along real well,” coach Frank Spaziani said. “Doug is extremely high on his progression since he’s gotten here in the spring. We’re happy where he’s at. He’s making good decisions. I’ve said all along, Chase spends a lot of time. It’s important to him, we think he has the physical skills, and we think we have things in place for him to excel. We have the right platform for him, now we have to do it.”
But the biggest difference since Martin’s arrival, according to Rettig and Swigert, has been the calming influence Martin has brought to practices.
“He keeps things positive,” Rettig said. “As a person, you couldn’t ask for a more player’s coach. Sometimes you have coaches who distance themselves away from the players. I think the position he’s in, installing a new offense, he has to be close to us. It’s been fun so far.”
Easily approachable, Martin will break the tension by focusing on the next play. Just make up for it later, he says. Every turnover needs to lead to four explosion plays on the next drive. Any run of more than 10 yards and a pass of more than 15 yards has the Eagles thinking in a different direction.
“Now, Coach Martin is the type of guy, he understands what we’re thinking,” Swigert said. “We’re not playing afraid to mess up, we’re not intimidated of what’s going to happen if we mess up or looking right at him if we mess up, being scared. We’re just doing what we think is right, and I think he does a good job in handling that in the way he comes up to the huddle, says it’s all right if you mess up once or twice, but he realizes we’re getting acclimated to this offense.”
No longer afraid to make a mistake like in previous seasons, no longer burdened by the fear of repercussions, when Martin enters the huddle and cracks another joke during practice, the players working his new offense can’t help but burst out laughing.