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Rodgers Succeeds With Help From Home : Football: Iowa quarterback makes all-Big Ten team with support from his father, ex-Celtic coach Jimmy Rodgers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s only natural for fathers to be interested in the athletic careers of their sons. The only drawback is many don’t have enough time to become involved because of job commitments.

That isn’t a problem for Jimmy Rodgers, the former Boston Celtic coach. He has the time and financial security to do whatever he wants.

So his avocation is watching his son, Matt, play quarterback for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

“He’s having the best time of his life,” said Matt Rodgers, after a recent practice at Cal State Long Beach. “He has gone to all of our games, and he’ll be here for the Rose Bowl game with Washington.”

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Rodgers was fired by the Celtics after they made an early exit from the playoffs last season. However, he had three years left on his contract, so he can indulge himself with Matt’s football career.

And, he can impart a bit of wisdom to his son--not specifically about football, but from his coaching experience.

“He teaches me how to deal with coaches, teammates and the press,” Matt said. “The average father wouldn’t know that.

“And he’s really getting into it (football). He wants to learn about the passing game such as how much I have to audible (change plays at the line of scrimmage) and why I would.”

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Matt Rodgers said he used to be a Celtic fan, growing up from the sixth grade in Walpole, Mass., where he was a prep All-American quarterback.

“I still love the players, but I lost faith in them (management),” Rodgers said after father was dismissed as coach.

Rodgers said he happened to be home when his father got a phone call, learning that he was no longer employed by the Celtics.

Jimmy Rodgers was a two-time most valuable basketball player for the Hawkeyes in the mid-1960s.

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“I played a lot of basketball growing up,” Matt said, “but they didn’t have a strong program in high school. I wanted to play football and my father said, ‘Fine.’ He never pushed me into doing anything.”

Because his father had been a basketball star at Iowa, Matt made a recruiting visit to the school.

“I didn’t expect to go there, but I liked the atmosphere and the people were so nice,” said Rodgers, who also was recruited by Pittsburgh, Boston College and Michigan State.

Rodgers was redshirted his freshman year, became a holder for kickers as a sophomore and inherited the starting quarterback job in the second game of the 1989 season.

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“It was a real tough year,” said Rodgers of his team’s 5-6 record. “I got into situations I’ve never been in before, and they usually went the wrong way.”

As an inexperienced quarterback, he said he had problems recognizing defenses, then added, “But we had problems all over because we had a lot of young guys.

“I had a lot of interceptions (13) because I was trying to make something happen that really wasn’t there,” Rodgers said. “I’ve learned to be more patient.”

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Rodgers has matured this season and so have the Hawkeyes, who were regarded as a second-division Big Ten team at the outset of the season.

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He has completed 62.3% of his passes for 2,032 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown seven interceptions. He has run for seven touchdowns.

Moreover, he was named to the all-Big Ten team, an honor that was bestowed on his predecessors, Chuck Long (1983-85) and Chuck Hartlieb (1987-88).

“I never felt pressure from that,” Rodgers said, referring to any notion that he would have to attain a level reached by Long and Hartlieb.

“I’m my own quarterback. I don’t compare myself to those guys, but I’d like to be talked about in the same sentences with them. We’re a totally different team and I’m a different quarterback.”

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Said Iowa Coach Hayden Fry:

“Matt took over as a sophomore and people expected him to be a Houdini, another Long or Hartlieb. But he wasn’t because he hadn’t played.

“However, after one year he was voted the all-Big Ten quarterback, and he’s in the same mold as the other quarterbacks. He has eliminated a lot of mistakes that he made as a sophomore. He’s more experienced, tougher and smarter. He’s an excellent football player.”

Washington Coach Don James said he was aware that Rodgers was an accomplished dropback passer, but after watching some videotapes of Iowa’s games he said the tall quarterback is also used effectively on some option plays, as is his quarterback, Mark Brunell.

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Rodgers said that Iowa’s confidence kept building throughout the season, adding that a turning point came in an early 48-21 loss to Miami.

“It was in that game that we knew we could move the ball against a great team,” Rodgers said. “We were only down, 24-21, at the start of the fourth quarter. Then, they blocked a punt and got two quick touchdowns. The final score didn’t indicate how close the game was.”

Rodgers said that he’s still trying to improve while directing what he says is a very intricate offense.

“I’m still learning, but I think I have a good grasp of it (offense) now,” he said. “I’m not trying to force (passes) downfield and, when everyone is covered, I’ll dump off to our backs.”

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He has been, of course, studying Washington’s game films.

“They look good, really fast, especially on defense,” Rodgers said. “They play a lot of ‘man’ defense, and there are a lot things they can disguise to hurt us. But it’s a type of defense where you can can spring some big plays on them, too.”


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