Rodgers: The Son Also Rises : Football: Iowa quarterback credits his father, the Celtics coach, for much of his success.
A young athlete whose father is a professional coach enjoys certain advantages over his contemporaries.
What teen-ager wouldn’t give his eye-teeth to shag free throws for Larry Bird, play H-O-R-S-E with Danny Ainge, talk basketball with Kevin McHale and have access to the Boston Celtics’ locker room?
It was all there for Matt Rodgers when he was a three-sport star at Walpole (Mass.) High School. His father, Jimmy, was Coach K.C. Jones’ main assistant with the Celtics, and their player personnel director as well. Later, Jimmy became the Celtics’ head coach, and now he coaches the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There were negatives, of course, particularly when the elder Rodgers was fired by the Celtics after a 52-30 season in 1989-90. Even before that, Matt’s status as the son of a coach brought peer pressure that he said “got to me for a while.”
But all things considered, Matt regards the experience as a key to his success as the quarterback of Iowa, which will meet Brigham Young in the Holiday Bowl on Monday night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
“My dad being a coach has meant more to me than I could ever put into words,” Rodgers said. “What he taught me about life, and what I learned from being around the players, I can’t begin to estimate what a positive effect these things had on me.
“Now the father-and-son thing has kind of turned around. People see my dad and say, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the father of that quarterback from Iowa.’ ”
Rodgers is particularly grateful for having observed first-hand how hard some Celtics worked to hone their skills.
“McHale used to tell me how much time he put in after hours at Minnesota,” Rodgers said. “He had a key to the gym so he could work out at night. He had a deal with the janitors.
“Hearing that and observing some of the other players helped me a lot. I saw the work ethic of those guys, and I realized they’d go the extra mile. After that, I’d stay after practice and work on my drops and other parts of my game. I realized that top athletes don’t get to that level without hard work.”
Rodgers’ best friend among the Celtics was Ainge, a BYU alumnus who is now with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“He kept telling me he wanted me to go to BYU. My father had gone to Iowa (he was a two-time Hawkeye MVP), but it wasn’t an easy choice because it was so far from home. I visited Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Boston College, and then I visited Iowa because my father wanted me to, and I fell in love with the place.”
Ainge may not have known it at the time he courted Rodgers for BYU, but the Cougars already had recruited a pretty fair high school quarterback named Ty Detmer. As it turned out, Rodgers was better off waiting his turn at Iowa than competing against a guy who was to win the 1990 Heisman Trophy and become a two-time All-American.
Rodgers has had quite a career himself, winning All-Big Ten honors two years in a row.
Iowa Coach Hayden Fry noted that the Hawkeyes and Cougars use different offenses.
“We don’t require our quarterback to pass, and they don’t require their quarterback to run,” Fry said. “You’ll see two of the best quarterbacks in the country, but Rodgers is an excellent runner as well as passer, and we have a fine set of running backs.
“Rodgers is a vastly underrated quarterback. Even though he hasn’t launched as many passes as some of the other quarterbacks, he’s extremely accurate, he has an extremely strong arm and he’s extremely tough.”
During the regular season, in which he missed two games because of injuries to his left knee and ankle, Rodgers threw 255 passes and completed 166 for 2,054 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Detmer completed almost as many passes as Rodgers threw--249 in 403 attempts for 4,031 yards, with 35 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Both had passing-efficiency ratings that were out of sight--Detmer 168.3, Rodgers 143. Both also had remarkable completion percentages--Rodgers 65.1, Detmer 61.8.
But it was the third consecutive season Rodgers passed for more than 2,000 yards, tying a school record held by Chuck Long. He topped 200 yards in six of his last seven games.
“I’ve never had a 300-yard game,” he said. “I was on my way against Ohio State this year (with 258 yards), but I got hurt in the third quarter.”
The highlight of the 1991 season for Rodgers and the Hawkeyes occurred against Illinois, when Rodgers rallied the team from an 11-point deficit with a touchdown pass and a touchdown run, the latter with 2:39 to play. But as big as that one was, it couldn’t top the comeback victory over Michigan in Rodgers’ junior season.
“We went 85 yards on our last drive to beat Michigan at Ann Arbor,” Rodgers said. “I hit five out of six passes and we punched it in with four minutes left. That was probably the most exciting time of my life.”
Rodgers and Fry have had a misunderstanding or two over the years, but Rodgers considers them part of the learning process.
“The first year I started (1989), I had a guy open downfield and didn’t see him,” Rodgers said. “I threw to another receiver and completed the pass, but Coach Fry was pretty upset when I got back to the bench. When he started yelling at me, I turned away, so he grabbed me by the face mask and pulled me back.
“The press made a big thing of it, but he’s a winner. Any coach would have done something like that to get the attention of a player.”
As far as a pro career is concerned, Rodgers, 6 feet 4 and 210 pounds, is careful not to let his expectations affect him.
“Coach Fry makes it a point not to let us get ahead of ourselves,” Rodgers said. “All I want is a shot at pro ball.
“Just to get drafted would be great.