Jeff George (Jeff Haynes/Getty)
The Vikings brought in Jeff George as a “guest coach” to help their quarterbacks, but before George was a Vikings player he was considered a man with an attitude. That changed during his stay in Minnesota.
There are certain things that make someone shake their head and wonder what the motivation was to prompt a given decision.
So it was Wednesday when word came out that former Vikings QB Jeff George has been brought in as a guest coach, maybe even to mentor Christian Ponder. Vikings fans remember George as the quarterback with the cannon for an arm that led Minnesota to the 1999 playoffs after Randall Cunningham got hurt. However, the Vikings were the only team with which George enjoyed success. In NFL terms, he falls into the category of premium talent that couldn’t consistently win.
A first overall pick, George began his career at Indianapolis, where he was the conquering hometown hero. Despite a wealth of talent and a bazooka for a throwing arm, George earned the reputation of being a difficult player to deal with and he didn’t take losing well, which the Colts did often. After being traded to Atlanta, his career path didn’t improve, highlighted by a sideline shouting match between with Falcons head coach June Jones. By the time he arrived to the Vikings, George was viewed as damaged goods.
However, in his time with the Vikings, George was nothing but a model citizen and a pretty good quarterback. He wanted to stay with the Vikings, but when Washington came calling with a big bag of cash, he headed east. The Vikings were the only landing spot where George enjoyed consistent success … and introduced Minnesotans to the proper definition of a “slappy” – a glad-hander who slaps your back and wishes you well and then stabs you in the back when you leave the room.
His isn’t the blueprint of a career that would be an ideal prototype for a young QB to follow. So why would the Vikings bring him in as a guest coach to help tutor Ponder? Ponder is what scouts would call a finesse quarterback – a player who is called on to throw short precision passes. George had off-the-charts arm strength – scouts at the time said he had a better, sharper, more accurate arm for the deep pass than John Elway, who typically is the benchmark for gunslingers. What could Ponder and George possibly have in common?
Head coach Leslie Frazier described George’s appearance as a chance for him to see the game from the other end, be a mentor and see if coaching might be something he would be interested in doing.
“It’s great to have Jeff around,” Frazier said. “He’s a guest coach this week for us – just here to observe and try to take a look at coaching to see if that’s something he’s interested in doing. We told our players, just to be able to pick his brain, our quarterbacks, and talk with him about some of the things he saw as a young quarterback and what he saw as a veteran and just his maturation over the course of his career. He was a very good player for a long time. He was a high draft pick and I think he can really help some of our players with some of his background and his knowledge as well.”
Whether George is looking to get into a coaching career in the NFL or the college game is unclear, but the Vikings seem willing to give him the opportunity to counsel their young franchise quarterback. On face value, everyone from ESPN to NFL Network to guys sitting in bars talking football all seem to be scratching their heads questioning the rationale.
In his defense, those of us working for Viking Update in 1999 were aware of the baggage George brought with him. At the same time, he was nothing but a professional in his dealings with the local media. He was accommodating. He was engaging. He was refreshingly honest for a veteran of the NFL wars.
Whether the guest coaching gig will lead to bigger and better things for George in the NFL or not will play itself out on its own. The Vikings organization is just allowing him to walk through the door. For those who dealt with him in Indianapolis or Atlanta, their views may be much different about the Vikings’ decision. The George the Minnesota media met as a player on the backside of his career was contrite, polite and a gentleman. He saw the Vikings as a chance for career retribution. If he can give wisdom to Ponder that will translate into helping his performance on the field, the decision will be hailed as a masterstroke.
But, to most outside observers, it seems like trying to help a square peg by offering up a round hole. Most of them never saw the Jeff George of 1999 vintage in Minnesota. They heard stories about the George of Colts and Falcons vintage.
If George can help himself and the Vikings quarterbacks, it’s a win-win situation.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.