Making a case that Jim Kelly's college depth chart was more remarkable than the 1983 QB draft class
One of the favorite parts of my job is when an interview takes an unexpected turn that makes me think about the game in a different way or leads to questions I hadn't pondered before.
That happened during a recent conversation I had with University of Georgia coach Mark Richt about his old friend, Jim Kelly.
The story for which I interviewed Richt ran in Friday's edition of The Buffalo News. We talked about his relationship with Kelly that dates back to when they both played quarterback for the University of Miami.
The main topic was Kelly's cancer battle and how much more Richt has grown to admire him over their three-decade friendship. Then our discussion took a detour when a question popped into my head.
Kelly is part of two of the most exclusive quarterback groups, so which is more impressive: the 1983 draft class or Miami's 1982 depth chart?
Both groups were stacked.
The 1983 draft class featured John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien and Dan Marino.
Miami's depth chart for Kelly's senior season also had Richt, Vinny Testaverde, Kyle Vanderwende and redshirt Bernie Kosar.
Richt considered the question and then glanced at a picture hanging on the wall of his office.
"You have four first-rounders in the same photo," Richt said. "One of them was Earl Morrall, who was the coach. Then you got Jim Kelly, first-round draft pick. Vinny Testaverde, first-round draft pick. Bernie Kosar, first-round draft pick. I was probably the fifth- or sixth-best guy in the picture. All on the same team at the same time.
"That 1983 draft class was all first-round picks, of course, but they were from all across America."
Based purely on accomplishments, the 1983 draft class would win the debate. Kelly, Elway and Marino are Pro Football Hall of Famers. Add Eason, and the group started in 11 Super Bowls.
"The '83 class, no doubt," Marino said last month at Kelly's annual gold tournament. "Not only just the quarterbacks, but look at the whole group. There are a lot of Hall of Famers."
But those quarterbacks weren't recruited to play on the same campus and didn't have to compete against each other for snaps.
"That's a pretty good foursome right there, and unfortunately only one of them can play at a time," O'Brien said of Kelly, Richt, Testaverde and Kosar. "I think it's more impressive they got all four of them to stay."
Richt almost didn't stay, not after he realized Kelly had a stranglehold on the position.
Kelly and Richt were recruited by Lou Saban, the former Bills coach who didn't stick around the Hurricanes very long. Howard Schnellenberger recruited Testaverde and Kosar.
"I was actually going to transfer at one time when it looked pretty bleak, being behind a guy like Jim in my same class," Richt said. "I was stuck behind this guy.
"But something on the inside just did not want to quit. I did transfer, so to speak, in my mind. I told Coach Schnellenberger I was out. He said, 'All right. If that's what you want, but if you change your mind let me know.' I might have been out for a week, but something inside just wouldn't allow me to be comfortable with that decision.
"I chose to stay and to be the best backup quarterback I could be and help the team win if I ever got the chance. I don't regret that decision."
And where was Richt going to transfer?
"I didn't have a plan," Richt said with a resigned laugh. "I was just leaving. I was, like, 'I've got to find another place.' But it didn't happen."
Schnellenberger also attended Kelly's golf tournament last month in Batavia. The legendary coach wore the Super Bowl ring he earned as offensive coordinator for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and his Hurricanes' national championship ring from 1983, when Kosar was the quarterback.
Schnellenberger was incredulous when asked whether the 1982 Hurricanes depth chart or the 1983 NFL draft class was more remarkable.
"There's nobody that's ever put a group like that together," Schnellenberger said of the Hurricanes. "And it's not just them. There were four more that came after that. Of course, the dynasty at Miami is the greatest dynasty that's ever been presented in college football."
After Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy, there were first-round pick Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson, Heisman winner Gino Torretta, and Ken Dorsey, who went 38-2 and rewrote the school's record book. All started for a national championship team.
Richt was the least accomplished in terms of playing achievements. But he has made an indelible mark on college football as a coach.
As quarterbacks coach at Florida State, he helped mold Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke and won a couple national titles. Richt has a 72-32 record at Georgia, has won a pair of SEC championships and sent dozens of players to the NFL.
"Mark's had an illustrious career at Georgia as their leader," said Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, a volunteer assistant on the 1982 Hurricanes staff and their quarterbacks coach for 1983 and 1984.
"Certainly, they all went on to greatly affect the National Football League in some way."