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System quarterback is an American football quarterback who flourishes under a particular offensive system, specifically one that focuses on passing. The term is often seen as derogatory manner, as it implicitly downplays a quarterback's talent or skill by implying that a successful offense is due to a particular scheme or that a quarterback is successful due to his employment under specific circumstances. A system quarterback is usually perceived as having their statistics inflated by a particular strategy. Offensive schemes that tend to feature so-called system quarterbacks are the "run and shoot", spread, and, less frequently, spread option offenses.
Russ Lande of Sporting News traced the term's etymology, or at least currency, to the early 1990s, when two University of Houston quarterbacks failed to carry college success into their professional careers. First, Andre Ware, in head coach Jack Pardee and offensive coordinator John Jenkins's run and shoot offense, had a record-setting 1989 season that culminated in a Heisman Trophy. He was the seventh overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, but did not have success in either the National Football League nor the Canadian Football League. David Klingler took over for Ware at UH, and was the sixth overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. He too, failed to find exceptional success in the NFL.
Recently, the appellation was commonly applied to Texas Tech quarterbacks that operated under former head coach Mike Leach and offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's spread offense. In the 2000s, the school had several different quarterbacks that threw in excess of 4,000 yards in a season. According to some pundits, this demonstrated that the quarterback had simply been an interchangeable part in a prolific passing offense. Some Texas Tech quarterbacks, with their college tenure in parentheses, described as such include:
The label is not restricted to Texas Tech, however, and pundits and coaches have referred to players from several other schools as benefiting from systems. In 2007, then Hawaii head coach and offensive coordinator June Jones infamously defended his own alleged system quarterback, Colt Brennan, by making the counter-accusation against Tim Tebow of Florida. Players from schools other than Texas Tech that were described as system quarterbacks include: