The coach’s kid is sport’s favorite talisman, often presumed to be a team’s shortcut to success. And if it doesn’t always work out that way, at least things don’t have to be explained to him again and again.
And if quarterbacking is in the blood? If the footsteps are traced on the same campus, in the same building?
If the very jersey is handed down?
At the moment, it’s simply a nice icebreaker at the University of Idaho, this business of Matt Linehan pulling duty where his dad once did, and wearing the same No. 10. But, hey, getting the conversation going about Vandals football is not a gimme given the results of the last few years, so it seems OK to start there until the scoreboard brings better news.
Surely it didn’t hurt last week when, in his first collegiate start, Linehan passed for 324 yards and had the Vandals with the winning run at the plate in the ninth inning of a 38-31 loss.
Back in Texas, Scott Linehan watched most of the game online – helped when a two-hour lightning delay happened to coincide with a Dallas Cowboys staff meeting. Busy as he is as the Cowboys’ passing-game coordinator trying to get Tony Romo to throw it to the right guys, the elder Linehan didn’t spend a lot of time in the postgame phone call breaking down his son’s performance.
“He said he was proud of me and to just keep working,” Matt Linehan said. “He’s adapted to more of a father role than a coach – he’s helped me with some things, but he’s more worried about supporting me.”
So what about him – any play-calling tips for the old man?
“I think he’s good where he is,” Matt laughed. “I don’t need to help him.”
Maybe not. That doesn’t mean there can’t be subliminal help.
“C’mon pops,” he tweeted as the Cowboys tried to make up ground on the 49ers Sunday night. “Let’s dial something up here.”
It’s a given that Dad’s football allegiances have come to be his son’s pretty much without exception, even as the Linehans bounced from Seattle to Louisville to Minneapolis to Miami to St. Louis to Detroit and now Dallas since Matt was born. And a dad’s allegiances are always with his son, but even more so since Scott Linehan lined up behind center for the Vandals 30 years ago. He was the legacy then – his parents having graduated from UI, and brothers Rick and Ron having preceded him on the football team.
“You always want to see your kids go where you go, and I was obviously partial to the University of Idaho,” Scott said. “But it was always going to be his decision.”
And it probably wasn’t going to happen without a nudge from fate.
When Scott Linehan’s shot at being an NFL head coach came to an unhappy end in St. Louis, the family landed in Detroit just in time for Matt’s entrée into high school. But unlike a lot of coach’s kids, he was no sure-thing prodigy. He was skinny (“I never thought he’d break 175 pounds,” said Scott). He broke an elbow and missed his freshman year. And at St. Mary’s in Orchard Lake, Michigan, he didn’t start until his senior year – taking his team to the state title game.
Scott Linehan wasn’t surprised to hear his son describe the wait as “a humbling experience.”
“He understood you have to make that time valuable,” Scott said. “You learn how to earn things. But it also makes you hungry.”
Even without a long resume, Linehan attracted suitors: a couple Ivies, some MACs, Michigan schools – though not Western Michigan, Idaho’s Saturday opponent.
“No hard feelings,” Matt Linehan insisted, making it almost sound believable.
Meanwhile, Paul Petrino had been hired as Idaho’s head coach, and he and Scott Linehan had served together as assistants there in the early 1990s. That was significant; more so was Petrino’s reputation as a developer of quarterbacks.
And while Linehan’s competition for the job with sophomore Chad Chalich continues, he made a good first impression after sitting out 2013 as a redshirt.
“The biggest thing was his leadership and poise,” Petrino said. “And he did a good job of standing in there and keeping his eyes downfield and putting the ball on people.”
There will be other games where he isn’t as sharp – the learning curve for freshmen quarterbacks is steep, and there will always be highs and lows. His dad can tell him – while he’s still sixth on UI’s career yardage list even after 30 years of passing quarterbacks, Scott Linehan lost big hunks of two seasons to a broken clavicle and foot surgery.
“But one of the best things about Matt is, he understands people and how things work,” his father said. “He’s been around the game his whole life and he can use that to his advantage. And he knows you’re only as good as your last performance.”
Even in the family business.
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