For the first time since he was on a Mormon mission prior to becoming a freshman starter at quarterback for the University of Wisconsin in 1992, Darrell Bevell isn’t preparing for a football season.
Let go by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks in January after seven seasons as the offensive coordinator, Bevell is spending time with his family at their home outside Provo, Utah, and hoping people know his absence this year doesn’t mean he’s done coaching.
“Right now,” Bevell said, “I’m off.”
Here’s guessing he won’t be off for long.
In the quarterback-driven NFL, a coach who’s had as much success working with elite quarterbacks as Bevell is usually in high demand. Amazingly, all of the outstanding quarterbacks who passed our way in Wisconsin over the past 25 years have crossed paths with Bevell at one time or another.
Now 48, he coached quarterbacks for the Green Bay Packers from 2000 to 2005, working with Brett Favre and, during his final year, a rookie named Aaron Rodgers.
He was the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings from 2006 to 2010, coaching another four-year starter at UW, Brooks Bollinger, in his first two years and reuniting with Favre for his last two.
And for the past six years in Seattle, Bevell coached Russell Wilson, who set the FBS passing-efficiency record in his one season at UW and won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seahawks two years later.
That’s quite a group.
Favre is already in the Hall of Fame, Rodgers would be a lock even if he retired tomorrow and Wilson is off to the most successful six-year start of any quarterback in NFL history.
“I’ve been really fortunate to be around some of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game,” Bevell said Tuesday at the Legends of Wisconsin Classic at University Ridge Golf Course.
Did Bevell, a key cog in UW’s football revival under coach Barry Alvarez, have any inkling during the 2005 season in Green Bay that he had two future Hall of Famers in his quarterback room?
“I’d be lying if I answered yes to that,” he said. “But I definitely knew that Aaron was a phenomenal talent and that when his time came that he’d be very successful. I had him rated as the top quarterback coming out that year in my grades and he’s proved it.”
Vikings coach Brad Childress, the former UW offensive coordinator, hired Bevell in 2006. Favre followed Bevell to Minnesota in 2009 after his messy breakup with the Packers and one injury-plagued season with the New York Jets.
At age 40, Favre had a career-best 107.2 passer rating in 2009 and the Vikings came within an eyelash of reaching the Super Bowl. Only Favre’s late interception in the NFC Championship Game kept Minnesota out of the big game.
“He came to Minnesota and had the best statistical year that he had in his career,” Bevell said. “After he came back from the Jets, he was really willing to prove that that was not him. He kind of had a chip on his shoulder to show that he could still play the game. He was hungry to play.”
The Vikings struggled in 2010 and Favre, Childress and Bevell were all swept out the door.
Bevell went to work for coach Pete Carroll in Seattle, where he played a role in the Seahawks drafting Wilson even though most teams thought he was too short to succeed in the NFL.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider, a former Packers executive, didn’t think that was the case and neither did Bevell, who had followed Wilson closely during his grad-transfer season at UW. Bevell believed that working in the pro-style offense used by then-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was good for Wilson.
“I think it showed that he could play in the type of system that the NFL was going to use, that he could be a drop-back passer standing behind an offensive line and still be able to be highly successful,” Bevell said. “You knew all the other stuff he can do, get outside the pocket. But (going to UW) was really a good move for him to show that he could be a pro-style passer.”
With that in mind, Bevell didn’t radically change Seattle’s offense to accommodate Wilson’s lack of height. That was a smart move because Wilson’s career passer rating ranks second only to Rodgers’ in NFL history.
“We just tried to do what we thought was best for his skill set,” Bevell said. “He’s a phenomenal player, very talented. He’s got a great work ethic. The game’s important to him. He loves the game. He really, really works at his craft. He’s made himself.”
In the eyes of some, the biggest stain on Bevell’s resume is a play he called late in the Seahawks’ loss in Super Bowl XLVIV. Seeking a second consecutive NFL title, Seattle trailed New England by four and faced a second-and-goal at the 1 with 20 seconds and two timeouts remaining.
Instead of a running play with Marshawn Lynch, Bevell called a pass and Wilson’s short toss was intercepted by the Patriots to end the game.
Carroll said afterward he told Bevell to throw the ball on second down and run on the next two downs if it didn’t work. Carroll also said it wasn’t a bad call, just a bad outcome.
For his part, Bevell has never downplayed his role in the call.
“Coach Carroll said he told me to throw it, but I called the play,” he said. “I’ve thought about it, I’ve looked at it, I’ve dissected it and there was nothing wrong with the call. Would I call it again? Sure, I’d call it again. I just know all the stuff behind it, too.”
Bevell said he had a “phenomenal experience” in Seattle and bears no animosity for being let go following a 9-7 season that kept the Seahawks out of the playoffs for the first time in six years. His approach: It’s football.
“It’s always hard,” Bevell said. “But we’ve done a lot of good things in the places I’ve been, so it was just one of those weird years. The next hiring cycle I’m going to be back in.”
With Bevell’s resume, that’s a good bet.