Strock key as Testaverde works to turn the corner

August 08, 1996|By John Eisenberg

The Ravens will go as far as Vinny Testaverde takes them this season.

And Testaverde, in turn, will go as far as Don Strock takes him.

Strock, Ravens quarterback coach, is among the least known and most important components of head coach Ted Marchibroda's plan.

"An absolutely critical guy," Marchibroda called him yesterday at training camp.

His task is to turn Testaverde, who has disappointed as the No. 1 pick in the 1987 draft, into the franchise quarterback everyone has always expected.

It's a lot of responsibility for a guy getting his first chance as an NFL assistant. Strock's prior coaching experience consists of two years in the Arena Football League and one year with something called the Rhein Fire, a World League team based in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Not that Strock, 45, is some wide-eyed rookie. He spent 17 years as an NFL quarterback in a career spanning five presidencies. Although he was mostly a backup, he was one of those behind-the-scenes guys who knew everyone and everything, a natural coach.

In his first 15 seasons, with the Dolphins, he was "basically a coach on the sidelines," he said yesterday. His insight was so keen that, rumor has it, he often called the plays and basically ran the offense.

"I asked a couple of Miami guys about that, and they said it was true," Marchibroda said.

Dan Marino, whom Strock backed up, called Marchibroda to recommend Strock when Marchibroda was putting together a staff earlier this year.

"There were two things I liked about Don," Marchibroda said. "His experience. And the fact that he went to the World League and Arena League. There aren't many guys who would do that after a long career in the NFL. That told me he really wanted to coach."

Strock actually didn't want to coach when he retired as a player in 1989.

"I had offers," he said, "but I was 39 years old, and I'd been playing football for 31. I wanted to see what else was out there."

He worked as a host at a country club in Miami, setting up golf tournaments. He opened a sports bar. He bought into lime groves.

But football was still in his heart, and he finally gave coaching a try when an Arena League expansion team came to Miami in 1993. He made the playoffs, then coached a team called the Mass Marauders deep into the playoffs the next year.

"My ideas seemed to be working," he said.

The World League was a step up from indoor ball. Strock served as the offensive coordinator and had a fine time in Germany.

"I took a train to work, ate bratwurst and potato cakes with sour cream and gained 25 pounds," he said. "And they don't serve water over there, you know."

He was hesitant about returning to the NFL, so hesitant that he almost took a job as the quarterbacks coach at Boston College instead of coming to the Ravens.

"I was concerned about coaching players making a lot of money," he said, "and telling them they're doing something wrong and having them tell me to take a hike. I was delighted to find out it wasn't like that."

Few NFL teams have quarterbacks coaches, preferring to let their offensive coordinators handle the job. Strock said he is "one of five or six" in the league.

Testaverde, beginning his 10th year as a pro, has never had a quarterbacks coach until now. Marchibroda had never hired one until last year.

"It just makes sense," Marchibroda said. "You have a lot of money invested in your quarterback, and so much depends on him. Why not give him a special coach? Why not give him a smaller classroom?"

Strock has watched Testaverde for years, dating to the days when Strock was with the Dolphins and Testaverde was starring at the University of Miami.

"Vinny has had a rough road in the NFL," Strock said. "But he has always had the talent."

What has been the problem?

"He has played under a lot of different coaches and systems," Strock said. "and some strange things have happened. Last year, he was the AFC Player of the Month in September and got benched at the beginning of October.

"Enough has happened to him that I don't think he trusted many people. He was subdued at the start of camp. But now he is starting to open up. He's realizing we're on his side. I can guarantee you we won't bench him if he's AFC Player of the Month again."

It is Strock's job to bring Testaverde out, to be his best friend, to help him see and think on the field, to whisper in his ear.

Just as he did with a young Dan Marino.

"I feel good about Don and Vinny," Marchibroda said. "Neither is a belligerent guy. It's a good, positive relationship."

The early returns are encouraging. Testaverde was sharp Saturday against the Eagles. He threw accurately. He improvised decisively. He moved the team in the two-minute drill. He made a big throw for a touchdown. He was a big-time quarterback.

"He can't play much better than that," Marchibroda said.

"I was very pleased," Strock said. "Vinny is starting to feel comfortable with the people and the system. The potential is there for good things to happen."

The Ravens need those "good things" if they're going anywhere this season.

They need Testaverde to deliver.

And Testaverde needs Strock.

It's that simple.

Pub Date: 8/08/96

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