USF football coach Willie Taggart began the Bulls’ 2016 offseason just like any other — hitting the recruiting trail to stock up on the best talent in the country.
However, one of Taggart’s first targets wasn’t a five-star athlete or the next homegrown star. The fourth-year Bulls coach was in search of someone to mentor record-setting quarterback Quinton Flowers.
Shaun King, who was a Conference USA offensive player of the year and NFL quarterback with the Buccaneers and Cardinals, was working as an analyst with NBC Yahoo Sports at the time, but Taggart came calling with an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
“(Flowers) was coach T’s biggest selling point,” King said. “I was making good money working for NBC Yahoo. I was working about 50 days a year and this is a little more intensive. A big part of why I came was Quinton. To help him reach his goals and to help Asiantii (Woulard) get back on course and Brett happened to be a player who surprised me too. So, I’m excited and I’m glad I made the choice, I really am.”
Initially, Flowers was upset coach David Reaves would no longer be working with him as his quarterbacks coach, but the junior perked up when he heard who had been brought in as a replacement.
“I was excited to meet my new coach, someone who played in the league, someone who’s been where I’m trying to go,” Flowers said. “There was a point when coach Reaves told me he wasn’t going to be my coach anymore and I was down for a while because I didn’t know who was going to coach us, but once I heard coach King was hired, I got real excited.
“There’s a lot he’s done in the league that he’s showed me.”
A quarterback for Tulane University from 1995-98, King was one of few dual-threat quarterbacks in his time, playing with a style similar to that of Flowers.
“Quinton’s a better athlete than I was,” King said. “I was a better thrower at the time, I just think I had more training so I was a little further advanced. But back then, I had to be because we didn’t have the zone-read. You either ran an option or a pro-system and we didn’t run an option, so it wasn’t like it is now.
“But he was a better athlete than I am, definitely. He still can’t beat me throwing, we have throwing drills every day and he still can’t beat me. We throw in the bucket, all kinds of different things. When I come out here with him, I compete with him.”
When King began working with Flowers, he told the junior quarterback they would be focusing on his passing game as his rushing attack didn’t need much work — evidenced by Flowers’ 991 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns on 191 attempts in 2015.
With an offseason of hard work behind them, they both agreed that Flowers’ throwing is leagues beyond where it was this time last year.
“I’ve learned to put touch on the ball,” Flowers said. “A lot of the balls I always threw were hard balls. It doesn’t have to be hard all the time, you have to throw it to where they’re at, what you see.
“He always tells me, ‘Throw what you see, not where they gon’ be.’ So that tells you in the game, anything can happen. They may not be where you expect them to be so throw what you see.”
Flowers said he’s already seeing his hard work in the passing game pay off in practices and scrimmages and his improvement is giving the starting quarterback more confidence than ever before.
After passing for 2,290 yards and 22 touchdowns to lead USF’s offense in 2015, Flowers and King predict an even better season is in line for 2016.
“I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my passing,” Flowers said. “Just listening to coach King, he’s not going to tell me anything wrong. That’s a coach who wouldn’t send you out there to do anything he wouldn’t do.
“He treats us like NFL quarterbacks. Every practice we get a stat sheet that measures tons of things like completions, ball location and all that.”
King watched Flowers play before joining the USF coaching staff and was intrigued with what he saw. But it was Flowers’ demeanor as a player that’s helped make the adjustment so easy for the Bulls’ new quarterbacks coach.
“My first impression of him was that he’s a humble kid who wants to be coached,” King said. “You never know when you inherit a kid who’s had some success, sometimes they feel like they know everything, sometimes they’re kind of attached to the situation before. You never know what you’re walking in to, but I have to say he was extremely humble and he said, ‘Coach, coach me,’ so that made me really excited.
“This is a kid who understands he hasn’t figured it all out and he wants to figure it out so that’s a good place to be in for a kid his age.”
Aside from their time on the field, the duo’s bond of mentor and pupil has grown strong through their conversations during Flowers’ regular visits to King’s office and their time studying the game.
Flowers said he feels as though he can go to King for anything, whether it’s football or any of the numerous nuances of living the day-to-day life of a student-athlete.
For King, he’s grown close enough with his starting quarterback to trust him with just about anything.
“Our relationship is phenomenal, I would let him babysit my kids, and my kids are 6, 3, and 1,” King said. “He comes to me for advice, we have a great relationship. He understands I’m the coach and he’s the player, but there isn’t that divide that there can be sometimes. I’m proud of him man, I really am. He’s a good kid who does well in class, he doesn’t get in any trouble and all the guys really like him.”
Switching from analyst to coach was a transition made easier by an internship program through the NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers in which King was able to spend time with the team to learn the in’s-and-out’s of coaching.
“I think I’m a hell of a good coach now,” King said. “I haven’t done anything on the field yet, but I’ve been around it. The more that you can put yourself in that environment, the better. You know, they’re seven-time world champions. Mike Tomlin’s been to two Super Bowls and won one, Big Ben has been to three and won two.
“So if you put yourself in that environment, you’ll pick up stuff. I just got to soak up how Mike runs the team, how they run the quarterbacks, how Ben interacts with the position guys. I’m going to take what I saw there and put it to work here.”
With what King has seen from Flowers on the field so far, the coach said the sky is the limit going forward in his collegiate career.
“I’d be disappointed if he’s not AAC Player of the Year,” King said. “Next year, I’d be disappointed if he’s not seriously in consideration for the Heisman or at least get invited. I think the kid has the opportunity to be that good.
“He’s taken to the coaching, he’s throwing the ball much better, he’s understanding why where’s he’s throwing it where he’s throwing it. We have to play well around him, but those are my expectations for him.”