One of the first things Dino Babers was told upon arriving at Eastern Illinois in December 2011 was that he needed to find a new quarterback.
The returning starter — junior Jimmy Garappolo, who had led the Panthers to two wins the year before — just didn't cut it, a leading university administrator said to Babers. You should get rid of him and use the other guy, he continued. Just let me see Garappolo throw before he gets kicked off the team, Babers asked.
A few days later, Babers and a collection of university personnel gathered on Eastern Illinois' practice field. After Garappolo made five throws, Babers turned to the administrator: You're right, he said, this kid has no business being here — he should be playing on a bigger stage.
Rumors began to swirl Sunday night that Babers would be UCF's new head football coach, replacing former coach George O'Leary who led the Knights for 12 season. UCF Athletics was unable to confirm or deny these rumors.
"This is going to sound crazy, but I think one of the biggest misnomers is that people don't develop their quarterbacks," Babers said. "They're like, that guy can't play, and then another coach comes in."
Garappolo's physical gifts alone made him worthy of playing football at a higher level, let alone the next level; after two seasons under Babers, setting school records for passing yards and touchdowns, he was taken by the New England Patriots in the second round of the NFL draft.
It was the marriage of foolproof offensive system with NFL-ready ability — little could go wrong, and little did. Babers' latest pupil, Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson, indicates something different: Regardless of who's at the controls, this offense breeds outstanding quarterback play.
"There's no doubt this is a quarterback-friendly offense," said Babers.
Unlike Garappolo, Johnson doesn't necessarily look the part of an NFL quarterback. Recent NFL success stories — Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, among others — has made height less of an issue than in the past, but Johnson remains undersized at an even six feet. Sturdily built at 215 pounds, he's quick enough to extend plays with his feet and make throws outside the pocket, two requirements of the position in Babers' system.
What Johnson does have is what Babers calls "stuff," and can perhaps be described as intelligence, or perhaps awareness. If Garappolo looked the part, Babers said, Johnson possesses something unmeasurable.
"I'm telling you, you put Matt Johnson on a team, you're not going to cut him. Especially if he's your backup. Because they're not going to have some stuff that your starter has. He's got stuff. He throws a fantastic ball.
"The guy's going to play somewhere. He's going to play in the NFL or he's going to play up north. But he's going to play."
More than anything, however, Johnson has the system. This is the same scheme that developed Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty, dating to Babers' turn as Baylor's offensive coordinator, and put Garappolo on the map as a senior at Eastern Illinois. In Johnson, the offense has found its latest star — but not its last.
"(Babers) could've very easily went to wherever," Johnson said, "and that quarterback would be doing the same thing."