Second in the
WACO, Texas - If he could have, Kevin Kolb would have followed Art Briles to this south Texas town, home of Baylor University.
Twice before in the life and football times of Kolb, he trailed after this Svengali-type coach - first to Stephenville High School and then to the University of Houston. On both occasions, Kolb had to make gut-wrenching decisions.
But the road shared by these two Texas slingers, separated only by time and now thousands of miles, had to eventually hit a fork. Kolb was slated for the NFL - and eventually the Eagles - while Briles was to continue his climb up the coaching ladder to where he resides now at Baylor.
But the bond remains. Both were decorated Texas high school quarterbacks. Both toiled at Houston beneath the shadow of the Big Twelve. Both learned the game from their coaching fathers, who were toughest of all on their sons.
"That's probably why Kevin and I got on so well," Briles said. "He's a coach's son. I was a coach's son. And I think he respects the way I coach because I let him be a man first."
Briles allows his quarterbacks extraordinary freedom, and it was no different for Kolb - first at Stephenville, but more significantly at Houston. But with freedom comes accountability. And Kolb felt responsible when the Cougars struggled during his sophomore and junior seasons.
"Coach Briles and I were so close, and I knew that my career was parallel to his career, and he wanted to be a college coach so bad," Kolb said. "So when we had those 'dip' years, I told myself in my head as a 19-year-old, 'Man, I've got to play well, because if I don't play well there's a chance that my favorite coach in the whole world may not be a coach here next year.'
"I don't think most people take their coach's career into perspective, and that was very evident to me."
Flash forward six years, and Kolb feels a similar burden for Eagles coach Andy Reid, who is putting his future on the line after trading away his franchise quarterback and promoting the 26-year-old.
"I don't feel pressure; I feel responsibility," Kolb said. "I don't know if it's the manly thing to do or if it's just the honorable thing to do, but when somebody does that you can't . . . go, 'Look at the possibility of all the money I get to make.' For me, I just want to go win games, and I want to prove that he made the right decision."
The first big decision of Kolb's life came when he was 14 years old. His parents, Roy and Lanell, let him make it, although it affected the entire Kolb family.
By the time Kevin was in eighth grade, he was clearly the best athlete at Decatur Junior High. You know the type: quarterback in football, point guard in basketball, and cleanup hitter in baseball. But Roy Kolb coached his son in both football and basketball, and a couple of families said father was favoring son.
"They thought their son was supposed to be the hot rod," Kolb said. "That's the thing about Texas. Every parent thinks their son is the next Troy Aikman."
Roy Kolb was brought to answer the favoritism charge before the school board twice, according to Kevin, before he started to look for opportunities elsewhere. Roy Kolb had already decided at that point that he had taken his son as far as he could in football and had contacted Briles at Stephenville about coaching Kevin there.
Briles offered Roy Kolb a job as the junior varsity basketball coach, but the Kolbs decided to stick it out in Decatur. Still, he was about to be taken to the school board for a third time, and Kevin had had enough.
"I was so ready to prove those people wrong that had been hounding on my dad," Kolb said. "It was obvious, because my dad pushed me so much harder than everybody else and all the people that didn't have blinders on understood that. I had already made up my mind, 'We're out of here.' "
Roy Kolb's response: "Are you sure?"
Kevin: "Yeah, let's go. We'll show them."
When Briles took Kevin Kolb under his wing, he immediately began teaching him to play quarterback the way Briles' father had taught him.
"He gave me a lot of freedom, and he let me be fearless," Briles said of his father.
When Briles was a 20-year-old wide receiver at Houston, he played Southern Methodist in the Cotton Bowl. His parents, Dennis and Wanda, were expected to attend, and when Briles failed to spot them in the stands he sensed something was wrong.
Dennis and Wanda Briles, along with Art's aunt, Elsie, had died in a car crash on the way to the game.
Thirty-four years later, a vacationing Briles, protective of his privacy, asked a reporter to meet him in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. On rare occasions the 54-year-old Briles will talk about his parents' death. This was not one of those times.
The subject was Kolb.
"I knew Kevin, definitely, was going to be a D-I quarterback as a freshman," said a tan and athletic-looking Briles. "That was an easy call."
But Kolb sat behind Briles' son, Kendal, as the Stephenville Yellow Jackets went on to claim their fourth state title in seven years. And then Briles departed for an assistant coaching position at Texas Tech, taking his son with him.
Briles left most of his staff behind, along with his spread offense. Defensive coordinator Mike Copeland became head coach, but offensive coordinator Randy Clements and quarterbacks coach Phillip Montgomery ran the offense and mentored Kolb.
"The one thing all the way through with Kevin was you had to be careful of what you said to him - because what you said was going to happen," Montgomery said. "So if you put it down in stone, you better make sure you do it right."
Kolb impressed in his first start as a sophomore, throwing for more than 400 yards, but he suffered a broken collarbone a week later and missed most of the rest of the season.
Copeland, not one for excuses - he was born with half an arm - observed Kolb as he recovered. He said Kolb never missed practice, never missed a game and never objected to helping out with menial tasks such as carrying water.
When Kolb came back full-time the next year, he had earned the team's admiration.
"In football, a lot of times, the pretty boys all dress together," Copeland said. "So you have the running backs and the wide receivers getting dressed in one corner of the locker room, while you had the offensive lineman getting dressed in another. Kevin dressed with the O-linemen. He knew whose respect he had to earn. He knew who protected him."
During his senior year, in which he threw for more than 2,700 yards and tossed only three interceptions, Kolb had a dozen scholarship offers and committed to Oklahoma State.
Kolb won't give the names of the parents from Decatur who took his father to the school board, but he says he still runs into their sons when he's back in Texas.
"It fueled me a little bit, but it wasn't personal," Kolb said. "It wasn't from anger built up. I just wanted to prove I was better than those players."
Not long after Kolb gave his pledge to Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Gundy, Briles was hired at Houston.
"When I got the job, he was our No. 1 guy," Briles said.
Kolb knew he had unfinished business with Briles. And when Clements and Montgomery followed their former boss to Houston - and eventually to Baylor - it was a no-brainer. Still, Kolb mulled over the decision for two months before he finally sat down and told Gundy he was de-committing.
"Gundy really let him have it," Clements said.
"He was upset, but he didn't cuss me out," Kolb said. "He started saying, 'Those are high school guys. They don't know what it's like up here.' I knew then that I wasn't his kind of guy."
Kolb said he sat there for 45 minutes and listened to Gundy.
"It was nothing terrible, but it was tough for me to go through as an 18-year-old kid," he said.
Attempts to reach Gundy, now the Cowboys' head coach, through Oklahoma State's communications department were unsuccessful.
Kolb, meanwhile, was taking a chance. Houston had gone 0-11 two years before he arrived. But Briles had fine-tuned his quick-pass spread offense, and Kolb was the perfect instrument to implement it.
"He's good at it because he's quick-twitch muscle," Briles said. "His brain to his hand happens real fast. It's not, 'I need to throw now, ball's out.' Through intelligence comes confidence and recognition, and through recognition comes release."
The Cougars finished 7-6 with a bowl appearance and Kolb putting up some of the best passing statistics - 3,131 yards, 25 touchdowns - in the country. There was a lull the next two seasons - a combined 9-14 mark - but Kolb rebounded his senior season, throwing for 3,809 yards and 30 touchdowns against four picks.
The crowning moment had to be when Houston toppled the Big Twelve's Oklahoma State, 34-25, to open the season 4-0. Kolb's passing numbers against Gundy's Cowboys: 21 for 28 for 313 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Said Montgomery: "Kevin never forgets."