Given he has worked with Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Johnny Manziel, it takes a lot to make Kliff Kingsbury’s jaw drop in amazement.
Yet on a Thursday night in September 2014 he watched in disbelief from the back of the end zone at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, Texas, as high schooler — and future New England Patriot — Jarrett Stidham delivered a dart right in front of him.
“It was the real deal — quick release, drilled it and Kingsbury’s near the end zone,” Greg Winder told Stats Perform.
“Kingsbury’s mouth was just like, ‘Oh, wow.’ I knew then he was special.”
Winder was the offensive coordinator at Stephenville High School, where Stidham was considered one of the state’s finest quarterback prospects in football-mad Texas.
“He was very receptive,” Winder recalled. “He always knew what was going on. We would meet and talk about our game plan and he knew exactly what we were trying to do and what he needed to do.
“He was a great leader.”
Fast-forward to 2020 and Stidham is the center of attention again.
The Patriots are seeking an answer at the NFL’s most important position after watching Tom Brady leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Stidham would appear the most likely candidate to succeed a player considered the greatest of all time, even if his NFL experience is limited to four pass attempts — one of which New York Jets safety Jamal Adams returned for a pick-six in Week 3 of last season.
Fortunately, Stidham is used to the spotlight. Winder remembers college coaches from all over the country coming to watch him at Stephenville.
“It was crazy, nuts,” he said. “We’d do our workout and those coaches would be in there watching him throw. He didn’t seem to be nervous at all. He’s a natural.”
Back when he dazzled Kingsbury, now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, with his throw against Lubbock Cooper, Stidham had already committed to Texas Tech, where Kingsbury was the head coach. He wound up going to nearby Baylor, though, avoiding a quarterback competition with future NFL MVP Mahomes.
The move to Baylor proved to be short-lived. The football program was rocked by coach Art Briles’ firing following an investigation that found there was a “fundamental failure” by school officials to respond to sexual assault allegations against players.
After consulting Winder about his next move, Stidham sat out for a year and then spent two seasons as Auburn’s starting quarterback before declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, when the Patriots selected him as Brady’s latest backup.
Now, with Brady gone and only Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler as rivals, Stidham would appear to have a clear path to the starter’s job.
Succeeding Brady means he will be under even more scrutiny than usual, though Stidham, who moved in with a guardian family at 18, has already had to cope with plenty of pressure.
“He’s been in a lot of different situations in his life with pressure and different circumstances on and off the field. He’ll respond,” Winder adds.
But can he be successful under Bill Belichick, a man who has won six Super Bowl titles as a head coach, and with a team that has won the AFC East for 11 straight seasons?
“I just think he needs to be with the right organization, the right situation,” Winder says. “And I think he’s in the right organization and the right time.”