Greg Hansen: Scelfo's got the cred, Foles in good stead, foes need to dread

2010-09-10T00:00:00Z 2013-09-17T16:01:05Z Greg Hansen: Scelfo's got the cred, Foles in good stead, foes need to dreadGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 10, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Before legendary Louisiana high school football coach Sam Scelfo died of a heart attack in 1982, he advised his son not to become a coach.

"You're smart," he told Frank Scelfo. "Do something else."

Instead, Sam's son applied for the coaching job at moribund Prairie View Academy in Bastrop, La. How smart was that? The Spartans had never had a winning season and the pay was a mere $9,250 a year.

Scelfo wanted the job so badly that for two weeks he drove 20 miles to the school, bought doughnuts and delivered them to the teacher's lounge. He offered to run errands. He promised he would win. He persisted. The school finally gave in.

"I moved the sprinklers, drove the bus, chalked the field," he says now. "We only had 14 players on the team, so I had to suit up, in pads, and play quarterback for the scout team. It was football in its purest form. I learned so much. We went 6-4 the first year. A year later, we were district champs."

This sounds like a man, unafraid, who would agree to coach quarterbacks at Arizona, which has never been a glamour job, never led directly to NFL employment, the All-Pac-10 team or generated this-guy-is-a-guru headlines.

In Arizona's Pac-10 years, Scelfo is the 15th man to coach Wildcats quarterbacks, and like many of his predecessors, he never played the position. He was a baseball player.

"I hit .300 at Louisiana-Monroe," he says, chuckling. "But you could probably put down .380, because it's been so long ago nobody would remember."

Arizona's first QB coach of the Pac-10 era, Jack Jordan, had been a free safety at Cal Poly. Through the years there was: Steve Axman, a guard from C.W. Post; Homer Smith, a fullback from Princeton; and Dino Babers, a linebacker from Hawaii.

But there is so much football blood in the Scelfo family of New Iberia, La., that it overcomes Arizona's lack of a quarterbacking pedigree.

Frank's brother, Chris, is the former head coach at Tulane. Two other Scelfo brothers played college football. Frank even married into a football family: his father-in-law, Ellsworth Kingery, played for the Chicago Cardinals.

Scelfo's coaching journey is one of such magnitude - eight high schools, offensive coordinator jobs at Tulane and Louisiana Tech - that he has done something an Arizona fan might find unimaginable: He has coached four QBs who played in the NFL.

When Scelfo arrived at Arizona eight months ago, he had a different reaction to quarterback Nick Foles than many of those who saw him throw for 2,486 yards last year while beating Stanford, Oregon State and USC.

"He was just kinda raw," says Scelfo. "He looked like a big old pony, rarely in balance, arms and legs everywhere."

The Foles of 2010, the junior who reported to training camp a month ago, was nothing like the Foles of 2009. The baseball people have a saying for what happened to Foles: He became a pitcher instead of a thrower.

To his credit, he didn't fight the changes in his footwork, his delivery, his thought-process and his tempo.

"I couldn't ask for a better quarterbacks coach," Foles says. "I respect Frank as much as you can respect a person."

On opening night, at Toledo, Foles was superb. He completed 32 of 37 passes for 360 yards. Whatever rough edges began to show late in the '09 season had been polished.

Arizona hasn't been bereft of capable QB coaches. Axman and Homer Smith were outstanding, and so, too, given the available talent, were Rip Scherer, Chuck Stobart, Mike Canales and Sonny Dykes.

The start-to-finish job Duane Akina did with Dan White from 1993-95 produced a 24-11 record and a 3-0 sweep over ASU's Jake Plummer.

But other than then 64-year-old Homer Smith, 1996-97, Scelfo arrived at Arizona with more credentials and more background success than any QB coach in the UA's Pac-10 years.

"The best thing Nick has done is to recognize his faults," says Scelfo. "This is a delicate thing. When I told him we could fix what was wrong, he jumped right in and said he would do whatever was asked. He wasn't offended; he wanted to learn."

The Scelfo-Foles project is as important as any in UA football history. The Wildcats have rarely been closer to a breakthrough, armed with a big-game quarterback, than they are this season. Foles can't possibly continue to complete 82 percent of his passes, but the improvements are obvious.

"He's not a finished product yet," says Scelfo. "There will be some ups and downs. But I think he'll be able to limit the lows. Even better, no one's going to out-work him. But I want to be clear: it's him, not me. It's the player, not the coach."

And isn't that a nice change? At Arizona, it often has been neither the coach nor the quarterback.

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