In the FCS Huddle: Flacco content to be an ordinary Joe

K.C. Keeler anticipated the reaction that was coming, but he was serious about his suggestion to Joe Flacco during the quarterback's career at the University of Delaware.

Keeler said the next time Flacco threw a touchdown pass, he should run along the sideline while pounding his chest and pointing at the fans.

Flacco looked at his head coach as if he had suggested he intentionally throw an interception.

"Coach, no way, I can't do it," Keeler remembers Flacco saying. "My brothers would just beat me up. And my dad and mom."

Keeler has heard all the descriptions of Joe Flacco. Inconsistent (thanks, Ravens fans). Not an elite QB (well, maybe look again). Dull (yeah, thanks, dad).

Keeler, who coached Flacco for three years at Delaware before sending him off to the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens, has a different word for others to ponder about him.


"That's what I think the media should start to understand about Joe - he's refreshing," Keeler said from New Orleans, where Sunday night Flacco will try to lead the Ravens to a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. "He doesn't have those stock answers that someone's prepped him on. He's going to answer honestly.

"He's just a regular guy. Married his hometown sweetheart. More interested in hanging out with his family than going to a go-go spot. That's who he is. I've said this many times, that I think Baltimore was such a great fit for him because Baltimore is like a small town, and it's close for him. Green Bay or San Diego or Dallas, it just would have been too far away from his family. He's such a family guy."

Flacco caused a stir on Monday when he described the idea of next year's Super Bowl being played in the cold outdoors of MetLife Stadium in his native New Jersey as "retarded." Not one to seek out controversy, Flacco was raised to be honest.

Still, he quickly backtracked on his insensitive choice of words. The stir didn't linger long, either. Compared to so many other players at the Super Bowl, Flacco isn't flashy, and maybe even a bit dull, as his father Steve recently described him.

Flacco may not be on most lists of top NFL quarterbacks, but his results have likely grown on even the Ravens' most critical fans. The team's 2008 first- round draft pick - and the first signal-caller taken from an FCS school in the first round since Steve McNair in 1995 - is the only QB in the Super Bowl era to lead his team to a playoff win in each of his first five seasons.

This season's postseason run started with a home win over Indianapolis and features road wins over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and then Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, giving Flacco a league-record six road playoffs wins in his career. He's thrown for eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three games to spark the Ravens' AFC championship.

Of course, none of this surprises Keeler. Flacco led Delaware to the FCS national championship game as a senior in 2007, and Keeler saw the NFL future in Flacco before his strong-armed quarterback did.

"I can remember on that practice field knowing he was special," Keeler said. "There were times I catch myself becoming a spectator because of some of the balls he would throw. And I remember the Ravens coming to watch a practice probably the middle of year or so - I think it was after we beat Navy - and them saying that that was just like what they would want at a workout because we were putting him through every throw. And you would just see Joe go throw all the different routes with the tight ends and all different routes with the running backs, all different routes with the wide receivers.

"We threw the ball so much in practice, and you could just watch him, you know, that brilliant arm, that quick release, effortless. And the thing that Joe possesses is so many abilities. I mean, first of all, he's closer to probably 6-7 than he is 6-6 - he's a big man - he's about 250 pounds now. He'll run under a 4.7(-second) 40. People are shocked at how athletic he is for a big man. But the thing that I think makes him special is he just has this calmness about him. He's not afraid to fail."

Flacco grew up grounded alongside four brothers and a sister in a tight-knit family, living close to the Delaware campus in the South Jersey town of Haddon Township, attending Audobon High School. He was drawn to the Blue Hens' uptempo style of offense and considered joining Keeler's program before he picked the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. A head coaching change ensued after Flacco's first season in Pittsburgh, and then after his second season he could see coach Dave Wannstedt had settled on quarterback Tyler Palko.

Wannstedt refused to give a transfer waiver to Flacco, and after Flacco decided to go home and attend Delaware, he was forced to sit out the 2005 season and pay his way that school year.

He became the starter as a redshirt junior in 2006, survived some rocky play and then flourished in '07. He cared only about winning games, but still put up spectacular numbers, passing for 4,283 yards and 23 touchdowns against only five interceptions.

"I think it was a right fit kind of thing with him coming to Delaware," Keeler said. "No question, I think the biggest influence on his life was his family, and especially his parents (his mother is Karen Flacco), who did such a great job raising him. I think we contributed to that, just like everyone who's going to touch him along the way is going to contribute. But we got a guy who had a really stable moral foundation in terms of being a great teammate, being one of the guys and not being the superstar."

The Ravens, Keeler added, "questioned me about his leadership ability when the draft came about. And I said this, 'All I know is, our team never panicked.' And to me, they took on the personality of Joe. And when Joe needed to say something ... we were playing Northern Iowa (in the 2007 FCS playoffs) and we were getting run out of Dodge. I mean, we're getting run out, it's going to get ugly quickly, it's 10-0 quick and they're just manhandling us. And I remember Joe getting the whole offense together on the sideline, and it was in a dome, it was really loud, you couldn't even think it was so loud, and he's hollering, 'Hey, someone make a play. Just make a play and we're going to be fine. Somebody make a play.' And our left tackle cut loose one of their great defensive ends, and he's chasing Joe out of the backfield, and Joe finds a receiver 50 yards down the field and makes a play. And we settled down, we went down and scored and we ended up beating the No. 1 team in the country at their place by 12. So I've seen Joe when it's needed to jump in and take charge. But, again, I think the greatest compliment that I could give him was the team took on his personality. That team never panicked because they never saw Joe panic."

Keeler, fired in early January as Delaware's head coach after 11 seasons - a surprising move considering his 86-52 record and three appearances in the FCS title game, including a victory in 2003 - has spent the week in New Orleans attending functions and making connections.

Not to be overlooked is that Keeler has another one of his former players on Flacco's offensive line - Ravens rookie Gino Gradkowski, a backup. But Keeler has spent plenty of his time on radio row this week answering questions about the most talented player to come along during his Delaware coaching career.

"He knows how proud I am, he knows how the whole university is proud of him," Keeler said.

"Is he an elite quarterback? In his mind, he better think he's an elite quarterback or he shouldn't be playing the game. And I think if you look at this, if they win, it could be the best start any quarterback has ever had in the first five years in the NFL. He's a dropped pass away from going to two straight Super Bowls. So it's really neat to watch the success he's had because he's such a genuine person. He's what you want your son to grow up to be like. And that's what kind of frustrates me a little bit when I sometimes catch the Baltimore (radio) station when I've driving in and hear people down on Joe. It's like, boy, this is who you want your superstar to be like."