Call him the quarterback whisperer.
This isn't meant to imply that Shannon Dawson doesn't raise his voice from time to time out on Kentucky's practice field.
He definitely does.
"I gotta keep him on a leash at times," Coach Mark Stoops joked of his new offensive coordinator. "He gets a little animated."
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But Dawson wants his quarterback's default setting to be calm, cool, collected.
It's something he preached every day at spring practice and will preach all summer while discussing everything from footwork to huddle demeanor.
Dawson hasn't always been a calming force for his quarterbacks.
It took a conversation in his first year at his first coordinator job (Division III Millsaps College) with a quarterback whose name he wishes he could remember to alter his coaching.
The senior quarterback walked into his office and said something that has stuck with Dawson for the next decade.
"He said, 'Coach, you're passionate, which is good, but when you blow up on the sidelines, that doesn't have the effect on us that you think it does,'" Dawson recalled on Thursday in a sit-down interview in his barely used office.
That conversation planted a seed that he needed to have a different demeanor on the sidelines and that his quarterback, and in turn his offense, would follow suit. Dawson started reading coaching books and thinking about how his reactions on the field could have a direct affect on how an offense performs.
"If you're a competitive person and things aren't going good, you have to fight what I call the anger sharks," Dawson said. "When the anger sharks start swimming, I have to do a good job of holding them back."
It's been something different for Kentucky's quarterbacks this spring, especially in scrimmages. A bad play doesn't automatically equal an uncomfortable sideline.
"He's not really gonna tear us up out there," UK quarterback Patrick Towles said of his new quarterbacks coach. "He'll talk to us in the film room, we'll fix it, but he's not the type of guy that's really gonna chew us out there. Now, he has done that some times, but not really with the severity that we're used to."
Mistakes will be made, Dawson said, but a quarterback's demeanor after interactions with him can alter how long that mistake lingers. When UK's other quarterback, Drew Barker, threw a pick in the last scrimmage, Dawson reminded: "Gotta move on to the next play."
"The worst thing you can do is just sit there and let that play affect the next three or four, or maybe the next two quarters," Dawson explained later.
If a quarterback is still thinking about that bad throw 10 plays ago, he might miss the window to make a good throw.
"They have to know that they have my back and I have their back, so if they make mistakes I can live with it and if I make mistakes, hopefully they can make me right and we can live with it."
There's a simplicity to how Dawson coaches his quarterbacks.
He wants no wasted movement. He discourages shuffling of feet in the pocket. Once his quarterback receives the ball, the drop is more precise and the set up to throw is shorter than it was under former offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
Not only is there a simplicity to the footwork, there's a simplicity to the way he wants them to think, too. He has a pre-snap checklist he wants them to run through and a post-snap checklist.
"And if both of them aren't extremely clear and extremely simple, than you've got some issues," Dawson explained. "You can't sit there and dissect a million different things when you're trying to execute a play when you've got the clock running down, when you've got people moving around, it's chaotic."
If he can fine tune what the quarterback is thinking about right before and directly after a play, the play caller can make clearer, calmer decisions.
The quieter, calmer coach has equaled a quieter, calmer quarterback.
"His whole philosophy is the calmer your feet are, the calmer your mind can be," Towles said. "The more simplistic you are downstairs, the more simplistic you'll be, efficient, really."
This doesn't mean that Dawson has been the camp counselor, the Kumbaya singing quarterback coach for an entire spring.
Practice is the time he tries to test his quarterbacks' fortitude.
He puts them in tight, uncomfortable situations. He yells. He rants.
"I think you have to rattle them during the week," Dawson said. "A lot of it is preplanned. I'm going to put some pressure on this kid today and see how he reacts."
But he does think the practice coach and the game coach have to be two distinctly different people.
"If you have to scream during a game, then you probably haven't done your job all week," Dawson said.
Instead, he'd prefer to whisper.
Spent part of Thursday morning with new Kentucky' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and there will be plenty of stories to come from that in the next few weeks. But I also picked up some interesting bits of football information from Dawson.
Here they are:
■ The new offensive coordinator will do his game-day coaching and play calling from the Kentucky sidelines, not the press box.
■ After being nearly 50 percent in run/pass ratio last season at West Virginia, does he have a perfect percentage in mind? "I think it changes from game to game, I really do," he said, going back to something a coach he knew said a few years back. "He said, ''If they're going to stack the box, I'm going throw it 100 percent of the time. That's good balance versus what they're doing.'"
■ Even though the Kentucky offense has been running at a normal pace during the spring, Dawson's ideal number of plays in a game is speedy.
While Neal Brown said his goal was 75 plays per game, Dawson said 85 plays is more ideal to him. Last season, UK averaged 70.8 plays per game. At West Virginia, where Dawson helped run the offense last season, the Mountaineers averaged 84.4 plays per game.
■ He has two simple offensive philosophies: Attack an opposing defense where it's most vulnerable and get the ball into your top playmakers' hands as many times as possible. "If you've got a really, really good player and he leaves the game and he hasn't touched the ball a lot and you lose, then you can only look in the mirror with that," Dawson said.
■ While many coaches try to use a script for their first 10-15 plays of the game or the first plays of a series, Dawson said he's been migrating away from that philosophy because too many variables can change the script. "I do have a set of plays in my mind that we're going to run," he said. "But I think lately I've come to the place where I think I'm a little more likely to go off script quicker."
■ He loves to get a quarterback's input in the play calls as the team prepares for an opponent, even regularly pulling plays that he considered "the best damn play on the script" when his past QBs were uncomfortable with them.
A sizable investment
There are visible signs of the investment Kentucky is making in football all over campus, including the $120 million Commonwealth Stadium renovation complete with a new turf field and a $45 million practice facility.
But UK also has done some less visible investing in football recently with the release of contract extensions and salary increases for defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, running backs coach Chad Scott, offensive line coach John Schlarman, wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord, defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh and secondary coach Derrick Ansley.
The salary additions take Stoops' coaching staff to $3 million a season, which is $575,000 more than former coach Joker Phillips' staff was making when it was let go.
That new number doesn't include newly created positions on the support staff, most notably High Performance Coach Erik Korem either. His deal was re-upped at this time last year for $270,000.