Meet Tavita Pritchard, the Commanders most important coach

(Photo by David Madison/Getty Images) Tavita Pritchard
(Photo by David Madison/Getty Images) Tavita Pritchard /

Tavita Pritchard is the Washington Commanders’ new quarterbacks coach, and he could be the most important staff member of all in 2023.

Who is the Washington Commanders’ most important coach?

Well, new assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy is the obvious choice. The Commanders’ offense has been lagging behind their defense for the past three seasons, and that is untenable in today’s NFL.

Bienemy will be tasked with pumping life into a sputtering offensive attack. But let me throw another name into the conversation. Even newer than the aforementioned figure. Let me suggest that the coach who will have the biggest impact on Washington’s success in 2023 is quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard.

Commanders needs Tavita Pritchard to hit the ground running

You’re not familiar with Pritchard’s name? Well, unless you are a Stanford Cardinal groupie, that’s not surprising.

Pritchard has spent half his life with Cardinal football. He was Stanford’s quarterback during his undergraduate days, and after graduation, he never really left.

He has been an integral part of Stanford’s coaching staff ever since. Now Pritchard is 36 years old and leaving the west coast for the first time.

Pritchard has had undeniable success in his years at Stanford. He has risen through the coaching ranks through multiple head coaches and was slated to remain on Troy Taylor’s staff as offensive coordinator before Bienemy came calling.

Bienemy hired Pritchard to take over from long-time coach Ken Zampese a few weeks ago.

The quarterback coach position has become the major launching point for new head coaches in the NFL. In the past decade, the Commanders have seen two of their own have great success as head coaches.

First, it was Matt LeFleur, who coached Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins under the Shanahans before eventually becoming Green Bay Packers head coach.

Then, it was Kevin O’Connell’s turn to oversee Cousins’ final season in Washington and try to pick up the pieces after Alex Smith’s catastrophic injury. Though the Commanders could never recover from that setback, his reputation survived enough so that he got the Minnesota Vikings’ top spot last year, leading them to a 13-4 regular season record.

Washington does not have a very good track record of developing young quarterbacks. They acquired two talented prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft, but neither became the coveted franchise player at the position.

Griffin got hurt. Cousins was so fed up with playing for a dysfunctional organization that he left as soon as he could – much like many of Washington’s most talented players from the pre-Ron Rivera era had done. Then they failed tragically with Dwayne Haskins.

Long-time fans recognize that this is nothing new.

George Allen brought in Billy Kilmer. Joe Gibbs, in his second stint, turned to Mark Brunell. Under Rivera, Washington has tried and failed with Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Carson Wentz. In 90 years, the franchise can really only boast of two totally homegrown talents – Sammy Baugh and Mark Rypien.

Commanders must give Sam Howell every chance in 2023

Pritchard’s main job will be to add Sam Howell’s name to that list.

Howell is a fifth-round draft pick with one NFL start under his belt. But he is the Commanders’ best bet for success in the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, Howell got a chance to sit, watch and learn during his rookie season. It is a pattern that Bienemy is quite familiar with, having seen how Patrick Mahomes took advantage of a similar trajectory in Kansas City.

The Commanders will almost certainly bring in a veteran quarterback to serve as Howell’s backup and perhaps compete with him for the top spot. They may draft a young quarterback as well. If Washington goes into 2023 with Jacoby Brissett and/or Hendon Hooker on the roster, that will beef up the room.

However, it will still be Howell’s job to win or lose. And Pritchard will be right at his side.

The value of a quality quarterback coach is finally being recognized in the NFL. It’s an odd occurrence. Teams began to hire kicking coaches before they seriously invested in those coaching signal-callers. But by now it has become essential.

A good quarterback coach identifies and corrects mechanical flaws. He becomes a counselor and therapist for a young man trying to master the most complex job in all of team sports. And good ones work closely with the offensive coordinator to develop systems designed to maximize strengths while minimizing weaknesses.

That will be Pritchard’s job.

Over the past 10 years, he has been honing his craft at Stanford, where he had also served as offensive coordinator since 2018. Two of his quarterbacks – Kevin Hogan and Davis Mills – were drafted by the NFL. K. J. Costello has had some brief flirtations with the next level and currently plays in the USFL. His last quarterback at Stanford, Tanner McKee, is highly rated by several scouting sources. He will almost certainly be drafted and get a shot.

All of those players fit the same profile. Tall, strong-armed, but not terribly athletic.

I see a lot of Jamie Newman in McKee, and I am not convinced his lack of fluid footwork will ever allow him to be more than a backup in the pros. But I think you can safely say that under Pritchard’s guidance, they all improved.

Howell is far more physically gifted than anyone Pritchard has coached at Stanford. He may not be the classic stand-tall-in-the-pocket passer, but his arm is as good or better, and he is far more mobile.

If Pritchard can elevate his game, everyone wins. Howell becomes the leader of a young roster with improving talent and the coach eventually becomes an offensive coordinator and, if that goes well, a head coach.

We should become familiar with Pritchard. There’s a lot riding on his future success with the Commanders in 2023 and beyond.

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