For Luck family, a father-son success story
To West Virginia University, he's the athletic director. To the former Houston Oilers franchise, he's a one-time quarterback. To the NFL, he's the former head of NFL Europe.
But to Andrew Luck, the NFL's leading passer on one of the league's hottest teams, Oliver Luck is just dad.
Not coach/mentor dad. Not football advisor/dad. Not mechanics-correcting dad. Not talk-on-the-phone-for-three-hours-to-review-my-performance dad.
“He's definitely my dad first and foremost, and then way down the list, (he's) sort of a former quarterback,” said Andrew Luck, whose surging Indianapolis Colts (5-2) play the Steelers (4-3) on Sunday at Heinz Field.
The Lucks are one of seven known NFL father-son quarterback duos, and though Oliver Luck once was Archie Manning's teammate with the Oilers, their story isn't quite like that of the Mannings.
Even if he jokes that AD now stands for “Andrew's Dad,” Oliver Luck is on TV far more as WVU's athletic director than he is as the father of the quarterback fast becoming the NFL's heir apparent to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
“They get me occasionally (on TV),” said Oliver Luck, who almost is invisible on NFL telecasts compared to the often-seen Archie Manning. “I prefer to go to the games and sit quietly.”
Second, Luck's involvement in his son's NFL career isn't nearly as documented as that of Archie's role in the progression of brothers Peyton and Eli Manning. Oliver Luck coached his son at ages 9 and 10 in Pop Warner and then handed him over to other coaches with whom he never meddled.
“It was pretty easy. I was 100 percent dad,” Oliver Luck said. “He was fortunate, being in Texas, where they actually have good middle school (and high school) coaches.
“I'm not going to stand on the sidelines, and I'm not going to meet with the coaches. I could see (Andrew) develop from game to game, year to year, and I thought that was the proper stance to take.”
Father and son said dad's football role was to attend games and occasionally answer his son's questions about playing quarterback. But the similarities in their personalities, throwing deliveries, mentality, competitiveness — and yes, cerebral approach to football — are unmistakable.
Oliver Luck was coach Don Nehlen's first starting quarterback at West Virginia in 1980, setting school yardage and completion records as the Mountaineers ascended from four consecutive losing seasons (post-Bobby Bowden) to finish 9-3 and upset Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl. He also was a Rhodes Scholar finalist.
He then spent five seasons as an Oilers quarterback, starting briefly after Archie Manning and before Warren Moon while he finished his law degree at Texas. He later ran NFL Europe and the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer before settling in as West Virginia's AD in 2010.
Luck and wife Kathy, also a lawyer, have four children. And while it's an athletic family (Andrew insists Mary Ellen, a Stanford volleyball player, is the family's best athlete), it was not a sports-is-all-that-matters family.
Football wasn't everything for Andrew Luck, who had a 3.48 GPA as an architecture major at Stanford.
Oliver Luck watched Andrew progress into a future NFL quarterback a year into his Stanford career and then into an early-round draft pick a year after that. But it is difficult for any father, no matter how proud or confident, to envision his son being the NFL's best quarterback.
If he's not the best, Andrew Luck likely will be by next season.
“He's got a good work ethic and respect for game,” Oliver Luck said. “He believes that if you respect the game, it will give you a little respect back. He's a hard worker, too. … Andrew's tried to live as much as a normal life as you can, being in that situation.”
Andrew Luck already is on a plateau seldom reached by any NFL quarterback, much less in his third season. His 8,196 yards passing after two seasons are the most in history. And he's playing even better this season, with 2,331 yards, 19 TDs and a nearly 360 yards per game during the Colts' five-game winning streak.
“When coach (Bruce) Arians was over there (in Indianapolis), he had a quote: ‘He (Luck) is the best young quarterback I've had.' Well, he also had a guy by the name of Peyton Manning,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “We coaches always tend to live in the present, and the new guy's the best one. But, still, when you get that kind of praise from a man who's been with those type of players, you know he's good.”
Unlike Peyton Manning or Brady, Luck is a threat to take off with the ball.
“He runs almost like (Tim) Tebow,” Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said. “He won't shy away. He gets real tough around the red zone. He won't slide. He'll try to run you over and get it in.”
Andrew Luck also is excelling despite being presented with a different set of problems than his dad encountered while playing for the Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), when Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak was one of his blockers.
“The complexity of the game has changed. College players today are running offenses with the complexity of pro offenses 20 or 30 years ago,” Oliver Luck said. “What's ultimately changed a lot and what people don't see is the preparation, the information that they have. They're using big data in a way we couldn't.
“The passing game, there's no comparison. It was a big deal when I was a junior (at WVU), giving the running back coming out of the backfield an option route, let him go left or right. We had to work on it. … Running backs do that in middle school now.
“And the pro offenses, they've jumped up another level or two in terms of complexity, the same thing for defenses.”
But Andrew Luck is handling these challenges seamlessly — being the son of a former NFL quarterback-playing dad, being the man who replaced Peyton Manning as the Colts' starter, being the quarterback who is bringing back a team that was 2-14 the season before he arrived.
“Maybe it did help, in some respects (being the son of a former NFL player) in Indy,” Oliver Luck said. “Replacing maybe the best (quarterback) ever is not an easy task.”