The Best Baseball Coach in the NFL
Ex-Big League Pitcher Tom House Is Teaching Quarterbacks How to Throw Fastballs
Hall-of-Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and Saints quarterback Drew Brees use the same throwing stroke—with each possessing perfect 30-degree separations in their hip and shoulders.
The NFL's hottest quarterback guru is tinkering with Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Drew Brees. He's also credited with the "dramatic improvement" of another NFL quarterback by the player's head coach. The catch about the man who has the ear of these megastar signal callers: He's a baseball pitching coach.
For decades, a big league pitcher and NFL quarterback had only their high profiles and higher salaries in common. But Tom House made a discovery watching slow-motion recordings of an athlete's movements. Mechanically, pitching and throwing a football are exactly the same. "Scarily the same," House said. "The same sequence, timing, and the same mechanical interpretations."
House, for instance, discovered that Brees, the New Orleans Saints' star quarterback, and Hall-of-Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan have the exact same throwing stroke—with each possessing perfect 30-degree separations in their hip and shoulders while throwing their respective ball.
The end result of the discovery is House's unusual training camps for quarterbacks, which can last up to two weeks or unofficially longer in Southern California—Palmer said he does House's arm exercises for over an hour each day, films the entire regiment, and then watches it on his iPad.
House, who is 65 and pitched eight years in the major leagues with a 3.79 ERA, is a former pitching coach with the Texas Rangers and currently acts as adviser for the USC baseball team. "The first time you do research and you know Tom House and know his story, the first question is: 'Isn't this completely different mechanically? We're throwing from a flat surface not a mound," said Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who quickly realized House's value. Cassel said he finds himself more aware of his mechanics—keeping his front side closed, leading with his hips and keeping a loose upper body. "Now I'm throwing and I'm saying 'am I keeping this arm inside? Is my back foot on the ground?" Cassel said. Many of the workouts were straight from baseball, Cassel said, like holding on to weighted balls to increase the muscles in the back of the shoulder.
House's roster this spring included four current NFL starting quarterbacks—Brady (New England), Palmer (Oakland), Cassel (Kansas City) and Alex Smith (San Francisco).
According to House, the breakthrough link between pitchers and quarterbacks couldn't be picked up by regular fans. "Our eyes can't process the delivery of these elite guys," he said. In fact, he experimented with working with quarterbacks like Steve Beuerlein and Todd Marinovich two decades ago but admits he didn't exactly know what he was doing with them. With recent improvements in three-dimensional motion analysis, House is able to analyze motion at 1,000 frames per second, up from 32 frames that the human eye can process.
Smith came to House for mechanical tuneups and came away with a better release point and a posture change while Palmer said, "I definitely feel stronger and less soreness. There is more arm strength, absolutely, I've got more zip on the ball and there is less fatigue."
The key, according to House, is that many of the same mechanical wrinkles from baseball can be molded for football. Like pitchers, quarterbacks have both accelerating and decelerating muscles in their arms. House said the key to keeping a quarterback healthy and mechanically sound is to keep the oft-ignored decelerating muscles, generally called the rotator cuff, stronger.
House said he doesn't market to the quarterbacks but news has spread by word-of-mouth. House said he's not trying to overhaul mechanics of any quarterback and instead compares his job to "looking at all the Ferraris in the shop and trying to put the oil in the tank." Brady, the most-high profile of the cases, came to House's camp to see where his mechanics stood. House admits Brady is "pretty stinking good" and mostly they worked on "joint integrity."
Meanwhile, the quarterbacks could never escape the shadow of baseball—as pitchers like former Cubs star Mark Prior work out at the same facility and occasionally play receiver for the football stars.
House said his goal is to send the quarterbacks back to their hometowns with a "tool kit" both mentally and physically which they can use during the off-season. "That's what the quarterbacks do, and that's what the Barry Zitos and Cole Hamels do," House said.