John Donovan spoke for two minutes and 26 seconds consecutively.

And in that time, he simultaneously said everything, and nothing.

The question came roughly halfway through Donovan’s teleconference on Friday — his first media session, virtual or otherwise, since being named UW’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Jan. 10. Unsurprisingly, the 45-year-old former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant was asked what he looks for in a quarterback.

His answer can be separated into five distinct sections.


“The first thing is, it’s a mentality. I try to get them to understand it’s about the team first. Everyone’s looking at you. You’re the guy. You’re never going to give up. You’ve always got to be positive. You’ve got to be the leader, whether you like it or not. They’re looking at you.”


“You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to have some intelligence. You’ve got to understand everything. You need to be an extension of the coaches. We need to have communication. Eventually (we’ll learn) the plays you like and don’t like and be able to have a working relationship.”


“As far as playing, they’ve got to understand that they need to be able to see and anticipate. They’ve got to be accurate. Sometimes you’ve got to improvise and adapt. Not all called plays are going to be perfect. How are you going to handle that? Are you going to be able to make a play? If something bad happens, are you going to be able to come back from it?”


“And they’ve got to be athletic, but that’s not only running around making plays. You’ve got to be athletic in the pocket. You’ve got to have good feet in the pocket — quick feet — be able to avoid a rush or a guy that’s getting penetration and rip the ball and step up in the pocket and all those things. They’ve got to understand that. You don’t have to run a 4.4-40, but you’ve got to have some good quickness in a 5×5 box.”

Mental toughness

“A lot of it’s mental. A lot of things that we can evaluate now when we’re coaching them or teaching them or testing them or asking them questions is what’s between their ears. You can’t be sensitive. Don’t be defensive. Move on to the next play. You’re going to get in situations where bad things happen. You’ve got to able to move on.”


But for now, and for the foreseeable future, Donovan’s evaluation process remains frustratingly unfinished. Due to coronavirus concerns, UW’s spring practices were cancelled. And thus, Washington’s three scholarship quarterbacks — redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and early enrollee freshman Ethan Garbers — will have to wait to make a proper first impression.

At least, on the field.

“I haven’t seen them throw. I don’t know much about that,” Donovan admitted last week. “From what I hear they can throw it pretty well, based off of the (staff members) we’re working with now. But they’re all smart, I’ll say that. They’re all football guys. They’re great in the classroom. They all crushed it last quarter. But at the same time, that doesn’t always translate football-wise.

“But they’ve been able to learn what we’re trying to teach and they’re really eager about learning more and learning why. There’s got to always be a why. If they don’t know the why, they’re not afraid to ask. They’ve been very diligent in trying to learn what we’re trying to teach.”

Of course, Donovan added that “guys learn by doing,” and eventually — hopefully sooner than later — his quarterbacks will have to compete. They’ll have to demonstrate the aforementioned attributes Donovan seeks in a starter. They’ll have to prove, every practice, that they can help the Huskies beat Michigan in Seattle on Sept. 5.

Perhaps, when the competition closes, Sirmon will be left standing. After all, the former Bothell High School standout has the most size (6-foot-5, 235), experience (appeared in five games last season) and arm strength of the group. Or it could be Morris, the reigning offensive scout squad MVP who also earned a 4.0 GPA in the fall quarter. The 6-3, 193-pound Garbers is an unabashedly enticing wild card; all he did in his senior season at Corona Del Mar (Calif.) High School is throw for 5,034 yards and 71 touchdowns with five interceptions, leading the Sea Kings to a perfect 16-0 record in the process. Or, just maybe, UW’s 2020 starter isn’t even on the roster yet.

Therein lies Donovan’s dilemma. He knows exactly what he wants. But for now, at least, it’s hard to know what he has.

“It’s a challenge,” Donovan said, of inheriting an offense without an established starting quarterback. “It’d be nice to know that you’re walking into a situation with a guy that’s got experience and all that. But at the same time, I think it’s also good for those guys and really the rest of the guys that I’m coming in with a clean slate, and I’m going to coach ‘em up and coach ‘em hard and teach them and let them battle it out.

“It’s a competition. So you have what you have. These guys are here for a reason too. They had other places to go. Other schools wanted them. So they’ve got some ability, you would think. I just think you’ve got to play with the cards you’ve got, and that’s what we have. I’ve liked them so far personality-wise. Other than that I’m going to coach ‘em up and see who wins and go from there.”