Hall of Famer Steve Young was in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 17, the night Mark Sanchez's career turned into a country-music song -- a sad ballad about hitting rock bottom after a long fall.
"To me," Young said this week, "it just looked like a capitulation from a quarterback."
That's a fancy way of saying Sanchez gave up.
Young, working the New York Jets-Tennessee Titans game for ESPN, saw what America saw that Monday night. Sanchez threw four interceptions, lost a fumble with the game on the line and lost his starting job, which he may never get back.
"Capitulation" is a harsh word -- also hard to rhyme in a song -- but there's no doubt Sanchez was throwing to ghosts on that ill-fated night in Dixie.
Now here we are, six months later, and Sanchez is trying to win back his team and its fans. The man charged with fixing him is a blast from Young's past, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who faces perhaps the biggest challenge of his career.
Mornhinweg, 51, is a long way from Young's San Francisco 49ers, Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers and Donovan McNabb's Philadelphia Eagles, previous stops in his career as an assistant coach. In Sanchez, he inherits a quarterback who needs to be rebooted.
"Marty can get everything Mark has," said Young, who played under Mornhinweg in the late 1990s. "Mark has to decide what that really is. Part of me thinks he has plenty in the tank but has just lost his desire to get it done. He's broken down. Unfortunately, that's what I see. But if there's something to get, Marty will get it."
Mornhinweg has to be a teacher, a technician and a psychologist -- and even that might not be enough to get it done. But at least he brings a quarterback's perspective into the classroom and on the practice field, which wasn't the case with his predecessor, Tony Sparano, an old offensive line coach who had no experience with quarterbacks.
"He's like one of those professors in college that you like going to their class, and that was rare," Sanchez said of Mornhinweg, who learned his football from two of the brightest minds in the sport's history.
Mornhinweg was coached in high school by Mike Holmgren and mentored early in his NFL coaching career by the late Bill Walsh. He was a camp quarterback for the 49ers in 1986, when Walsh was the coach, and returned a decade later as the coordinator.
By then, Walsh had left the sideline for the front office. He became Mr. Miyagi to Mornhinweg's Karate Kid. They talked. Often.
"When he was up in training camp, shoot, I tried to grab him every day for a few minutes," Mornhinweg said. "He loved talking football as well. Looking back on it, it might have been good for both of us, certainly for me."
Walsh died in 2007, but his wisdom still resonates with Mornhinweg, who applies his mentor's methods to the daily tasks of his job -- such as installing a new play. Walsh was known as a terrific teacher, able to explain and simplify complex schemes. Mornhinweg prides himself on the same.
If you believe in the transitive property, you might say Walsh is teaching Sanchez, with Mornhinweg serving as the conduit.
When Mornhinweg was hired in January, he brought a white legal pad into the film room and broke down every Sanchez play from the past three seasons. He graded him in four major categories: instincts, decision-making, accuracy and timing. He also evaluated his arm, athleticism and leadership.
What did he see?
Mornhinweg said he saw a quarterback, in 2010, who orchestrated six fourth-quarter comeback victories. Impressive stuff. He also saw a quarterback who committed a league-high 52 turnovers in 2011 and 2012. Ugly stuff.
"The ball security is one thing of many that will be emphasized," Mornhinweg said. "That certainly needs to change."
Some observers, including Jets legend Joe Namath, believe Sanchez was undermined by a diminished supporting cast. Mornhinweg didn't disagree, claiming a quarterback in that situation starts to press and "then it just simply blows up on him more than occasionally."
Or worse: The Butt Fumble.
"It seems like people are crying for a change at the quarterback position," Namath said. "OK, well, you know, those first two seasons are suddenly forgotten about. It wasn't just Mark having two off seasons in a row but the team having two off seasons in a row. The team came apart with some success. The team didn't know how to handle the success, starting at the top."
The Jets haven't added any playmakers, so it's possible that Sanchez -- if he beats rookie Geno Smith for the job -- is doomed. If the talent isn't there on offense, all the king's horses and all the king's men might not be able to put Sanchez together again.
But Mornhinweg is trying.
He started with what amounted to Quarterbacking 101, an extensive review of what he calls "day one material." Footwork drills. Ball-security drills. Throwaway drills. Escape drills. New quarterbacks coach David Lee has "every drill known to man," Sanchez said.
Listen to Sanchez for a few minutes and it becomes clear he has bought into the Mornhinweg way. It's a proven system, made famous by Walsh and Joe Montana. Mornhinweg tries not to name drop, but he brought in his old playbooks for Sanchez & Co. to peruse.
"Red Right 22 Z In -- I mean, Montana and Jerry Rice made that play famous," said Sanchez, reciting a play he probably will run many times. "That's a West Coast staple."
You never got that sense that Sanchez was all-in with Sparano. He never criticized Sparano publicly, but he didn't consider it a quarterback-friendly offense, sources said. At least Mornhinweg sees the game from a quarterback's perspective, which will help Sanchez, according to Holmgren.
"Not everyone will agree with me on this, but having played the position, you have a feel for certain things," the former Super Bowl-winning coach said. "Marty has been a quarterback his whole life, and he's coached quarterbacks his whole life. That will help Mark. He'll know when to pat him on the back and know when to get after him a little bit."
Sparano's offense wasn't designed for easy completions, and it was so vanilla that defenses didn't have a hard time figuring it out. In practice, the quarterbacks were instructed to use the same cadence, over and over. Eventually, the defense caught on, jumping the snap count, Sanchez said.
It was a small thing, but telling.
Now the trick is to master Mornhinweg's version of the West Coast offense, a rhythm-and-timing system predicated on quick reads and accurate throws. Accuracy isn't Sanchez's forte -- he's a 55 percent career passer -- but completion percentage and accuracy percentage are two different entities in Mornhinweg's world.
Mornhinweg believes Sanchez can be an accurate passer, but he didn't make any guarantees. Most of his Sanchez assessments fell into the wait-and-see category, as he stopped short of big promises.
Asked point-blank if he believes in Sanchez, Mornhinweg said:
"Oh, I believe in all our quarterbacks. I believe in Mark Sanchez. He has taken this organization to two AFC Championship Games. He did it. Give him credit for that. He's had some struggles the last two years; let's see how he comes out of it."
Sanchez is confident his skill set will marry with Mornhinweg's system. He likes having the ability to make quick reads. He likes having the flexibility to adjust his reads based on different coverages. He likes the multiple formations, the motions and the shifts. He likes being able to slide in the pocket, changing the launch point.
"Marty does an incredible job of coaching things up, helping you visualize the play," Sanchez said.
The man knows quarterbacks. He was a quarterback. A damn good one too.
Mornhinweg led his San Jose, Calif.-area team to a high school championship. He was so into football that, as a sixth-grader, he showed up with his father (also a coach) to one of Holmgren's varsity practices and basically asked for the playbook. He wanted to learn the offense and run it in his youth league, preparing him for varsity ball.
"He was way ahead of everyone else," Holmgren said. "He was a really, really skilled passer."
Mornhinweg set numerous records as a four-year starter at the University of Montana. Only 5-foot-9, he didn't attract the bigger schools. He played briefly for the Denver Dynamite in the Arena League, but a serious knee injury ended his career, nudging him toward his destiny -- coaching.
His only head-coaching gig was a disaster, a 5-27 record with the Detroit Lions in 2001 and 2002. He'll be remembered for one decision -- an overtime game against the Chicago Bears in which he won the coin toss but opted to kick off, taking the wind instead of the ball. It backfired.
It was a coaching version of the Butt Fumble, so he probably can relate to Sanchez. Mornhinweg hopes to get another shot as a head coach, according to people close to him. For the most part, he polished his image during a 10-year run in Philadelphia, where he became Andy Reid's coordinator. The Eagles were a top-10 offense in five of the seven years that Mornhinweg was the primary playcaller.
Yes, he runs the famous West Coast system, but he incorporated his personality into it.
"As a playcaller, he's much more of a gambler than I was," Holmgren said. "There were times when I watched the Eagles and certain calls stuck out at me. If he were coaching for me, I probably would've said, 'Why did you do that?'"
On the surface, Mornhinweg and Ryan are an odd fit. He likes to throw the ball; Ryan likes to run it, catering to his beloved defense. In most cases, that's a philosophical clash waiting to happen. Perhaps Ryan, after four years of ignoring the offense, finally realizes the game has changed. It's a scoring league.
"It was a phenomenal hire by Rex," Young said. "Offense is like a Japanese garden; it takes a lot of tender care. That wasn't the case with the Jets because Rex always wanted his defense to dominate. Hiring Marty tells me he wants his offense to be great."
He'll have to be a quarterback whisperer to revitalize Sanchez, who lost the fan support during last year's debacle. He has to be wondering if he has the support of the organization, which undermined him last year with Tim Tebow and drafted his likely replacement this spring. There will be no tears at One Jets Drive if Smith outplays Sanchez in the preseason.
Mornhinweg said he has researched the Sanchez situation, familiarizing himself with the public perception. All he needed to do was a Google search.
"There have been an awful lot of Hall of Famers go through worse than what Mark's been through, I'm telling you that right now," Mornhinweg said. "As long as the man is tough enough mentally -- we know Mark is tough physically -- they get through a spell like that and they come out the other end better for it. It's just that simple."
Easy for him to say; Mornhinweg won't get booed the first time he makes a mistake, which will happen to Sanchez if he's the opening day starter. Not even the great Walsh would be able to control an angry fan base.
"Marty has the tool kit to help Mark, but the thing I worry about is, some guys get beat down and the fight is gone," Young said. "If the fight is gone, nothing can help. If there's something left, Marty can help. If Mark still has fight in him, it will be a positive."