Howard Cosell wrote, in his 1991 book What's Wrong With Sports, "One thing I have found very interesting in my conversation with (Bill) Walsh is that he regretted he never tried the single-wing formation with the 49ers. He felt that Steve Young could have run the formation to perfection, and that the league's defenses would have had a difficult time stopping the old formation."
Walsh was most likely correct. Even the great Vince Lombardi warned of a possible single-wing resurrection.
"What would happen if someone came out with the single-wing offense?" he asked. "It would embarrass the hell out of us."
2. We want to be different, so we went to the spread? I like Dan Mullen, but isn't this a bit weird, if not, you know, anachronistic? From the Clarion-Ledger:
STARKVILLE — On the billboards that promote Mississippi State football season tickets in coach Dan Mullen and the spread offense's first year, the theme is "Spread The Fun." On the television ads, Mullen is diagramming a play on a white board when he looks over his shoulder and says, with an admirable bit of acting skill, "this is gonna be exciting."
These slogans are no accident.
And this goes beyond merely Mullen. For as much as MSU athletic director Greg Byrne was enamored with Mullen when they met last Dec. 9, there was something else at work.
In the days following Sylvester Croom's forced resignation on Nov. 29, the Mississippi State administration entertained a question bigger than just which coach they could hire. Surveying a century's worth of mostly mediocre football seasons in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference, they wondered how best to break the trend.
The conclusion? Be different on offense.
And then - just as much as many schools pick a coach and then learn later what offense he'll run - State all but picked an offense, then went to find a coach to run it.
"We wanted to be unique," Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne said. "We wanted to be something that our kids and our fan base would be excited to be a part of." . . .
"We wanted to find the right fit for Mississippi State," Byrne said. "Now, we were definitely interested in finding someone who had a very good offensive pedigree. And one that we felt would be able to highlight an area that we felt like we needed improvement." . . .
"That style of play is as much marketing as it is a concept for offensive football," Stricklin said. "When you have the choice to turn on TV and watch a game, and there's a spread team on one channel and two offenses that's more traditional on another channel, more people, if you don't have a feeling for either team, are going to watch the spread team because it's fun to watch." Later, Stricklin smiled when he admitted this: "Winning's a great marketing tool (too)." . . . .
In the meantime, before that first win or loss, State hopes that Mullen's hire is more than just a way to win games.
It hopes that it's a way to change the program's fortunes, in 2009 and beyond.
"We feel at Mississippi State, we need to be a little bit different," Byrne said. "And this gives us the opportunity to be a little bit different."
Again, I like Dan Mullen, but this is a very strange article to me. The administration basically went out to hire an offense and found a man, versus the other way around. Second, they did so as much for marketing purposes as for anything to do with the football bona fides. And third, like an investor who wanted to get into the market for "flipping houses" in 2006-2007 or into that "dotcom thing" in late 1999, their choice for "being different" was the spread, a philosophy that peaked as a way for underdogs to surprise favorites at least three or four years ago, if not further back.
I do think Mullen can be successful there, but I predict that the offense will be pretty mediocre this fall, if not bad at times. You just can't get a jump on people by being spread anymore -- it's just not that different considering what Florida, Auburn, and others around the country do -- and Mullen will have to build success the old fashioned way: by recruiting players and teaching them well. I think he can definitely do it, but I don't think there will be sudden manna from heaven in the way of fast and easy scoring this year as a byproduct from "being different."
3. More on Monte Kiffin preparing for SEC defenses, including the spread:
Monte Kiffin was watching video of prospective recruits this winter when he got an inkling of what he was up against as a college defensive coordinator. The more he watched, the better he understood why spread-option offenses have become so threatening to college defenses.
It's not just the option. It's the overhead support as well.
"I could not believe it till I started watching all the tape," said the longtime NFL defensive coordinator, who will command Tennessee's defense this fall. "The high school coaches have progressed so much in the passing game." . . . .
And as teacher and schemer:
Joe Barry knows what the rest of Tennessee’s new defensive coaches found out a few months ago: Interviewing for a job with Monte Kiffin is a unique experience to say the least.
“It was grueling,” says Barry, whose father Mike is a former offensive line coach at Tennessee. “It was like no other interview that I’ve ever been a part of.”
Kiffin put Barry in front of a dry-erase board, and then put him through the paces.
“He said, ‘OK, all that stuff that you were just going through on the grease board, how are you physically going to teach Derrick Brooks to tackle?’” Barry said. “Monte was going to be able to see, No. 1, if I knew what the hell I was talking about, but No. 2, he was going to see if I could truly coach, if I could truly teach.”
Barry passed the test and spent six seasons working for Kiffin in Tampa Bay. As it was for others who spent time working with Kiffin, Barry’s tenure in Tampa Bay was more than just a master class in coaching defense. It was a daily lesson in how to teach, something Kiffin places a premium on when it comes to assistant coaches.
“There was not one day in six years where I didn’t wake up and come to work and get better as a coach,” says Barry, who is back in Tampa Bay after a stint as the Detroit Lions’ defensive coordinator. “It’s because of Monte, obviously his knowledge, but his personality. He was very demanding. A lot of times when you say that about guys, they usually do it by being a jerk. Monte did it in such a way that you had so much fun that you didn’t know you were working harder than you’d ever worked before in your life.”
. . .
Although Kiffin downplays his role in the spread of the Cover 2 defense, many consider him to be one the best defensive minds in modern football.
“People had played Cover 2 for quite a few years,” Kiffin says, pointing out that the Minnesota Vikings ran it when Tony Dungy was defensive coordinator under head coach Dennis Green. “Tony left (Tampa Bay) and Jon Gruden came in, and we won the Super Bowl. I think that if we don’t win the Super Bowl, they probably don’t call it ‘Tampa 2.’ I didn’t invent the Cover 2. I don’t want people to think that.”
Kiffin’s wrinkle in the Cover 2 was often dropping the middle linebacker into coverage. But others aren’t as modest when it comes to Kiffin’s impact on the game.
“It’s a universal defense,” says Tampa Bay quarterbacks coach Greg Olson. “When people think of ‘Tampa 2,’ they think of Monte Kiffin. There’s very few guys in the NFL or in college football that actually have come up with a scheme that was so successful it carries over to other teams or that they actually have their name associated with it.”
In Tampa Bay, that reputation only grew. The Buccaneers finished in the top 10 in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 11 of his 13 seasons. And in 2002, Kiffin’s defense led the league and helped the Bucs win the Super Bowl with a 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders, who had the league’s top offense that season.
Yet minutes before the Super Bowl kicked off, Kiffin was tweaking his gameplan, making a few minor adjustments.
That’s classic Kiffin, says Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who spent five seasons with Kiffin as an assistant in Tampa Bay including 2002.
“If you’re kicking the ball off at 1 o’clock on a Sunday, you’re going to be in the shower with Monte at about 10:30 thinking about potential adjustments and things you could make changes to,” Tomlin said. “His mind is always working. He’s always trying to get better. He never breathes a sigh of relief.”