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Friday, October 24, 2008

Smart Notes - Oct. 24, 2008

1. "How To Make Friends and Influence People" - By Tony Franklin

So Auburn is still awful. And Tony Franklin's post-mortem interview the otherday revealed little about the situation, though it reaffirms a basic coaching truth: it's always going to be about more than Xs and Os. Yes there's the old Jimmies and Joes, but it's also whether or not your colleagues actively dislike you. That never helps.

2. Spread Worth Watching

Texas Tech and Kansas play this upcoming weekend. For all the talk about the rise of awful spread teams, these two squads still get it right. Interestingly both Mike Leach and Mark Mangino worked together at Oklahoma, and after Leach left to take the TTech job Mangino basically ran Leach's offense the year OU won the title. But now, don't get them confused. While Leach still runs his Airraid offense, Mangino's has evolved into something of a more traditional -- but still unique -- spread offense. (They run the absolute heck out of the smash package, and they run it better than just about anyone else.)

And although Rich Rod's Michigan tenure, along with failed spread experiments at Auburn, Virginia, and others may have sufficiently freaked out any head coaches, athletic directors, and boosters at major programs from making a switch, both Leach and Mangino should get serious consideration for top jobs at major programs.

3. Nick Saban, Football Historian

Nick Saban is a good coach, alright? And he's been around for longer than people realize. So it warms my heart in a special way to hear him making a point that I've made on many occasions: Football is a game of repeating cycles, with what went out one year coming back the next. In a recent interview, Saban got all fired up on the topic (prompted by a discussion of the Wildcat offense):

...Now the Crimson Tide coach really starts waxing poetically about the past. You mention a running attack... He went deep into the memory bank for this reference. Back to being a defensive assistant on a West Virginia team that lost 52-10 to Oklahoma in 1978.

"I've been coaching for a long time, aight?" Saban said. "Played Oklahoma when you couldn't even see the other sideline because the crown of the field was so heavy, when they tried running downhill, and they were moving. They had (David) Overstreet, (Billy) Sims, and guys that could run fast anyway, they didn't need any help. And so, I've been through that. And them horses that pull that wagon around every Oklahoma scored, [darn]-near died, because they had to do it so much the day we played them."

His final point was a good one: "All this stuff comes around," he said.

"One of these days," he warned, "when old the guys like me don't coach anymore, and the young bucks who grew up defending four-wides and everything, somebody's going to run the wishbone, and they may not know a thing about how to stop it."

Let's unpack this a bit. The main point is a simple one: good schemes ebb and flow, and knowledge bases change so, as he says, defensive coordinators who have done nothing but face spread teams may not have good and ready answers when a spread team comes around. There's not much new in football (contrary to the beliefs of some fanatics unlearned in football's history). Further, Saban is a great coach, but he knows what it is like to be unprepared. The worst I ever personally saw a Saban defense perform was back when he was at Michigan St. when they played Purdue, which was quarterbacked by Drew Brees at the time.

Purdue 52, Michigan State 28

Drew Brees had over 500 yards passing and five touchdowns. And oh-by-the-way, it was Michigan State's homecoming. Whoops. Saban's defense was simply unprepared for the precise, pass-first spread offense Purdue was using.

But the point about football knowledge is one illustrated by Saban himself. The next year Purdue was arguably better (they went on to the Rose Bowl and had beaten both Michigan and Ohio State), and Michigan State crushed them 30-10. So the point is that, while I agree with Saban that what goes around comes around in full force, I disagree that, in the future, coaches will have to start from scratch.

Defenses do not forget. Football might be cyclical, but its history is recorded. What worked once might work again, but the answers are also right there on the game film to be retrieved; there's no guesswork necessary. Saban might be right that the wishbone might come back -- it's an exceptionally well designed offense, and with the right talent, any offense can work -- but no one will succeed simply by resurrecting football's dinosaurs. Someone will have to put a new twist, or a new spin on it. So a restatement of the rule might be that football is cyclical, but it evolves at every step.


Anonymous said...

Chris, have you heard anyone talk about the differences in how the Offensive linemen block in a spread and in a traditional pro set or West Coast offense? That is of great interest to me, and I think it can account for some of the problems teams have in transitioning to a spread attack.

Chris said...


Yes and no. Most spread teams tend to employ a zone scheme, so if a team wants to transition from a traditional man blocking scheme (popular with the west coast offense, for example) to a zone scheme, there will be struggles.

That said, take Michigan. I think their problem is with talent and execution, because they went to a zone blocking scheme several years before Rodriguez got there. They met with Alex Gibbs (best zone blocking line coach in the game, has been with the Atlanta Falcons and was the guy who molded all those great Denver Broncos zone teams).

The upshot is that a spread team's blocking schemes are independent of the fact that it is spread. Most tend to use zone schemes, but not necessarily. So your theory about a change in blocking schemes might be true, but you have to look past whether or not they are spread to what kind of schemes they actually employ (power, man, zone, etc).

Anonymous said...

I agree. Question: Do people actually like candy corn?

Anonymous said...

The coaches may know how to stop it, but the players may not be prepared to. One of the reasons the spread has met with some resistance now is because kids have grown up playing against it in high school. It is no longer knew to them since so many high school teams run it now.

There's also the issue of defense being built to defend against something. Smaller linebackers are becoming the norm.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope we fire Tubbs and hire Mike Leach.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you that there are no new concepts in football, just new ways of lining up while attacking various elements of the defense.

With that being said, do you see what Florida is doing this year as a new style of offense? By using the small backs, Rainey and Demps, along with Harvin as a WR/RB, adding in the run/pass option of Tebow, is this something new? Although it may be heresy to say it, I guess I could see this as a modern day Four Horseman. The only description I could come up with is that it's like a Spread Flexbone, that is a flexbone that incorporates Air-raid passing concepts.

I guess my question to you is, does the 2008 Florida offense stem more from the Air-raid variety or the Rodriguez variety? Obviously Tebow gives them a distinct advantage since he can run up the middle, run to the outside, and throw pretty well (A Power Halfback and a Quarterback in one person is fairly diffcult to defend). Is the Florida offense a defined system, or is Urban Meyer simply developing plays to fit the skillsets of his specific players?

Anonymous said...

What I've seen of Urban Meyer's offense, it is maybe THE best example of an a moderrn offense that forces opposing defenses not just to cover the whole field but also to cover ALL the offensive players too! That power type of play where Tebow gets a direct snap and runs off tackle is a good example of that.

I've heard that Meyer is using many of the principles that Single Wing offenses used to use and I'm looking forward to an article where Chris explains and goes over those SW offensive principles if you like the idea.