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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Smart Notes - July 14, 2009

1. More on Bill Walsh, the single-wing, and the wildcat. From ESPN the Magazine:

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.”

(Ht RockyTopTalk.)


jgordon1 said...

I might be only one of the few...but I actually enjoyed watching XFL games because of frequent end zone views. If you remember, they actually had a cameraman standing behind the offense

Richard said...

Regarding the success of the single wing, I played high school football from a formation known as "short punt" which is a variant of the single wing. We dominated the conference and won a state championship (first ever for the school). Oddly, even though many years ago, it had many similarities to the Florida spread.

And, probably not surprisingly, we had a running QB who was All-State but whose passing skills were not great. We had a smaller (!) reserve QB who could pass like Namath - but it was pretty obvious when we substituted on long yardage downs.

So we went through the equivalent of first Leak and Tebow, then Tebow alone, and then Tebow-Brantley. We kicked butt with the variety of blocking schemes and point of attack options. And we also had something our coach called the "TCU Spread" that Spurrier used during the 90's with the 15 yd spread out of the TE, OT and WR on each side.

My coach from that era was Lou Cvjianovich who is in his 80's now and was always more of a BB coach (record for Calif. state championships).

And, as you have pointed out several times - even with that imaginative offense, which most teams could not adequately defense, we still needed a crushing D to get the ball back. It was definitely not a come-from-behind offense.

Tyler said...

I think the Dan Mullen experiment is going to be horrible in terms of games won but a success for the university overall. I read some numbers the other day where MSU has already doubled their season ticket sales this season. In this economy, that is even more tremendous. And they've started recruiting at a higher rate already. He's in on some pretty decent receivers that may not have given MSU a look in the past.

But, in the end, they are still MSU which means they aren't going to be very good.

Anonymous said...

* Richard -- Spurrier called his formation "Emory and Henry" (after a small college in Va not too far from his hometown of Johnson City, Tenn.)

* re: Miss St -- Vanderbilt did something equally foolish when they hired Rod Dowhower as coach in the 1995. Gerry DiNardo had some success in his four years running the I-bone with multiple SEC wins every year including two wins over Ga. But he was a complete jerk and a marketing nightmare. Vandy has a small base of alums in the area and has always had to rely on fans/alums of other SEC teams (especially UT) to buy season tix. These fans will often root for Vandy except when their team is playing. DiNardo publicly told those fans he didn't want them. So they stopped buying tix.

DiNardo had followed Watson Brown who had put together some really innovative offenses in the early 80s (as OC) and in the late 80s as HC. He'd used the pass at a time when the SEC was very run oriented.

The Vandy powers-that-be decided (wrong) that the attendance problems under DiNardo were due to his emphasis on running the ball. So they went looking for a passing offense and got Dowhower who was the QBs coach for the Browns and a Bill Walsh disciple. Of course, by 1995 Spurrier was throwing the ball at Florida and Tenn had some kid named Manning. Dowhower's Vandy offense was horrible.

I do think that it makes a great deal of sense for Miss St to realize the underdog's benefit of being unorthodox. And it makes even more sense for a school like Vandy to factor that into their hiring decisions. They should always hire a football coach with the understanding that history has shown that their successful offenses or defenses have almost always been unorthodox (but never at the same time). Given that academics can be a structural impediment to football success at Vandy, the school should hire coaches who are: 1) unorthodox, and 2) able to use the academic standard to their advantage.

Brown did that in 1987 when he combined a five wide passing offense with the wishbone without substituting. His kids had to learn two completely different offenses with limited practice. He put tremendous strain on opponents to adjust.


Mr. Brown said...

I think you are kind of overlooking the context of the Mullen hire. A "pretty mediocre" offense would be a phenomenal thing for us Mississippi State fans. I think being ranked in the 100s in total offense for the last five years goes well beyond "pretty mediocre."

vtownrams said...

Here's the thing about Mullen and MSU, State fans aren't expecting a "sudden manna from heaven in the way of fast and easy scoring this year as a byproduct from "being different." as you put it.

We expect growing pains, and we don't expect a winning season to begin with, but mainly we just want some sort of improvement on offense this year. Remember, we were just 2 field goals away from being bowl eligible last year. A decent offense would've served us well over the last few years under the Croom and McCorvey fiasco.

@ Tyler, the common misconception that MSU won't win just because they are MSU is rather ignorant. I attribute our spotty success in football in the past to our horrible lack of leadership at the university. Now we have a finally have a president who is an MSU grad with strong political ties and actually cares for MSU, a young, energetic and very innovative AD, and a head coach who doesn't sit on a golf cart all day hoping the recruits magically come to him. If you recall, both FL State and Florida were pretty horrible pay-days until Bowden and Spurrier showed up. It has yet to be seen if Mullen will succeed, but so far he is FAR better than what we've had to deal with under Croom.

vtownrams said...

typo: **Now we finally have a president**

Chris said...

Re: Mullen and State,

Don't get me wrong, I think MSU got a very good coach who should succeed there over time. What I thought was odd were some of the comments by the administrators -- i.e. that they would be "different" and "unique," and that they went into the search less looking for a man than they did an offense. I find that a kind of strange way to go about it, particularly when the offense they chose is no longer that different.

But the point I didn't emphasize but I want to make now is, that they did in fact get a good coach, whether that was by luck or design. And yes, the offense literally has nowhere to go but up. But the spread isn't quite the equalizer it once was, and it may not get them too many new points.

What will is good coaching and good recruiting, and I think Mullen can do both. Yet both of those things take time. It seems like most State fans recognize that, and again they were so bad on O they will probably be happy with any improvement they get. But I was just commenting on the fact that the administration seemed to put "being spread" first, ahead of picking a good man. Lucky for them, they got one.

Unknown said...

As an MSU fan, I must echo the previous sentiments about having a mediocre offense.

I'd LOVE to be mediocre on offense. A ranking in the 80's would make me happy this season.

The thing is, we generally have a pretty good Defense so we don't have to be world-beaters on the offensive side of the ball...we just have to be competent.

Richard said...

I set out to verify whether there was a difference in Spurrier's "Emory and Henry" and our old "TCU Spread". I found a profound difference, in which our "spread" was more akin to Spurrier's. We did play some other plays that were part of the TCU Spread, we just didn't know it - because it wasn't just one formation, it was a whole offensive scheme.

"The TCU Spread" was the work of "Dutch" Meyer, longtime coach at TCU and who wrote a book called "Spread Formation Football" (1952). There are some remarkable quotes from Dutch Meyer, and some play diagrams at .

Chris, I don't know that you've had anything from there on the blog, but it richly deserves the exposure. If nothing else, the two "Meyer"'s share a remarkably similar philosophy of offense.

Mr.Murder said...

Bill Walsh ran the option with a replacement QB to assert the player's athletic presence into the game plan to fullest measure.

Ken said...

With respect to Vince Lombardi's comments on the single wing, I've seen it argued somewhere or other (could've been Thorn & Palmer's The Hidden Game of Pro Football, but I don't remember for sure) that the Green Bay sweep was Lombardi's way of recreating single-wing blocking out of the pro T formation.

@Richard, excellent story! I've heard of the short punt, but never seen it in action.