The year is 1967. Two coaching giants are in a chess match. On one side, Tom Landry, the hero of many Dallas Cowboys fans and the face of an organization. He is running one of the most complex offenses of his generation. The great innovator has keys on linebacker rotation, leverage of cornerbacks, and the depth and number of safeties. All of these rules managed by the quarterback, Don Meredith. The other side, Vince Lombardi. Most of his offense revolves around one play, a sweep. It wasn’t the first time they had seen each other. Not surprisingly, two of the all time greatest coaches happened to coach on the same team, The New York Giants. The powerhouse of the 50s had Lombardi running the offense with Landry coaching the defense. Landry saw first-hand what Lombardi had designed. It was something so simple that the players could run it multiple times. They couldn’t forget their rules. They lined up and ran the same play repeatedly. The success of the sweep was rarely impeded. Hence came the “Flex” in which Landry was notorious for. However, the point of this article isn’t to focus upon what Landry advocated nor why the “Flex” countered the sweep. I am focusing this writing upon the art of concision, efficiency, and the nature of no-huddle as it relates to the modern game. The sweep allowed for the players to master one thing. Lombardi and the Packers weren’t going to be a jack-of-all-trades, they were going to be an team proficient at running their ace play, the sweep. They would run the sweep in the morning, night, practice, against every front, team, player, and coach. It was their trademark, and they were going to run it down your throat. This created the precedent for offenses many years later.
In his 1997 publication, Finding the Winning Edge, Bill Walsh outlined his ideas for how the game would change in years to come:
- Teams will huddle only when the clock is stopped.
- Teams will use single-world offensive audibles.
- The quarterback will receive direction from the coach at the line of scrimmage. Because the ball can be put into play at any moment, the defense must commit itself with its front and coverage.
- The quarterback will look to the sideline the instant the whistle blows on the previous play to see which personnel combination is entering the game. The designated coach indicates the formation to the quarterback and whether he should audible his own play or will receive a play call from the coach. All of these steps will occur without a huddle.
- The quarterback will have even more latitude in audibling at the line of scrimmage. His decisions will override those by the coach signaling in a play call.
As I look back on his writings on the evolution of the game, I am simply amazed. Nearly every thing he said has come to reality. Were his ideas so revolutionary that coaches took what he said as the gospel, and changed the game themselves? Perhaps. After all, this is Bill Walsh here, an offensive juggernaut. Nevertheless, it happened. He realized that as the game progresses, the game will be faster. Much faster, not Chad Johnson fast—Ricky Bobby fast. Many teams in our modern game don’t huddle unless there is an incompletion or it is the first play of a drive. Offenses in a sense, are directed from the line of scrimmage, not the huddle. This isn’t a new concept, however. If any fan were to reminisce on the state of football in the early 90s, they would remember the fact that Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills were in four consecutive Super Bowls. Kelly ran almost all of his offense from the line of scrimmage, dictating audibles, plays, fronts, protections, presumed coverages. He was in essence, his own offensive coordinator. Did this idea originate with Marv Levy? I do not believe that is the case. Ted Marchibroda was the kingpin. He took Sam Wyche’s idea and took it to the next level. Not only were they going to go no-huddle in the two-minute warning period—they would for the entire game. The “K-Gun” was a masterpiece. It was the first of its kind. Years later, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the perfect image of what Marchibroda and for that much, Bill Walsh envisioned.
Brady isn’t only a masterful quarterback, he is a brilliant leader. On the line of scrimmage, he is more like a field general. It is the start of a drive. McDaniels speaks into his headset—”Half! Half! (11 Personnel) Okay, Tom. Gun F Right H Mo 74 Opeq Under – ‘Alert’ 40.” Of course, this is only a figure of my imagination, but one I think isn’t far from the truth. Brady gets to the line, kills the play and runs a draw to the 0 hole and A gap. It’s a big gain. Brady decides to go no-huddle. He likes the look of the defense and the personnel match up Everyone is directed on where to go. “Wes, short motion to Aaron—Arizona, Arizona!” He identifies the Mike, it’s a “74″ protection call. The line now knows what to do. He identifies the safeties on the hashes playing deep. The corners are playing up. He knows from this point forward that this is likely some variation of Cover 2. The linebacker has a match up on Danny Woodhead. Because of the mismatch he knows the weakness of a 2 shell is to hit Woodhead underneath, work Hernandez in the middle of the field, or to hit a receiver outside the numbers after the corner plays the flat. He changes the route combination.
The aforementioned process is routine for Tom Brady, as is the same for Peyton Manning. In Indianapolis, he seldom left 11 or 12 personnel or what they called “Dice” or “Deuce” formations. Almost all of the running plays were “outside-zone” or “inside-zone” plays. Literally every aspect of what they did would be perfected to a tee. Marvin Harrison was going to run certain routes and Reggie Wayne was going to do likewise. It was a synchronized masterpiece. Notorious for his one word titles for concepts, Manning would frequently scream to the field “Ice-cream, deep yo-yo, pizza!” To the average fan, this means nothing. To the formerly Colts players and now Denver Broncos, it is everything. All of the trust is placed within the quarterback. They will look to the sideline, get initial direction when the clock is stopped and will receive input from coaches on coverages, but the quarterback still makes the calls. This idea speaks volumes to the progression of the game. The evolution of a game. The monster that Walsh and Marchibroda visioned. Players are told to go fast. They receive one word audibles and play calls. According to one Boston Globe article, the Patriots operate using six, one-word play calls a game. For teams like Auburn, and California this will be paramount. For many college offenses, coaches are playing a chess-match—signaling in play calls after there is offense is on the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks are receiving “Hot” calls from boards or signaling. On certain occasions, calling their own plays. For something seemingly so simple, this is revolutionary in football. In 2009 and 2010, both Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly, prominent offensive gurus visited with Belichick. Their input was of value to a legendary coach and one can clearly see what he implemented from their ideas. Belichick realized that because the NFL is so homogeneous that many potential game-changing ideas are at lower levels. No one would have dared run the “Wildcat” until Dan Henning took the idea from an Arkansas staffer. Likewise, Marchibroda was considered a fool by many in the NFL for running a 24/7 no-huddle attack. Marchibroda wasn’t afraid to try something not seen before and tinker around. Not surprisingly, coaches like Bill Belichick—the Brady mastermind and a coach well-noted for making often unpopular decisions, coached under Marchibroda. The same system that Peyton ran in Denver was initially installed and designed by Marchibroda and Bruce Arians before Tom Moore took the reins. In recent years, other teams across the NFL are catching on. What is old is new again.
Dice and Deuce: (Note 2×2 formations start with a D)
In the college game, the ideas that Noel Mazzone and Tony Franklin are advocating are pure brilliance. Both are no-huddle, offensive gurus insistent upon beating defenses into a pulp. For many, they’re running gimmicks. Offenses that won’t work with the “big boys.” The media and fans propagate the idea that these “finesse” offenses cannot work in the SEC or against better athletes. This is incorrect, for the no-huddle does many things. Among these are:
- Takes a visiting crowd noise and potential distractions out of the game with tempo.
- Controls personnel and substitutions of the other team. You’re forcing them to play what you want.
- It eliminates defensive celebration.
- Plays faster than a defense can react to.
- Allows for coaches to read defenses and audible from the sidelines.
Number three, defensive celebration is impaired. If there is a big hit or a sack, most defensive players will celebrate. Not so much if the offense is lined up and ready to throw the rock. Any semblance of momentum for the other team can be snapped with one big play from an offense.
Number four, it plays faster than a defense can react to. If the opponent is off-balance, much of the game planning and scheme is no longer valid. If the defense has prepared all week to implement certain coverages and fronts and their personnel doesn’t get off the field nor receive adequate communication, the offense will control the game.
Number five, the no-huddle allows for coaches to read defenses and audible from the sideline. Many offenses such as Butch Jones and Gus Malzahn have four signalers and boards that are interchangeably called “Hot.” The first signaler A. will relay to the team that the board is the play being ran, or B. disregard the board because the other signaler is calling the play. In truth, you could possibly have three different objects and or coaches or players sending out a play call. 1. The board 2. Signaler no 2. and 3. Signaler 3. The first signaler gives the play side and tells which is live, while the other two could be giving dummy or live calls. With signals constantly changing, there is a low chance for opposing teams to even come close to an understanding of the signals. This board concept is inevitably linked to easier verbiage and a correlation of concise words and pictures with concepts and plays. This in return allows for coaches to decipher through coverages and fronts and send the quarterback and offense “on-the-fly” changes or audibles.
The previous image could designate Corso as a “Counter” concept and the Beaver as a “Curl/Flat” combination. People representing a run concept and mascots representing a pass concept. Both the Oregon State logo (On another board) and the mascot, a Beaver, would convey the same concept. This board idea, with the idea of having a “Hot” would be considered far-fetched in Walsh or Marchibroda’s day, but is all the craze in our modern game.
I believe the ideas of this simplified game and commitment to concision is being best shown by Tony Franklin at the University of California—formerly Louisiana Tech. Franklin, a brilliant salesman has high-schools scattered throughout the country running a packaged system that he has put together. For an annual fee, coaches are allowed to attend clinics hosted by Franklin, receive tapes and playbooks concerning the details of the offense and installation. Weekly management and tuning of the offense is further enhanced by weekly group discussions by TFS teams and management. Why do schools love his offense? It’s efficient, organized, and concrete. You as a team are going to commit yourself to doing a few things and you are going to do it well. This is how you are going to practice and these are the drills you will do. Not surprisingly, many of these teams have achieved a great deal and have broke records that many thought were formerly impossible.
This pre-packaged or canned offense would be considered by most people’s standards, fairly concise. It wasn’t enough for Franklin. Previously, Franklin would call plays by two digits, and had two protections. These protections were designated as 60s and 90s. The quick-game consisted of the 60′s and the base passing game was the 90′s. The offense also had “Roger” and “Louie” calls for certain front identifications. This was too much work for Franklin. He scrapped the protections and now only has one protection. It is entirely man protection with no sliding to the gaps or “Roger” and “Louie” calls. The concepts previously identified as numbers are now identified by one-word names: What was 94 is now “Sail.” 95 is now “Cross.” 96 is now “Curl” and so forth. The center controls the cadence and identifies the front. The coaches audible the plays. What does the quarterback do? As many Air Raid coaches would say, “Find Open Grass.” He is going to focus on finding the open receivers. This does not necessarily imply that the quarterback is featherbrained, but there is a simple formula—We as an offense, are going to have answers. We will have answers and we will practice these answers routinely until we can do it in our sleep. With only a handful of passing plays, and at this point few formations (What Franklin calls Ace and Early), the offense has an identity. An identity in which they are proud of. Rather than the premise of having up to 600 possible plays entering the game, Franklin is going to control tempo with what he refers to as “Nascar” and by invariably running the same routes. So much so that Franklin and other Air Raid coaches like Mike Leach refuse to flip their receivers. The flanker is going to stay on this side of the field and the split-end will stay on the opposite. This idea that they took from Raymond Berry allows receivers to perfect their routes rather than changing sides of the field.
Rather than being average at many things, Franklin teams are going to destroy defenses running “Sail.” They will find ways to run “Sail” six or seven different ways. Franklin will by and large use the same personnel. Mostly, 11 personnel. This idea of perfecting your craft is something that many teams are missing throughout the game of football are missing. They have no identity. They’re a grab bag team. The no-huddle is an identity. Not surprisingly, practices are also quicker for Franklin. The practices are more up-tempo and installations are at faster pace than a traditional team. Another known coach committed to going as fast as possible is Chip Kelly. He recently stated: “You see how they train the Navy Seals. They squirt them with water, play loud music and do all these other things when they have to perform a task. That’s how we practice. We want to bombard our kids.” Dana Holgorsen is distinct for his offenses that are installed within three days. Yes, you heard correctly, three days. Players practice only a few drills, and most notable among these are the “Settle-and-noose” and “Pat-and-go” drills. You do your job, leave, come back again the next day and repeat the process. As a player, you will refine your craft. No longer are teams huddling with play calls that the quarterback may forget by the time he is done bellowing the information to his squadron. Play calls are now identified by one word as Walsh predicted. Nearly all of Walsh’s prognostications have come to fruition, particularly at the NFL level, and among the most explosive of teams. This is the modernity of football.
With now Kevin Sumlin, Gus Malzahn, Butch Jones, Neal Brown, and others scattered across the SEC, we are witnessing a transformation of sorts. Brown being the protégé of Franklin, one shouldn’t expect much deviation. Sumlin has already shown us how deadly a no-huddle team can be, particularly with his “Freeze-checking” concept shared by Franklin and others. Malzahn decimated teams with his boards and absurd tempo. Now is the time for Butch Jones to showcase his version of no-huddling and his commitment to doing what Bobby Petrino would call, “Feeding your studs.” I expect Coach Jones to bring what he knows from previous coaching stops, and effectively communicate this message to his players. Tennessee is going to be a dominant team in which controls the tempo of the game. Fast or slow, the Tennessee coaching staff will find a schematic advantage due to this premise, dictating personnel and packages and at times playing faster than a defense can react. They’re going to run a few concepts and they’re going to run them well. These concepts will be conveyed in simple verbiage for easy recollection and execution. These axioms originating by and large from one of the smartest coaches to touch this game, Bill Walsh. Many programs, NFL and college, are returning back to the Lombardi premise of perfecting your craft. This is the future of the game. I look forward to the battle of the offenses next season. Not only does Butch Jones get a Neal Brown at Kentucky, he gets a Chip Kelly at Oregon, a Gus Malzahn in Knoxville, a Steve Spurrier in Knoxville, and a Bobby Petrino in Knoxville. Will there be enough firepower for us fans to handle?
Thanks for taking the time to read this, if you have any questions or suggestions, leave a message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you enjoyed this article, I also wrote another one.