During Coach Sumlin's weekly press conference this week, a question was raised asking Sumlin to describe the offensive coaching philosophies the Aggies would see put in motion this next Saturday against the SMU Mustangs under coaches June Jones and Hal Mumme. What followed was probably a bit more than what the reporter was expecting to hear, but for someone like myself who loves to "chalk talk," the 10 minute run-down on the history of spread offenses was extremely exciting.
(The question I mentioned gets asked at around 3:10 of the video.)
Coach Sumlin's history lesson inspired me to take a deeper look into the offensive coaching philosophies that influence our modern game. Many others have done a much better job describing the systems invented, tweaked or ran by the coaches that follow, but I'm going to try to briefly describe several of them and then make a connection or two to the style of play we've come to expect from our Aggies.
Before we dive deep, it's important to realize that Coach Sumlin didn't start out down the road to coaching offense. As a player at Purdue in the mid-1980s, he was a star linebacker and soon followed his former defensive coordinator Joe Tiller to Washington State, where he continued working the "dark side" of football as a GA. He soon made the switch over to offense and never looked back. So what changed? Why did the successful linebacker from Alabama suddenly decide to switch sides of the ball?
"If you want to coach in the college ranks... learn the principles of this offense and you'll always have a job."
Mike Price was Kevin Sumlin's head coach at Washington State in 1989. His sage advice would prove to be true quickly for Kevin Sumlin and has proved true to this day. Some time during his early career at WSU, Sumlin attended a small gathering of coaches that would come to be known as the "One-back Clinic." According to Coach Sumlin, this clinic was an
"Internal cult ... of crazy coaches who didn't line up in the I-formation and run into each other."
This "One-back Clinic" has reached mythical status among coaching circles in the past 25 years. Among others, Hal Mumme, June Jones, Mike Leach, Dana Holgorson, Art Briles, Kevin Wilson, Rich Rodriguez, Mike Gundy, Noel Mazzone, Bob Stitt, Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly all attended these get-togethers at some point early in their careers. Ideas were traded, plays designed and schemes piggy-backed on established ideas. Coach Sumlin absorbed many of the ideas presented here and talks about what he learned in his press conference from earlier this week (video above).
Let's look a bit more deeply into a few that have affected Coach Sumlin's current offensive philosophy at A&M.
The Air Raid - Hal Mumme/Mike Leach
Coach Mumme got his first Division I coaching position in 1996 at the University of Kentucky. His hiring brought a potent offensive attack from DII to the SEC. It was a risky proposition that this high-tempo, pass-first offensive system would be effective in the best conference in football, but Mumme, along with assistant coach Mike Leach, experienced success quickly as defenses struggled to adjust.
His version of the Air Raid offense (a term attributed first to BYU under Coach LaVell Edwards) utilized three and four receiver formations with the quarterback in shotgun. Some key concepts include the mesh route combination and four verticals concepts (both diagrammed below). The Sumlin connection is complicated, but Mike Leach would eventually be hired at Oklahoma as their offensive coordinator after leaving Kentucky and would put together a successful offensive system that would be inherited by Kevin Sumlin after Leach moved on to take the head job at Texas Tech. (Follow that?) Interestingly, Leach is now the HC of Washington State - thus completing this episode of "Six Degrees of Kevin Sumlin."
Here's two diagrams of the mesh and four verticals concepts from the Mumme/Leach Air Raid system.
Here's a video of Kentucky's win over Alabama in 1997. If you watch closely you can see both the concepts at work.
Tim Couch vs Alabama 1997 (via CoreyP0408)
The Run and Shoot -June Jones (among others)
The Run and Shoot is the most pass-happy of offensive schemes. You don't see it implemented as much today in the collegiate and professional levels as you might have 25 years ago, but there are still a couple of programs that use it - the most important (to us) is June Jones at SMU. The driving force behind the Run and Shoot is to get the ball from the quarterback's hands to his playmakers via the pass as quickly as possible. Four receiver sets are the norm and pre-snap motion is common-place. Quarterbacks rarely stay static in the pocket, but instead roll out and hit receivers for short gains in space; taking advantage of what the defense is giving them. Receivers don't run routes as much as they work to open grass near predetermined landmarks.
June Jones learned the system as a young coach on the staff of Mouse Davis on the USFL's Houston Gamblers back in the early 1980s. He adapted that system to fit the competition he later faced in the NFL with the Oilers, Lions, Falcons and Chargers (in that order). His system put up big number in the NFL and helped further the careers of quarterbacks such as Jeff George before Coach Jones found himself coaching back at his alma mater - the University of Hawaii. Jones installed his system there and soon had turned the program from perennial doormat to conference title contenders.
The main pass route schemes we see in the Jones Run and Shoot are the Seam Read, the Go and the Choice Route. Read a great series of articles on the Run and Shoot at Smartfootball.com HERE. Basically, the receivers know that they are working towards open space away from defenders once they hit certain landmarks. Pre-snap reads from the QB make the decision to throw the ball happen quickly.
(Yes, I drew this myself using paint.) Few plays will utilize all three of these concepts at the same time, but they are all utilized by most Run and Shoot teams at some point.
June Jones explaining his Run and Shoot system.
June Jones Breaks Down Run n' Shoot (via SaturdaySoundOffsTV)
SMU Football vs. Houston - Game Highlights - Oct. 18, 2012 (via SMU Mustangs)
See if you can spot some of the route schemes in this highlight reel from their record-breaking game against UH.
The Shovel Sweep - Bob Stitt
A few years ago, I remember seeing West Viriginia under Dana Holgorsen destroy Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl using a variation of the fly sweep. A few days later, THIS article from CBS Sports revealed the mastermind behind the play was Coach Bob Stitt from Colorado School of Mines. Surprisingly, I had heard of the school since they had bombarded my mailbox with mailings my senior year in high school (they didn't want me to play football). I had no idea how successful their football program was at the time though.
Coach Stitt had made a small adjustment to the simple fly sweep several years before and that innovation had allowed his team to continue to climb the offensive rankings. Instead of having the QB hand the ball to the receiver in motion (which can sometimes be a messy exchange), the QB simply tossed the ball in front of the receiver who would then continue on his path. (Incidently, this counts as a forward pass and boosts your passing stats.)
Here's video from West Virginia's win over Clemson and our very own Aggies running the same play this season.
West Virginia Fly Sweep Series -- Orange Bowl 2012 (via AlexJKirby)
Texas A&M Highlights vs SHSU 9-07-2013 (via Tamuhighlights Whoop)
Fly sweeps at 47 seconds and 1:28.
"It's not just Washington State. You watch UCLA pretty closely, you'll see a lot of things that are being done here, done at West Virginia, done at SMU..."
As you can see, the heritage of our Aggie offense is varied and exciting. As Coach Sumlin and his staff continues to improve upon the innovations of others, we're sure to see some exciting things schematically... especially with the amazing personnel on our team.