Monday, November 23, 2015

Eleven Reasons for Double Options

When I do my consulting I often get the question "Why do you run double options when you can read your way out of all defenses?" So I'll address that here. For the sake of this article we will only include straight double options and not include counter options or fullback pitch speed options.

  1. To get to the perimeter when the defense is dictating you will not. If you read out you are at the mercy of the  defense as to who gets the ball. You are also at the mercy of the defense as to where it is run. If the defense (in this case a reduced front designates a give read every time, it's not a bad play. However, if they can control you inside and, if their defense knows where the ball is going (We're assuming they are well prepared.) This is not a bad play but we need to make the defense defend the full width of the field. In fig 1 below, the ball is getting to the perimeter despite the defense's attempt to keep it inside.This is especially important when you have a speed or blocking leverage advantage at the perimeter and are running to the wide wide side of the field.
  2. To get the ball in a great halfbacks hand. Although theory is the basis of this offense, there are times you just have to get your best players the ball. In the above example, the defense can keep the ball away from a good halfback. In fig. 1 though, the ball is now in that halfback's hand. (we are not counting the rocket here as that is a totally different concept.)
  3. To get the ball in a great quarterbacks hands. Same theory as above, but different runner. Take a 5-2. If it constantly gets the ball out of the quarterback's hands with the outside linebacker, your great runner may spend much of the game watching his pitchman get tracked down. The answer comes in a double option. (see fig.2 run from flex) This is commonly run by Navy to keep the ball in Reynold's hands. A smart move.
  4. To add a blocker when the defense has absorbed all the blockers and outnumbers the offense after the snap. Take a look at fig. 3, where, if the offense was running triple. The end (#1) would take the dive, the scrape linebacker would absorb the halfbacks block, the strong safety would play the pitch and the free safety, reading the halfback's block would be free to play the quarterback. However, by running the double option, shown in fig. 3,you have added an extra blocker (the fullback) and now can account for everybody.
  5. To add and extra blocker to seal the box vs a six man side. This allows you to run into frontal over shifts that, in turn ,lets you dictate the flank. This is important, as a simple triple defensive strategy is to give you a six-man side pre snap and then run to balance up with motion. (Even more prevalent in high school where teams use a six-man side to field and force pure triple teams to the short boundary.) In fig. 4, a six -man side, if you ran the triple, you need to arc the HB to account for numbers on the perimeter. This would allow for the defense to squeeze the DE on the fullback and scrape the linebacker on the quarterback, essentially outnumbering the offense. (You must veer due to the overshifted nose.)Since the double option adds one blocker (the fullback) you can now account for everybody and run to the flank you want to.
  6. To handle the echo stunt when your quarterback can't. I've run this offense for a long time and I can safely say, as much as you practice the "echo" stunt, there will be quarterbacks, days, quarters, seasons, that you have trouble with it. (If you don't believe this break down Georgia Tech's offensive production this year.) Give your quarterback a hand in those situations and block his way out. Fig.5 gives you one simple way to accomplish this. Not only will it save a game but it gives the quarterback confidence knowing he doesn't have to be perfect with the reads as you have the answers he doesn't.
  7. To handle the back-to-back stunt when your quarterback can't. I once had a quarterback that, whether due to poor judgment, slow hands, narrow vision, or my poor coaching, would have trouble at times with the back to back read. Running double (fig.6) takes one read away from him. In essence, you as a coach has read his way out for him
  8. To change option responsibilities. You've heard me preach many times on this site to make defenses change their option responsibilities, tempo of pace to the perimeter, and entry point for the free safety inserting. Double options do that. Never let the defense get into a rhythm: Dive...QB..Pitch. It always them to play as fast as you.
  9. To set up a particular play action pass. Many times the triple doesn't set up the play-action pass we want but the double option can. As an example, the reduced front doesn't usually have a problem with the wheel because the halfback is sealing on the triple, if he arcs the Strong safety will run with him or the Free Safety / corner will combo the post / wheel. However, if you run the double option in fig. 1, you now stress the strong safety with the wheel. To take matters further, if you take a the double option in fig.3 and "switch the receiver, fullback, and halfback assignments you now have a situation where the wheel is running by the strong safety on the run play. When we throw it, there is usually nobody to cover it. (fig. 7)
  10. Force the defense to defend and practice against multiple looks.  I once played against a team that only ran midline tuck to a three technique and the triple to the A-gap player. Needless to say we got very good at defending the triple to the A-gap and the midline tuck to the three. By running multiple options you force the defense to defend multiple looks. That alone takes time away from the triple / midline preparation. They can't defend it as well if they can't pigeon hole you.
  11. Allows you to run out the clock without making reads. Double options are a much safer way to run out the clock late in the game. Loaded options become, basically, quarterback sweeps. One person handles the ball. (Check out Navy videos this year. You get a big dose of zone dive, double option at game's end.)

This are eleven solid reasons to run the double option in your offense. Don't get me wrong, we are a triple option team. Sometimes though I think that is misunderstood. Because your offense comes off the triple, it means exactly that - it COMES OFF the triple. The specific examples do that matter as long as they answer the need. There are many double options that fit all these situations.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Enjoy

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Scores per possession the most important stat when you control the clock

As I watched Navy totally dominate Memphis last weekend I was brought back to an "Old" clinic I went to years ago where a coach outlined a plan for winning, irregardless of style. It was definitely a win for old school football.

Many announcers and coaches disparage the stat of time of possession with all the fast tech football that runs 100 plays per game. However, if you combine it with points per possession it becomes

In the Clinic, a long time ago, the college coach elaborated on the seven most important aspects of winning a game. We've all heard these before but Navy brought them to a new level. Navy did them all. In addition, many are considered "old school" and not necessary for victory.

1. No foolish penalties -Navy had none that would fit into this category. In a world today that emphasizes athlete over team, Navy emphasizes discipline over freedom. Although there is a lot of decision making in the offense, the flexbone system requires that every one is disciplined and stay with the system. It also requires that you stay on rhythm, down and distance wise. You can win with inferior personnel on offense is you stay on rhythm. The lack of penalties allow this to happen. Except for one pitch, the pass, and the "Fullback on the "down" play. you cannot consider Navy's offense explosive. However, how many third's and short did we see.

2. Win the turnover battle - Yes, we hear that often today. However, the meaning of that has changed over the year. In today's world, turnovers are tolerable as long as you have less then the other team and have more explosive plays. (I actually heard a major college coach say "turnovers in today's high octane offenses are inevitable. You have to learn to, not accept them but tolerate them." Hogwash! When this statement was originally made NO turnovers were the only thing acceptable. When you have zero turnovers you always win (or at worst tie) the turnover battle. It was obvious Navy was the most secure with the ball leading to two costly Memphis turnovers in the second half.

3. Don't give up more then 5 plays over 20 yards - While I think this stat has slightly changed do to the new "open" style of play and use of great athletes on the field (the acceptable number may be slightly higher today), I truly believe it is very important. What's more telling is how Navy did this. ALL ZONE DEFENSE and keeping the ball in front. Sure there were numerous catches underneath - tons of them, but they were limited gains by the fact zone defense allows you to have eyes on and break to the ball. Many defensive "guru's" today say you can't play zone consistently versus today's offense. However, this is the way I learned to play and coach. It doesn't count till it's in the end zone!!! Again you can play with lesser athletes if you keep the ball in front and inside and then have great pursuit and great tackling. (by the way I thought Navy's tackling was as good as I've seen this year.

4. Be able to run the football - The stats speak for this but the way they did it is even more of the reason they won. Their efficiency! It just wore down the defense; physically AND mentally. People today can't run the ball with any hardness. Because of that they have a hard time installing any hardness in their defense and have a hard time stopping the run. Like Bobby Sutton once said to me when he was at Army "These defensive tackles today are use to pass rushing for 30-40 snaps. They are not use to people coming out and pounding it in the face for 70 to 90 snaps. It just gets to them mentally and physically."

I once visited a college getting prepared for the flexbone. As they were coming off the field I heard their star defensive end say "Man, I didn't sign up for this! I just want to rush the passer." You think he was mentally into it.

5. Limit the opponents rushing game - I really don't remember Memphis being consistently able to run the ball. Why? My take had to do with the zone defense Navy played behind. They were able to play 5 1/2 men in the box with a fudge player. (He'd have to leave the box in man free.) That allows you to have 6 man run gap fits. That's how you stop the inside run. The addition of the run support brought by zone limited the the outside run and took away many of today's run pass conflicts.

6. Play great goalline offense and defense - Every time Navy got to the red zone they got TDS. While Memphis moved the ball, they had to settle for some field goals or got stopped

7. Control time of possession - That was obvious but what did that accomplish. Less possessions. In the first quarter there were only three possessions! There were only 6 real ones in the first half. (3 each) Think about that. Even if you never score and the opponents score at a 66% rate (above today's average.) you are only down 14-0 at half! Two scores and that's with you NOT SCORING AT ALL! Plus, in the second half,once Memphis fumbles and goes down two scores, they are thinking they have to be perfect. That they'll only have two more possessions. (In today's football yards don't mean anything but efficiency per possession in regard to scoring is the highest stat. Whether it be the Navy - Memphis game with limited possessions or the Oklahoma State - TCU game that TCU amassed 660 yards but scored at a 1.7 pts per possession. And what better way to limit this possessions if you are inferior then to control time of possession.

Therefore, and the point of this article is time of possession as a solo stat is useless. Unless you combine it with a high percentage of scores per possession as Navy did, you are limiting your chances to score also.

8. Win the kicking game. This one is highly subjective as there are so many factors to put into one category. So, I'm gonna call this a

(The final topping on the cake was when Keenan Reynolds checked out of a play that would have given him an all-time record at the end to let another player score. I grew up the BO idea of "the team...the team...and the team!" That has kind of been lost today with all the individual stats, Sabermetrics, and self indulgences. Nice to see it again. Refreshing!)

Take a look at the biggest game of the same week: Alabama vs LSU. The key to that Alabama win
1 Alabama won the turnover battle. Alabama had one (and I'm sure that Saban was upset about that )
2 Alabama had 0 foolish penalties
3 I believe Alabama had no runs or passes against them over 20 yards. (Might have been 1 late) Saban is famous for his match up ZONE coverages
4 Alabama ran the ball
5 Alabama stopped the run. (As good of gap soundness as I've seen in recent years.
6 Alabama controlled the clock - which limited the times Leonard Fourquette had to break a big one. Trust me, if you've seen him run, if he had more touches he would have eventually broke one. He's that good. (Not only did Alabama control the clock but they were highly efferent in their points per drive. LSU was not.)
7. They also won the kicking game here.

So what does this give us. Even in today's high tech, no huddle, fast then faster offenses that throw the ball 40 times and run 100+ plays, you still must run the ball to win. Additionally, controlling the clock is still a valuable stat if, and only if, YOU are highly efficient in points per possession. If you run off 3/4 of the clock and are one for 6 in possessions and scoring, they only have to be 2 out of 6. Remember, when you limit possessions in a game, you are also limiting your possessions and each possession is more valuable to you. If you score 3 tds in 4 possessions, that's 75% A team must be pretty efficient to beat you. But you only have 4 possessions to score those three times. One less limits you to 50%.

Never rely on you getting more possessions then them. Even in an ideal world (omitting onsides) you can only have two more possessions then them and that rarely happens.

I've heard coaches say they ran off 3/4 of the clock and lost 21-3. There are no moral victories. Everything fits together. The more you control the clock, the more your goal line efficiency is important, the more your penalties hurt (off rhythm), the more fumbles hurt, and the more giving up big plays are killers. (If you run off 8 minutes and scored and then they take two plays to score, you have defeated the goal. They have accelerated the number of positions.). Since each possession becomes more valuable, each lost possession becomes more critical.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Getting the running quarterback to the edge. Part 2 flex split ends

In this article we will continue with our "Loaded options" in order to keep the quarterback in play. Today we will run them from our flexed end position. It is important to note that we use two distinct flex end positions. Our first "flex" places the end at 3-5 yards. He will go to 3 is there is a man on the line between himself and the tackle. and expand that area to five or even six if there is nobody on the line of scrimmage. The second or "nasty" position places the wide receiver at 3' to 5' from the tackle. (almost in a tightened position.) We can have both sides flexed or nasty or just one side. We can go ends over and have our inside receiver flexed or nasty or even have both ends flexed or nasty. (we like the rocket from the latter.)

We use this formation for a number of reasons:

  1. To create leverage on an inside defender
  2. To block an interior defender with a bigger player
  3. To change secondary structure. Seven man fronts will usually change from sky support to cloud support. In addition to changing option responsibilities, this usually puts a non-tackler (corner) in a tackling situation.
  4. To slow backside rotation by the free safety in a seven man front. In corner support there is due to alignment slower and deeper rotation then if the Free was in quarters (basically man)
  5. To bring the support player closer to the arc or, if he is getting optioned,closer to the quarterback. This does two things. First it allows the arc to leverage the pitch defender quicker as well as blocking a defender not use to this. It also allows the pitch man to quickly circle (outflank) the whole defense.
  6. It forces an eight man front to explained the force players or be outflanked quickly. This opens up the midline tuck play without the threat of a fold player outnumbering us.
  7. In cloud support, due to the two quick receivers, the safety must stay inside longer to handle the vertical threat. This allows us to run base schemes and block him easily with the wide receiver.
  8. The support player in a seven man fort is quickly put in the run / pass conflict of the wheel due to his positioning. This requires a much quicker reaction then if they are in quarters in a normal set.
  9. It forces the defense more preparation time with different problems and schemes, all while we run our base offense.
This are just some of the ways we will use the flex and nasty formations in our offense.

Now for the double options.

The first thing we will run from the flex is the normal double options (explained in part one.) With the ability to get the SE quickly on the safety, we will make their corner quickly decide to take the pitch or the QB. taking either can be deadly. (fig. 1)

Using the Wide receiver as a leverage blocker 

Wide receiver on #2

We will use the wide receiver as a leverage blocker on #2 with our chip and zone scheme (Vs 7 man fronts.) We can do this from either flex or nasty.

Wide receiver on #2 with chip scheme vs. 4-3
(fig #2)

In this scheme the wide receiver will block the stack #2. Nothing changes. The fullback must eyeball the echo stunt between the stack as he continues around and blocks the free. (If they echoed the Wr would block the mike and the HB would go to the BS safety. (He usually would not get off the chip.) We would let non-support go as there is a lot of area for the quarterback to get vertical in.

If they walked up the echo, as before we would get a gap call with the HB and Tackle would handle the stunt, the wr would go to the Mike and the Fullback to the free. (fig.4)

Finally, if #2 ups the wide receiver will crack him in flex (Fig 5) and will base him in nasty. Step near foot just get movement, quarterback will cut off him. ( Fig 6)

Note: if the OLB #2 goes on a flex end (we've seen this) he will base him as if in nasty.

Wide receiver crack with zone scheme vs. 5-2
(fig #7)

Vs. a seven man front (5-2) we will crack the lob (#2) if in flex / arc the HB around for near deep safety and let the FB wrap, reading the crack and sealing backer to safety. We run our power zone just as the first article.(remember due to FB threat DE's in a 5-2 will usually play inside conscience making them vulnerable to the scoop)

(Note: an important aspect to remember is the quarterback must work from depth off the line.  That lets him clear any penetration. We reverse (roll into our loaded options) but you can skip out in order to keep the footwork consistent with your other double options.)

Vs a reduced front (No change)
(Fig. 8)

If we get a reduction front we will have no change to our chip scheme and the WR will go back to stalking.

Using the Wide receiver as a first level blocker vs the 4-3
(Fig 9)

We haven't used this much as we haven't used our nasty formation much but there is a place for it.
The wr. receiver will now switch assignments with our nasty end and block #2. If #2 ups, he will attempt to hook him with the fullback reading his block and blocking the MLB. (He still has the echo with the HB getting the Mike.) The negative of this scheme is the inability to get the near deep safety. you are giving that up to secure an 8 yard play consistantly. (This is Navy's preferred way.)

Play action pass off the double option
(Fig 10)

With the corner tight and the deep safety also tight based upon the constricted formation we like to get on the safety quickly with two quick receivers. At 8-10 yards the wr receiver will break at an angle for 18-20 on the sideline. The Hb will continue and bend slightly looking over his outside shoulder. (aim hash to wide side / 8 yards inside corner of end zone to boundary. We throw opposite the safety. Note: If Backside safety is jumping this we will go Backside with post corner choice route by wide receiver.)

The other play-action we like off our double options is our crossing routes. (Fig 11) The backside wide receiver runs a hash route. (Near Goalpost if in middle) The playside end climbs as he crosses to 14-16 yards (must get past opposite tackle.) The play side HB crosses climbing to 6 yards by sideline. The QB will glance deep then go to the deep crosser unless the corner drops here. 

Hope you enjoyed and got something out of these two articles.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The five most important elements to picking a job you can turn around

Gonna change pace from the X's and O's a little bit. I'll be back with part II of the loaded double options from the flex next week. Since the open job season is coming up, I thought I'd look back at my multiple jobs and pick out the five most important questions / characteristics to look for in taking a losing program with a chance to win.

Understand, I've taken over 11 programs in between moving and going back and forth to college. I have been able to get 7 of the programs deep into the playoffs. Most were never there before and all were very unique. The ones that I didn't win at had some common threads. Even some of the ones that I was successful in had some of these traits and made my work seem as if I was pushing a car uphill. (Understand I am old enough, mature enough, and intelligent enough to realize part of the problem in these settings was me. Time off allows you to analyze and take long looks at yourself.)

As I've gotten older I've learned to listen better and interview the interviewers better. There have been many times I've taken jobs that didm't answer these questions right (see #6) but looking back I wish I had listened to the message. Don't get lost in being interviewed - remember you are making a decision also. Get the info you want.

1. Is your vision and their vision the same. This is not as simple as saying "we want to win." This entails everything from "what is winning?" to structure and demands of the program to what is expected from the coach and the program on and off the field. Questions such as "Define winning?"  and where would you like to see the program in three / six years?" will not only help you understand what they are looking for but give you an idea if they have any clue as to what they want. (Many don't! They just interview in generalities as to what feels good today. These get you in trouble as the "Flavor of the day" changes often.)Pin them down. And if they have no clue - well I am at a stage where I really want to be someplace else.

If your two vision are not perfectly in sync, then there will be a time when you feel you are fighting with one arm strapped to your side. There will be a time when something you feel is on track will be totally derailed as it didn't fit in with their expectations. (Don't get me wrong - this is a group effort and compromise is essential as long as the train gets to the same destination.)

Most losing program will answer with "we want our program to be successful on and off the field!" Well what does that mean in absolutes. Make them answer in absolutes and if they can't you know they have no idea of what they want. You will be at the mercy of daily whimsical fleets of fancy. The more concrete you are the more they should want you.

(Imagine interviewing at Chrysler for a manager of a new car line. When you ask the CEO "What is your vision for this car?" He says"we want it to be good!" Wouldn't happen.)

2. What is their "ideal coach?"  This seems stupid and trivial as no one can get their ideal but every coach is different.Somebody told me years ago there is a right job for every coach and a right coach for every job and sometimes they are not mutual. Everybody is different. Everybody has different personality traits. Everybody has a different coaching style. Not everybody - no matter how good you are as a coach is a perfect match. (Just take "intensity" level - and you get a job in a laid back liberal school. No! Not a good match.)

So when I interview I always ask them, "So describe your ideal coach." Listen closely and be honest with yourself. Am I that person. (Many many of the schools I interviewed at, especially lately, looked at me like deer in the headlights when I asked them. They had no idea. Trust me - this method of picking a coach doesn't work. In my last interview in January, I flew out to another city to be met by a thirteen person panel. When I asked this question they went from one to the other asking "do you want to answer that?" Nobody had a clue. How do you pick something if you don't know what want?
Its like me giving you a blank check and saying, go buy "something" on amazon.

This question will also give you an idea as to how important sports are to the school. If they haven't prepared a list of why they are looking for, its probably not that important to them.

Again, compromise is the answer. You will always have to change to fit into the new environment but a total remake? Eventually, it'll rain, the whitewash will come off, and the zebra stripes will appear. You are who you are.

3. Do they have the fortitude to support you? There are going to be disagreements and you being the new kid / outsider will be put on the chopping block and tested many times early. Will you have to change, apologize, give in with any agreement or are they hiring your philosophy. This is less and less as more and more money gets into education. As a former principal said to me, when he started principles were making 20000 and teachers about 13000 (He's a dinosaur like me.) So when put on the spot they supported the coach. They could easily make 20000 in another profession. So they did what they deemed right with no second thoughts. Today principals make well into six figures with bonuses for test scores, the decision is not so easy. Getting a job that pays as much as that is pretty hard.

So I asked them to define the word "support" as it pertains to their role with coaches. I could fill a book with the answers and PC crap that came out of most but the good ones said the right things and understood athletics. (The late great principal of Langley answered "My job is to get the peoples out of the way of the cart so you can drive it easily." I signed up immediately.)

4. What is the current state of the culture and do I as an outsider fit in? To be honest, this is one I haven't followed always and gets me in a lot of trouble. At Holy Spirit they wanted an alumni and three applied splitting the groups. They also wanted the AD (non-alumni) out and he was hiring me. Not a good culture to enter. At Manassas I received an email inviting me to a baptist church that Sunday. When I replied I was Catholic, the response stated "not for long if you want to coach here." (I later realized the the city was a resounding majority Southern Baptist! Nothing wrong with that. In my stay in Virginia many administrators and friends were Southern Baptist. Great people. The point is that this was a very closed group. Very hard for an outsider.

When you take over a "Losing" program, you have enough on your plate. You don't need to be walking on pins and needles trying to fit in at every corner.

While there is no specific question you can ask here, you need to do your homework. Research the internet. Browse around town asking questions like a tourist, eat at a local diner. You will be surprised as to the inside info you can get. (but don't tell them you're a candidate for the job or they'll tell you what they want to hear.

5) Are the people interviewing you trustworthy and taking ownership for the program? Tough to figure out but you can if you ask the right questions. First and foremost, ask them what happened with the last couple of coaches and why they don't think they are successful. If the blame is constantly on the previous coach / coaches, they are just hiring another scapegoat. Yes, some of the blame starts there but all of it. I once had a school that had 14 coaches in 20 years. When asked why they hadn't been successful, the AD said sternly, "We have the perfect program here. We just haven't plugged in the right coach!" You've been losing for thirty years and had 14 coaches, one of those must have had some ability. Do you think it may be a bigger problem. (I took the job and it was. Micromanaging from above, answering every hint of displeasure (The AD and head coach were required to go to every board mtg.), split little leagues arguing and putting the head coach in the middle, split booster clubs, etc.)

Now, to the contrary when I took over North Stafford, Woody (one of the best AD's a coach can ask for!) said to me. "John, I don't think we've ever had a great coach but then again we've never had a great program. We are looking for somebody to come in and tell us how to do it." Can't ask for more. Easy turn around for a school that lost 37 in a row. Did I get everything I wanted - NO! But the effort was there to give me everything I needed. They took accountability for the problem!


6. Why am I taking this job? This is one you have to ask yourself and nobody on the search committee. As one AD told me "Everybody wants to coach and more want the title Head Coach" As a result we trick ourselves. This perhaps is my biggest career mistake. I take a job so I can coach. End of story. All the questions above were answered wrong - yet, despite my gut, I had this overriding need to coach. Like if I didn't I never would again or that some value of me would be missing.

Take a job because you want to be at THAT school. Is there a perfect job? NO! its give and take and adaptation. However, there is an ideal situation - one you and the program can grow with the umbrella of the school district, making all sides happy.