So what teams run the Spread Offense? Before answering that question, it’s important to know where the Spread came from. The Spread Offense, by all indications, seems to be a family of football offenses. Many people credit Rich Rodriguez with inventing or developing the Spread, but he really just invented the version that he runs, an option oriented. There are many different ways to run the Spread, and for most coaches, it is an attempt to level the playing field against teams with bigger and stronger players.
The beginning of the Spread, or at least a precursor of it, started with coach Rusty Russell of the Masonic Lodge High School football team in Fort Worth, TX according to Jim Dent in his book Twelve Mighty Orphans. When Russell arrived at the school in the late 1920′s to a begin a football program, he realized his team was undersized and all he had was about a dozen players. He needed an equalizer. The offenses he had used previously were not going to work. Ever the innovator, Russell devised an offense that would help “level the playing field.” In essence, it was what we call the Spread today. He utilized space and speed along with an uncommon amount of guts by the small boys to play an offense that did actually depend on power at times. The Mighty Mites did pass the ball, but not with the kind of frequency you see in many of today’s Spread Offenses.
It is unclear whether anything like the Spread was used between Russell and the Ohio coach that developed what is now referred to as the Run and Shoot. It is important to note that many years between the 1950′s and 1960′s saw teams use the passing game. But as the 1960′s began to close, several coaches, especially in the college ranks began to depend on strength and athleticism and settled on strong running games. They would put their best athletes on defense to stop the other team, and they would control the clock with a strong, methodical running game. This could seen in such dominant programs as Texas, Alabama, Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State. The preferred the “three yards and a cloud of dust” mentality. In fact, the legendary Woody Hayes was credited with the quote, “There are three things that can happen when you pass, and two of them ain’t good.” That is not to say that teams didn’t throw the ball during that time. Such “finesse” teams as USC used the pass to be very successful. It just wasn’t the dominant philosophy. The 1980′s began to change that. The option became a popular offense out of either the Wishbone or a I Formation. While Oklahoma and Nebraska were dominant using an run option game in the 1980′s and 1990′s, it questionable as to whether the option might be considered a Spread Offense. Even more, the passing game began to re-emerge with the advent of Howard Schnellenberger’s Miami Hurricanes.
Modern day versions of the Spread are very different. Offensive innovators took key elements from the early Spread Offenses and made them unique. Coaches such as Hal Mumme (New Mexico State), Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Dodge created various hybrid versions of the original. The idea of the Spread Offense, no matter what version is used, is to spread the defense across the field using wide splits on the offensive line and spread the wideouts all the way to the sidelines creating big running lanes or space for the players to make plays. At the popular site theSpreadOffense.com, the site claims as its motto, ” Make ‘em defend 53 yards and 6 athletes every play!”
Mumme was the creator of the “Air Raid” and the father of that tree which includes Texas Tech Mike Leach and Tony Franklin (Auburn). He developed his offense studying the playbooks of former BYU legendary coach LaVelle Edwards. While I believe that Leach’s Air Raid looks more like a Run and Shoot, it does try to spread the defense across the field. It is a more pass happy offense, using little or no Tight Ends or Fullbacks. This offense depends on backs and receivers.
The Run and Shoot was revolutionized by “Mouse” Davis after modifying Ohio high school coach Glenn Ellison’s offense which was created beginning in 1958. Mouse had a young QB he could polish his offense with by the name of June Jones (SMU Head Coach). Jones later took the offense with him when he became a head coach after spending some time coaching with Davis for the USFL’s Denver Gold.
Who is the innovator of the Spread Option Offense? Most people point to Rich Rodriguez, Head Coach at Michigan. The Spread Option is a hybrid combination of the traditional Spread Offense in terms of formation (three or four receivers and QB in the shotgun) and the Option Offense. The QB runs the option from the shotgun. The key is to have a “dual threat” QB, one who can run as well as he can pass. Rodriguez helped to guide Tommy Bowden’s Tulane Green Wave to a undefeated season in 1998. The main option is usually called the Zone Read, and Texas’s Vince Young executed it perfectly as a Longhorn leading the Horns to a national championship in 2005. At West Virginia, Rodriguez led the Mountaineers to three BCS bowls in four years with Heisman Trophy candidate Pat White leading his offense. Rodriguez’s offenses use a no huddle approach, keeping the defense off balance like in a 2 minute offense. The other guru of the Spread Option Offense is Urban Meyer who led the Florida Gators to a national title in 2006. Meyer also led the Utah Utes to a BCS bowl and undefeated season in 2004. Meyer’s present QB, Tim Tebow is the returning Heisman Trophy winner for the Florida Gators.
Often the Spread takes on a more balanced approach. While some teams (Texas Tech) pass much more and some teams (West Virginia) run the ball more, some teams are more balanced. Florida under Meyer is more balanced as underscored by Tebow’s famous 20 TD passes and 20 TD rushes in 2007. Bobby Petrino, the new Arkansas Razorback coach, claims to have a balanced version of the Spread. Todd Graham’s Tulsa team was fairly balanced, while leaning slightly toward the pass, in 2008 when they rushed 562 times and passed 564 times. Compare that with Texas Tech who rushed 246 times, but passed a whopping 763 times. These teams’ coaches are looking for some balance to the offense, and they usually have a QB is capable of running. Some of these teams such as Tulsa and Todd Dodge’s University of North Texas Mean Green run a no huddle, and in Tulsa’s case, a hurry up no huddle which was crafted by Offensive Co-Coordinator Gus Malzahn while a high school coach in Arkansas.
Another very different version of the Spread Offense is Chris Ault’s Pistol Offense ran at Nevada. The QB operates out of a Shot gun formation, but the QB is only 2-3 yards behind the line.
Therefore, the Spread Offense has different family trees. First, there is the “Mouse” Davis tree which has led to the Run and Shoot version of the Spread Offense. Then, there is the Hal Mumme tree which has led to the “Air Raid” version of the Spread Offense. Tony Franklin, who is member of this tree is the new Offensive Coordinator at Auburn and will use more run than the other members of Hal Mumme’s family tree. The Hal Mumme family tree is preceeded by LaVelle Edwards, former legendary coach for Brigham Young University. Then, there is the Spread Option family tree. It really is unclear who the real pioneer is of this offenese. More than one coach has been given credit for using the “Read Option” or “Zone Read” to develop the Spread Option Offense. Rich Rod, of course, has gotten credit for the Spread Option, but so has Bill Snyder and Urban Meyer. What follows is a tree of coaches with eclectic Spread Offense Origins. Coaches took offenses or particular trends and modified and refined their systems. Coaches such as Bobby Petrino, Chris Peterson, Dan Hawkins, Steve Spurrier (Fun and Gun), Gary Pinkel, Todd Dodge, and Gus Malzahn all have influences which come from different places like Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense, Dennis Erickson, and, frankly, each other.
Given the different types of Spread Offenses that prevail and the various family trees from which they come, which teams will employ the use of the Spread Offense in 2008?
We will list the teams in the next post.