How an American Football Coach Who Died in 1982 Showed Me the Way to Use the Jet Sweep in My Offense
Breaking Records and Filling the Stadium
Believe it or not, nobody uses motion in executing their offense as much as I have in American football. In most games, our offense uses some movement 75 percent of the time. I’ve always appreciated the way that motion puts indecision on the defense while maximizing our team speed. It’s the equalizer when we play a more talented opponent, and it’s an unfair advantage when you play a team of similar caliber. I want to show you how I came to this realization on the way to creating my offense, the Triple Shoot Offense.
My odyssey began in 1989 when I was a graduate assistant at Kansas State University for Bill Snyder. I was working on my doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction, and the title of my dissertation was, “The History & Evolution of the Run and Shoot Offense in American Football.”
Why My Run and Shoot Experiment Failed
The Run & Shoot offense was the most prolific offense of its day. The Houston Cougars were throwing it all over the yard and generating points and yardage at a breakneck pace. In 1989, The Run & Shoot was a tightly held secret. John Jenkins was shredding plays as fast as they were developed.
As an outsider, I was compelled to crack the code to this high flying offense. The vehicle to take me on this journey was my dissertation. The planets aligned when we hired a Graduate Assistant that had been an innovator of offensive football himself, Ben Griffith.
Ben had been the Offensive Coordinator at Georgia Southern working for Erk Russell when they started that program in Statesboro as a club team in 1982. He had recruited Tracy Ham and had been running an I-formation Run & Shoot hybrid attack. That particular system was the precursor to the “Hambone” which Paul Johnson migrated towards in 1985 after Ben had left to be the OC at New Mexico (Paul was Ben’s GA and is the current head coach at Georgia Tech). Ben came to Manhattan, Kansas from coaching in a European league in Barcelona. He had also been the Offensive Coordinator at Arizona as well as TCU. His understanding of not only his offense but the Run & Shoot was mesmerizing. Ben was a master of making the complex simple. I am indebted to Ben Griffith for opening up my mind to new ways of thinking.
Ben and I spent late nights where he opened up the vault and taught me every detail of the Hambone as well as the Run & Shoot. Every word was recorded in this process of a master training an apprentice. In fact, if you’d like to see a video of Ben teaching me some Run & Shoot, just click here.
I had even spent a week in Center City, Florida interviewing the creator of the Run & Shoot, Glenn “Tiger” Ellison. Coach Ellison wrote the first book on the offense in 1965, “Run and Shoot Football, Offense of the Future.” Ben and Tiger influenced me on the ways of the Run & Shoot from an insider’s perspective.
Ben’s journey from the Hambone to understanding the Run & Shoot came from his time studying the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. Darell “Mouse” Davis was the mastermind of a prolific offense in this fledgling league. Their QB, Jim Kelly set professional passing records utilizing the Run & Shoot. In 1984, the Gamblers were shredding secondaries across the USFL, on their way to demolishing the league’s single-season scoring record. (The Gamblers scored 618 points that season, the previous record was 456.)
Ben told me that while he was searching to balance his one-dimensional Hambone, he approached Mouse to come and learn more about his system. An invitation to watch the film, sit in meetings and view practice ensued in 1984. These two systems were opposites yet they had one thing in common – Option football. One through the air and the other on the ground.
It seemed to me that although Ben had tremendous success as an offensive innovator, he felt the need for balance in his offense. He was never able to merge these two concepts seamlessly. Here was his predicament.
So, Ben went on to become an option guru at times and then a Run & Shoot proponent on other occasions.
Years later, Ben and I would study archives of film of the Houston Cougars as well as the Houston Gamblers and the Denver Gold of the USFL (Mouse became their head coach in 1985). Everything crystallized for me, and at that time I had produced the most detailed material on the offense, from a researcher’s perspective.
I couldn’t sleep…
Then one day in January of 1991 an opportunity to interview for the offensive coordinator position of a Run & Shoot team presented itself. Joe Gardi (Head Coach at Hofstra) had employed the offense in his first season and led his team to a 10-0 regular season advancing to the Division III playoffs, where they lost in the semifinals. His offensive coordinator (Rob Spence) departed to join another Run & Shoot staff as a receiver’s coach at Holy Cross where Clyde Christensen was the offensive coordinator.
I had no experience calling plays. I had never installed an offense. But in my youthful exuberance, I thought that outside of the small group of Run & Shoot coaches I understood this offense as well as anyone. I was confident I could pull off getting this OC job at Hofstra.
Through quite a bit of cajoling and a call from Mouse Davis, Joe Gardi was convinced to give me an interview. His only stipulation was that I fly myself to Long Island and if I got the job, he would reimburse my expenses.
What happened next, was a breakthrough in my career.
I packed a suitcase and a duffel bag to make the trip from Manhattan, Kansas to New York. From the Little Apple to the Big Apple. My bag contained clothing and the suitcase included 52 video cassettes of cut-ups I had organized from my research. I prepared an outline to present my case to the Hofstra staff – I planned to speak for 10 hours on the offense.
90 minutes into the interview, I became the Offensive Coordinator at Hofstra!
One major challenge existed. Hofstra was making a move from Division III to I-AA without any scholarships, and we were playing six I-AA teams in my first year as OC.
In 1991, we led the nation in passing for all divisions with 405 yards per game on the way to scoring over 42 points per game. The Flying Dutchmen were known for a swarming defense and the Run & Shoot offense. They called it the Swarm & Shoot, and we went 8-2 in our transition year to I-AA. The attack set all kinds of records playing a no-huddle fast break tempo that caught our opponents off guard. A highlight of that season was our game versus Fordham. Our QB, Timmy Lynch went 50 of 64 for 585 yards passing. We won that game, and it was the longest game in college football!
I stayed at Hofstra for two more years experimenting with the offense, even running some triple option from our Run & Shoot formations. Coach Gardi didn’t care for the triple option. He did not want to be labeled an option team – making it difficult for him to head back to the NFL (He had been the Defensive Coordinator of the NY Jets, and I believe he still had aspirations of being a head coach in the NFL).
I felt that something was missing with a pure Run & Shoot approach.
In 1994, I came back to Kansas State as Special Teams Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach. Our system in Manhattan was a significantly different from what I had been running at Hofstra. The opportunity to continue to learn from my mentor Bill Snyder was the most valuable part of that experience. At the end of that season, Emporia State University offered me their Head Coaching position.
1995 was the season where I came to a breaking point – My Run & Shoot Experiment Failed.
We led the MIAA in passing, and our record was 4-7. Our offensive approach was putting so much stress on our defense that we just couldn’t win enough games to turn around our fortunes. I had to make a change, or there was no way we could beat teams like the Pittsburg State Gorillas. I thought the risk of leaving Kansas State might be my demise and I had to find a solution, or I would be out of coaching.
My Search for a Balanced Offensive Approach
Just like Ben Griffith in 1984, I struggled with the same problem. Only this time it was from another perspective. We were one dimensional throwing the ball, and I had to find a way to run the football without my Quarterback taking unnecessary hits from defenders.
In the Spring of 1996, I was recruiting in Long Island at Freeport high school when a good friend of mine (Russ Cellan) gave me a book that their library was going to throw away. This book, “Spread Formation Football” was written by Leo “Dutch” Meyer, the former athletic director and head football coach at TCU. I thanked Russ and put the book in my briefcase not thinking anything about what it contained.
A Couple Weeks Later…
I had been preparing for Spring practices thinking I had to implement more of what I knew of the Hambone offense into my Run & Shoot. There was just one problem. I had a Quarterback that was 6’4” tall, and he ran a forty-yard dash in 5.2 seconds at best. I just couldn’t see him running the option. He was a good passer, but I couldn’t see him running the ball. I also realized that if we lost him our season would head into a downward spiral. Rarely is the second team QB at the level of the starter, unless you are the Ohio State Buckeyes of 2014.
Eureka! I had found the concept I had been searching for written by a coach that died in 1982. I obviously couldn’t call him, so I had to use my imagination to innovate our offense. In my mind, I had no choice.
What Happened Next was the Genesis of the Triple Shoot Offense
I combined aspects of three prolific offenses and created my brainchild, the Triple Shoot Offense.
Dutch Meyer’s Spread Offense, Tiger Ellison and Mouse Davis’s Run and Shoot concepts as well as Ben Griffith’s Hambone.
The process went like this.
- The alignment of our receivers was adjusted to create passing lanes.
- We experimented with variable splits to create running lanes. Our offensive linemen played in 2 point stances so that they could contract and expand depending on the play and defensive configuration (More on this in my next post).
- Triple option blocking schemes were utilized to maximize our ability at the point of attack with double teams and veer blocks.
- Various tracks for the Superback to run our Belly play were incorporated. These were Hambone-style veer tracks used by Ben’s offense at Georgia Southern.
- The Jet Sweep concept attacked the flank.
- Adjustments were made to foundational Run & Shoot schemes to fit in with these other innovations.
And most importantly, I made sure that our QB never had to rush the football.
The base concept looked something like this.
At that time, I had never actually seen anything like what we were about to create. I’m reasonably sure that others had experimented with what was called ‘fly’ motion. But, what we did next took it to a whole other level.
Optimizing the Jet Sweep Becomes the Key to Turning Around our Program
Having never seen ‘fly-motion’ in an offense, I started to experiment with bringing a receiver across the formation and handing the ball off to him on a sweep around the end. I now realize that’s pretty much what most coaches were attempting to do with this gimmick. Mostly, the receiver was trying to time his motion with the snap count which resulted in a less than optimum result from my standpoint.
You see, I wanted to attack the flank at a speed that defenders would have to honor. In doing so, the defense would have to pay attention to the man in motion in ways that they never had to before.
And that’s when it hit me.
“What if I have our receiver attain top speed when he entered the tackle box?”
Now, the timing responsibility is on the Quarterback. He would have to estimate full speed. We went one step further and did our test with the rate that various guys could run in the zone from the offensive Tackle to the moment they took the snap.
What I discovered surprised me.
There was less than a tenth of a second in variance between all of our receivers. The place it differed was from the handoff to turning the corner. Another factor in differentiating the better sweep runners was the ability to stop on a dime and redirect upfield.
Our Biggest Issue with rapid motion.
At first, we would fumble the exchange quite a bit. That, as I came to find out years later became a distinct advantage for the offense. I rationalized that if the opponent’s scout team could not replicate what we are doing, then our unit would play even better on game day.
The first time I called a “Pop Out” (Our name for the jet sweep), Jarrett Vito hit the edge and went 45 yards for a touchdown! Frequently our slot receivers, Jarret Vito and Chet Pobolish would combine for many yards rushing in each of the next three seasons – on just the “Pop Out.”
This part of what we called our Belly series started the assault on our tough MIAA schedule, especially our rival, those pesky Gorillas of Pittsburg State.
A Record-breaking Offense is Established
Every stop in my career since those early days has utilized this turbo-charged version of fly-motion. In fact, when I see NFL teams run this as a gimmick it’s not uncommon I receive a text message from coaches all over the country.
In 2009, I spent a season coaching with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and my good friend Mike Kelly. What started out as a two-week guest coaching stint materialized into an assignment as Offensive Coordinator by mid-season. In fact, the first play we called in our season opener versus the Edmonton Eskimos was the Pop Out. Here it is:
As Coach Kelly started using rapid motion within his offense, CFL opponents struggled to defend our rushing attack (More on that in the next blog post). Had we stayed in Winnipeg, it is my humble opinion that the Blue Bombers would have enjoyed Grey Cup winning success a few times. I base that on what we were formulating as soon as the season ended.
Now that you’ve seen vintage video of the Jet Sweep, would you like to take a look at the recent version of the Pop Out with multiple camera angles?
Check out the video!
In my next blog post, I’ll show you how the Pop Out concept aided our Superback to become the all-time leading rusher in college football history. If you have enjoyed this post and would like to receive e-mail alerts when I publish a new article, please take a moment to subscribe now so I can help you win on the field and optimize your life.
For more resources to utilizing a Jet Sweep Approach: CLICK HERE.
Do you see any ways to incorporate rapid motion in your offense?
Leave a reply and let me know!