Thoughts on the spread and run and shoot offenses — Hemlock’s comment

[This is part of an ongoing back and forth between me and a friend of mine who goes by “Hemlock.” He was a D-1 coach at a Big 12 school (among other places) and now is pursuing a PhD in non-football related matters. He’s a spread offense/run & shoot guru, and has a lot of great thoughts on these offenses, their role and future in football. Below is his comment; I will have a response out soon.]

I broke into coaching when I was still in high school. As a player, I had long read the writing on the wall and knew that playing on Saturdays and Sundays was not in my future. This was not painful for me since I knew all along that what I really loved about the game was its technical side. As it so happened, one day early in the summer I read an article in the local paper that a rival HS had hired a new football coach. This coach was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill gym-teacher-will-you-also-coach-football guy, but instead one whose primary focus was on coaching: he was there to coach football first, not teach during the day and collect a check. What also made him unique was his commitment to the real run and shoot offense, not what Tiger Ellison and Red Faught had their success with — a modified wing-t type offense — but the real thing run by Mouse Davis with the Detroit Lions and John Jenkins at the University of Houston. On a lark, I called the school and asked to meet with the coach.

He agreed to take me under his wing as a sort of high-school version of a graduate assistant. Much like a college graduate assistant [Ed. Note: Most colleges take a graduate student as a grunt-level assistant, which is still the best way to break into coaching at the college level; not many guys start as a full-on assistant coach], in this capacity I pretty much did what nobody else wanted to do. The trade off for me, however, was that I was exposed to the real ‘shoot — the real deal. Not only did I learn the schemes and the playbook, I learned the entire run and shoot culture, the deep grammar undergirding the offense. And, as an added bonus, I was learning it from the very people running it in college and (then) in the NFL.

I learned the offense, but I also became familiar with the familiar reservations coaches had about it. Indeed, in staff meetings someone usually stated that we could run our same four-wide schemes but with a tight-end or even with two running backs in the backfield. After all, wasn’t the “K-Gun” that the Buffalo Bills ran back in those days the run and shoot with tight-end? Didn’t they also run the choice route?

Then as now, coaches gave a whole litany of reasons explaining their desire to change the true, four-wide receiver run and shoot offense into one with another tight-end or another runningback — to unspread the spread. More often than not, these guys would say that the run and shoot would be better if you could just “run the ball downhill with more authority”. Even then I always found these arguments flawed. As a budding scholar today, one of the principles I live by is the belief that you craft your questions around the issue before you. That is, you understand the premises and foundations of the project or topic you are researching and do not ask questions that seek answers to “Y” if the topic is “X.” It’s all about establishing and understanding the terms of the debate. People who say, gee, the run and shoot is great except you can’t run the ball enough — or say the same thing about the Mike Leach/Hal Mumme Airraid offense — do not understand the whole point of the offense, the questions it seeks to answer, and the method it uses to pursue those answers. Let’s look at a few of the major questions.

(1) Why is it necessary and beneficial to operate the run and shoot exclusively from a four-wide receiver, one-back environment? (I.e. no tight-ends, H-backs, fullbacks or second half-backs, etc.) Are there any potential benefits to adding another set here and there for specific situations such as goal line or short-yardage?

Before discussing the technical benefits, let me first say that operating exclusively out of a four-wide environment is the first step a coach makes towards aculturating his program to the offense. To run the run and shoot effectively, it is necessary to commit to it entirely. Coaches that retain the ability to use tight ends, h-backs, and multiple-back sets create a crutch upon which they can fall back on when things don’t go as well as they’d like in the early going. Inevitably, what happens then is that the team becomes a multiple-set team that uses some run and shoot packages on passing downs. What never happens, however, is that the team converts to the run and shoot culture. And without that, the coaches and the players never become fully comfortable in the system, and then when the team struggles more, they blame the system.

When you decide to run this offense you need to burn your bridges with the past. You have to declare, “This is what we will sink or swim with. We are a run and shoot team.”

Committing exclusively to operating in a four-wide environment accomplishes a number of important things for the program:

  • Creates an immediate sense of identity. This is who we are, and this is what we do. We are not so much concerned with what our opponent does, as with what we are going to do.
  • By committing exclusively to such an operating environment you force both your players and coaches to think in run and shoot structures. Four-wide is no longer a situational thing, but the thing itself. Many coaches, and some recent experiences confirm this, feel naked without a tight-end or fullback; they are never truly comfy in a four-wide environment; they feel exposed. There is truth to this, for when things do go wrong there is literally no place to hide, whereas with other offenses the individual disasters that doom a play are largely concealed within the scrum.
  • When you commit exclusively to a four-wide environment you make standard what was once exotic and in so doing learn to become comfortable with both the environment itself and the opposing structures that it will inevitably elicit from the opposition.

When coaches fail to do this, it has been my experience that their first response when confronted with an uncomfortable situation is to become faint-hearted in their belief in the system, and thus undermine their ability to succeed with it. What this reveals is that neither they nor their players are truly comfortable with their “base” operating environment. And, usually sooner than later, what happens is that the ‘shoot is jettisoned from the offense because the coaches have not become comfortable with both the offense itself and the defenses they will inevitably face, especially in the early going when everybody and their brother will blitz the living daylights out of of them to see if they can handle it.

(2) Two more words about identity. It is more important to have a defined “identity” at the high school and college levels than it is in the pros. There are coaches like Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints who have succeeded with a pass-first yet multifaceted approach. Indeed, it is possible to deploy a plethora of formations in order to create mismatches, as well as change the cosmetics of single play without altering its basic structure. This is great, but I argue that it is really only applicable at the professional level. Because of the unlimited amount of practice time available in the NFL — not to mention their practically unlimited video, film, weight training, staffing, and other resources — coaches at that level can implement as many formations as they can dream up. Even with this advantage, it is worth noting, however, that professional players frequently blow assignments and misalign – even with all of that practice time. (Ah, the beauty of free agency in the modern era!)

I’ve coached both high-school and D-I football and I’ve learned the hard way that it is either impossible, in the case of high school, or or so difficult to the point of being prohibitive, as in the case of college ball, to effectively implement a multiple-formation intensive system and to consistently succeed with it. At my last D-I school we ran the true west coast offense, as my head coach was a legitimate disciple of Bill Walsh. Not only was it difficult to install all of our formations, but it made our players hesitant; they were so worried about getting lined up correctly that they were not able to concentrate on running the play. Another unintended consequence was that the different looks we installed confused our players more than the defenses we faced. It sounds odd, but our players, despite all our efforts to the contrary, deep down believed that every time we ran a route concept from a new formation we were in fact running a different play. This problem reinforces a point that June Jones made once about his former quarterback Colt Brennan. Even though they ran their “Levels package” primarily from one formation (“Early”), Brennan, for nearly a year, believed that the different level distributions constituted a different individual play. It took a year, according to Jones, until Brennan basically understood that regardless of who was the over and who was under runner that they were running the same play. Now, remember, this was all being run from one formation; imagine what it is like when you have literally a dozen different formations from which to run that one play. We found out the hard way: We had a lot of formations and our players thought we were drawing up all kinds of new plays.

The result was that even though our offense was very well conceived in that it systematically centered around a set package of plays, our players didn’t see it that way, and they felt we had no identity.

(3) Another problem with being too multiple is that every action requires an equal reaction, and by adding new formations you have made your life more complex by forcing the defense into new sets to counter each of your alignments. Again, at the professional level this is not as much of a problem, though I would say that the New England Patriots’ love of four and five wide environments suggests that even at that level they recognize the benefits of spreading out in order to avoid dense and opaque defensive front structures and read keys. This is also why I am not a huge fan of shifting and motion, regardless of the offense. Yes, there can be advantages, but it can just make things more complex and the reads cloudier for your own players.

Related to this is the phasing out of motion in the run and shoot that really began with John Jenkins at the University of Houston. In the original Mouse Davis run and shoot, the offense used a receiver in motion on almost every play. Either they motion from a two-by-two receiver set into a trips or three-by-one set, or vice versa. Jenkins was the first to really get away from using all that motion. The reason was simple. Originally, motion in the run and shoot was used as a key for reading coverages. This was fine so long as the coverages remained simple. But, one result of the ‘shoot’s success was that coverages became more advanced in response. Jenkins stayed ahead of the curve and saw it happening before it actually did. He understood that that motion could actually lead to false keys that would hamper his offense’s ability to execute. Consequently, Jenkins began to use leverage as a way of decoding a defense’s intentions. Another reason he abandoned motion was that he understood that it could lead to sloppy route running. A big key to the run and shoot is to “stem” your route correctly — i.e. begin off the line in a particular direction to set up the routes. Motion can be a lazy man’s way of dealing with press coverage. Great technique though is better and will result in a better stem, which lead to a better route. One other point in regards to this is that stemming your route means identifying who in the coverage structure you are running your route off of. Again, motion can muddy the waters.

(4) What is the cost of committing exclusively to a four wide environment? While I appreciate breadth, I really prefer depth. Multiple offenses, especially at the professional level, are effective because they have unlimited practice time. Sean Payton thus is able to spend the time needed to have what is arguably the most diverse system in the NFL in terms of sheer concepts — and to get good at all of them. However, at the same time, the Patriots, who have been more successful, run a system that is pretty straightforward from a conceptual basis. They have an identity, the expand based on what they have rather than importing from other systems and thus have thorough knowledge of their system and consequently are able to manipulate it appropriately without jettisoning their core values. [Ed. Note: The Indianapolis Colts have arguably the most basic offensive system in the NFL, and quite possibly the best over the last decade.]
This is why I’m comfortable operating exclusively in a four-wide environment and why I am loath to play with tight ends or hbacks. Sure, if I had a greater ability to run play action I could open some people up pretty easily, but at what cost. To throw the ball at the efficiency level that the Run-N-Shoot needs to in order to be successful you need to rep it constantly; moreover, those periods in practice where you would work on play action are what you need in order to become a truly great screen team.
The argument, and it is a valid one, against this is that as a result you are now asking your QB to throw into tight widows. Yes and no. It depends on what you mean by tight. For a team that does not practice stretching zone windows all the time I can see how this would be a problem; but if this is what you do and what your identity is premised upon than it is really not a problem. Coaches frequently will ask me why Jones or Leach continue to throw the ball when teams drop seven and eight into coverage. I tell them that every coverage has creases, gaps, and seems and I have never seen a coverage that was incapable of leveraging a window open.

Much of this depends on your mentality. Some coaches are fine with being only “good” at what they do. Take what I’ve seen of Florida State recently. I like Jimbo Fisher and think he calls a great game, but I don’t think his offenses — either at LSU or his current one at FSU — is particularly great at any one thing. He has a lot of concepts but few of them, espcially in the passing game, seem to flow into and out of one another in the same way that, say, June Jones’s do at SMU, Mike Leach’s at Texas Tech, or Joe Tiller’s did back in his early Purdue days.

This lack of a fully developed, fully whole conceptual approach to the passing game troubles me more than the fact that the run and shoot doesn’t offer much in terms of a play-action game. The running game isn’t a huge part of my system, so a play-action system wouldn’t be entirely persuasive or successful anyway.

  • jgordon1

    Love the thoughts about multiple formations making the offense hesitant as they will see different variations that they might not have practiced against..Just to make the opposite arguement.. isn’t this precisely what Paul Johnson does at GT

  • dlbt

    I am in Canada. We are playing with 12 men. If I want to use the run and shoot, where do you suggested the 12th man be positionned on the field ?

  • ucbears

    In response to jgordon, Paul Johnson will only adjust the formations to combat what a defense is attempting to do, they will stay in a base 2×2 all game if it is working. The formations are to make a defense do something and if they don’t they will get beat, but in the grand scheme of things he really only runs 2×2, 3×1, ends over unbalanced and tackles over unbalanced. Spacing and motion all stays the same. I think that the navy GT stuff is right in keeping with the philosophy of be simple an do it well, rather than jack of all trades master of none.

  • hapa

    I found the piece on multiple formations interesting from the high-school viewpoint. I know that both Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech, Flexbone) and Mike Leach (Texas Tech, AirRaid) both thrive on the idea of a few base plays, but many more formations to keep the offense “simple” for the offense, but complex for the defense. Is it that difficult to teach players that passing concepts can be the same no matter where you stand? I’d be grateful for some more detail.

  • Matthew

    The entire time I was reading this, and I will say that I enjoyed it thoroughly, I was thinking about what Jimbo does at Florida State currently. He runs a lot of different formations, but uses a lot of the same concepts within his formations. He is certainly having a lot of success on the offensive side of the ball this year, however there are still missed keys and assignments, especially in skill position blocking early in the year.

    What I think Jimbo does especially well is adapt. He is particularly adept at figuring out what is there and taking it, so while he may not have one central “identity” he can still be successful. He just has to relay to his guys why they are doing certain things.

  • Tim James

    I take it Hemlock would have a dim view of the new trend to check with coaches about changing the play at the line of scrimmage each time. We already talked recently about how Florida hasn’t been doing a good job with that until they dropped it against Georgia.

  • Brad

    I actually think Leach is pretty simple as far as formations. And from what I have seen Paul Johnson only runs 3-4 formations.

    I bet they are in doubles and split backs in the gun about 80% of the time and they don’t motion much.

  • Brad


    I actually think Leach is pretty simple as far as formations.
    I bet they are in doubles and split backs in the gun about 80% of the time and they don’t motion much.

    And from what I have seen Paul Johnson only runs 3-4 formations.

    BTW great article. I really like the thought process and IMO it applies to any offense.

  • “[Ed. Note: The Indianapolis Colts have arguably the most basic offensive system in the NFL, and quite possibly the best over the last decade.]”

    Don’t the Colts also have the single most competent tactician at quarterback the NFL has seen in 20 years?

    It struck me when I was reading this piece that there is, indeed, a lot of human limitation to what an offense can do: If players don’t or can’t grok the offense the way a coordinator wants, that can be fatal. Peyton Manning, I think we can agree, does.

  • Jason A. Staples

    Great stuff here. Interesting that he brought up Jimbo Fisher at the end, because that was who I started thinking about from about the middle of point #2 through the rest of the article. I’ve been hoping to chat with Jimbo about exactly that question sometime soon. I do think that Jimbo’s ability as a QB coach to get his QB to totally understand what’s going on helps him implement more multiple stuff and get away with it.

  • dr

    I like the idea of “going all in” to a system, and I think that is key for running an offense with an out-of-the-ordinary philosophy. A lot of people were worried when Paul Johnson took over at GT because a lot of very promising players left (I think about 8)…they were TEs, a pocket passing QB, and several large but relatively immobile O-linemen. I think they have all had good careers at their new schools, but they are not missed.

    At the college level where players can transfer, this is not such a big deal. I am curious as to how this works at the highschool level where kids cannot just transfer to another program. What do you do with a good TE, or a FB built like a fireplug if your offense has little to no use for them?

  • Mark

    In response to dlbt, I am a canadian coach as well… and while I wouldn’t say I am a run and shoot guy, I have looked over the offense at length and would say that you can run a lot of the concepts out of 3×2, you just need to be careful you understand the point of the concept and add in the extra route to compliment the concept.

    We are exclusively out of a 3×2 pistol formation and we have been quite successful with it, but I will admit that it is a combo of various styles (‘shoot, air raid, etc.) that best suited the Canadian game (at least in my opinion). The other point is do you have the talent for it, especially at QB, I had issues this past season with that.
    I would be willing to share what we do if you would like.

  • dlbt


    It will be appreciate. Just tell me the way you want to share what you do.

    Thank you.

  • ko49

    Great read. The article really resonated with me. I’m an OC on the high school level and we’ve converted to the 4-wide spread this season. In charting what we do, I’ve found we are very efficient from 2×2, 3×1 and Empty (5-wide) looks but less so once we start to shift, motion and introduce alternate sets. It seems that when we line up, recognize what the defense wants to do and execute our route packages and protections against those defenses we have a lot of success. But when we find it necessary to outscheme the defense by adding too many looks to our package all we really end up doing is confusing ourselves. Going into this I thought I needed to be multiple because that’s the thing to do these days. I was told we couldn’t be in the shotgun all of the time and we had to have more than three sets. For some teams I’m sure that’s true and that “being multiple” is a key to their success. For us, though, simplifying the package, committing to it and repping it constantly in practice to master its execution has been the better way to go. Thanks for the read…

  • Tyler

    I agree entirely with running a systematic offense at the high school level. I have yet to see an efficient multiple-formation high school team that wouldn’t be even better running a specific system. Not only for time constraints, but the very nature of the game. You are spending as much or even more time teaching players fundamentals and basic technique than anything conceptual. The team that does the basics right will often win over the team with an offense with great volume(as far as playbook is concerned).

    IMO, multiple-formation teams can be deadly in college with a veteran quarterback. LSU with Flynn, OSU with Smith, FSU with Ponder, etc., have really been efficient on offense in past years. I wouldn’t be too multiple with a young quarterback, but the results for these teams have been pretty darn good.

  • JP – Chicago


    simplifying the package, committing to it and repping it constantly in practice to master its execution has been the better way to go.

    I love that line. It kinda gets back to coaching and play calling thread. IMO. play calling is OVER RATED and your point about “master the execution” is more important.

  • Mark


    send me an email: markrobertson94(at)

  • endersgame

    Chris Brown
    earned the crown
    tearing down
    problematic enigmatic schematics
    Up there with Locke Rousseau and Thoreau
    cuz three degrees
    and an ill pedigree
    forces me to decree
    he the smartest man I know.

    Hemlock from what I’ve heard you’re damn smart too. : )

  • RU Fan

    So, using a high school team as an example, what would you guys think would be the maximum number of formations that a team should use in order to be able to completely execute the offense at the most efficient level?

  • ko49

    RU Fan,
    We have three that we’re in 80-90% of the time and then we usually carry two others as game-plan sets (sets we use specifically for that opponent because of match-ups, tendencies, situations, etc…). The nice thing about using three base sets is that we almost always know how the defense will line up against them. If we know a team can only line up one of three ways against a particular set, we can focus our practice reps against those alignments so that come game time we’re not surprised by the defensive looks we get. When high school kids aren’t surprised (meaning confused), they execute a lot better. That makes play-calling a lot easier.

  • OldSouth

    These comment sections have been exploding in popularity recently, and the comments are still of excellent quality. That makes me happy.

    If smart football, edsbs, and dr saturday all merged into a college-football conglomerate, that’d be awesome.

  • Brian

    Probably irrelavant, but…

    I ran a season of Madden with only the I formation, just to see what would happen. I added every play they had. After about the third game, I could adjust my playcalling for any defense or down & distance (even 4th and 12!). There’s a lot of truth in picking one system and mastering it, rather than cherry-picking a bunch of plays and formations and trying to run them almost at random. My team I film for runs the Pistol. It’s who we are and we don’t run anyting else. All the concepts stay the same, regardless of formation or motion. Oh, and we’ve had a top-20 rushing team the past two seasons.

    Hemlock, you’ve discovered a truth many before you already knew. But the fact that you discovered it at all makes you just as wise.

  • Elliot

    I’m only a fan, but passing when 8 people are in coverage confuses me. I know the system is pass-heavy, and in general I think running the ball as much as most people do is dumb. But if 8 people are in coverage, that means you have 3 people rushing, 5 offensive linemen to cover them, and the quarterback holding the ball. It doesn’t seem like you even have to train people to run the ball to have the 5 people handle the 3 rushers, and then just have the quarterback run forward as far as possible, and there will be lots of yardage to be had. Plus, it’s college/high school, so you aren’t paying your quarterback $20 million a year, so if he gets broken it’s not the end of the world.

    What’s the deal?

  • Dallas

    As far as number of formations goes at the high school level, I went to one of the most prolific football high schools of the last decade. Our team ran a fairly generic spread offense (lots of zone read and jet sweep and counter, a bit of shovel option, a heavy dose of vertical playaction stuff, and a limited 3/5-step game). We used maybe two shotgun formations (basic 3 WR and Y-trips) and a good bit of jet motion/faking and crack-blocking motion (similar to Florida), an unbalanced offset I on occasion and power I on the goal line, and that was it (except for my senior year where we ran some direct-snap plays to our running back, generally from 5-wides — he threw the game winning TD pass in the state championship game). A fairly simple system cosmetically, but our team was well-coached and knew what they were doing, which is way more valuable than being able to show a lot of different looks, in my opinion.

  • Terrance

    I disagree with the author. I have coached in a multiple formation system. We had 4 blocking schemes and we ran over 20 formations a game. We were successful, Wes Elrod is the one who taught us formations.

    The key was we only had 4 blocking schemes.

    I think formations are inexpensive and plays are the problems that we get into.

    Refer back to and article that Chris once published about the number of plays needed.

    Chris, if you could link that.

    So I would argue it a coach was 2 options. Multiple formations and less plays, or less formations and more plays.

    But not both

  • jgordon1

    I also found the bit interesting that the Qb’s thought each pass play was different from different formations.. I am wondering if these teams call plays w/ numbers or words..for indtance in our offense a flat curl is a 43 on the right side but a 34 on the left side..our receivers run their routes based on #’s from right to left

  • CoachG

    I have given this entire concept of formations vs. plays a great deal of thought since I have been coaching football. I have come to the conclusion that less is often much, much more; particularly when dealing with younger athletes (high school and, in my case, JUCO players). What struck me about the article was not the agreement with the LIM (less is more) philosophy, but the repudiation of multiple-formation teams as being effective teaching platforms. I have not doubt that players will look at the same play run in different sets and see a different play. However, at what point does the coach have to take responsibility to communicate to his players that what they are doing is identical irrespective of alignment.

    What is seems like everyone one is asking the same questions about an offensive philosophy: (1) do I understand it, (2) do I have enough time to teach it, and (3) can my players execute it consistently and effectively? I think any coach that can answer to the affirmative to all of those questions will be on their way to finding the right offensive system for them. Question 2, in particular, is the dangerous one because I think a lot of coaches do not take into account the actual teaching time necessary to make a play and system effective. This also refers back to question 1. If a coach only has a cursory knowledge of a system, he will have not planned to teach all the subtle nuances that exist within any system; thus, extending his teaching time further.

    In the end, a decision needs to be made, in my opinion, based on knowledge, time and athletes. A coach needs to know as much as he can, know how much time he has to teach it in, and know what kind of athletes he needs to make his system work. The last part is important because when you examine the struggles of both Hawaii and Texas Tech, they lack the fundamental driving force that made both schools so successful in the past. Bear Bryant changed his entire system based on personnel after being a well established coach and it worked out pretty well for him. Perhaps all coaches should take a page from that book. It really is all about getting our jimmy’s and joe’s into the right places so they can shine. Systems do not make players, players make systems.

  • I enjoyed the article. It was very well written. I actually think if that the way the play is called is the key. I believe that motion is instrumental in developing different tactics and looks for the defense during the game. If you keep it away from the basic strategy you have, and teach the plays and concepts fully, you can use formation and motion to alter tactics during a game.

    One example I can give, against a defense we played that ran a 3-5, we had no idea where they would line up what I called the “extra Linebacker.” When I used a slot formation, I knew where he was going to be at all times, on the slot. In this case, the inability to change formation would have put us at a distinct disadvantage.

    I agree it might seem to make little sense to line up in a 2×2 and motion to a 3×1 … until you add the running game in (most spread offenses are 50/50, run/pass. I don’t think this is a lack of commitment to a system, and most spread teams use concepts from the run and shoot). But if I want to run a jet sweep or jet trap from motion, yet don’t motion on any other plays, this gives the defense a distinct tactical advantage.

    I think one of the keys is the play calling. In the Phoenix Offense, we always use Formation-Motion-Play. The “Play” call will always be the same, whatever the formation or motion. With a competent quarterback, there is an easy system to use when you want to run (eg.) a slip screen, from a different formation or with motion.

    I agree with the author on the idea that concepts should be put in as simply as possible; however, I also believe that once the concept is mastered, then you can teach the players that you can run that same play out of different formations and motions.

    ~Coach Seeley

  • stan

    Homer Smith once wrote that the key to Spurrier’s success in the 90s was that he used a few simple concepts from a lot of different looks. He was a master of using formation and motion to isolate and exploit mismatches. The simple concepts made it easy for freshmen to play early. All the different looks gave defenses headaches.

    It boils down to teaching. The great coach makes it simple for his kids to learn and hard for the other side to defend. If your kids are confused, you screwed up. As one of my old bosses loved to say, “what you see on that film is what you coached.”

  • Rob

    Great article, but I do have one nit. Tiger Ellison ran the “real” run-and-shoot. The Mouse Davis version is the modified offshoot of the real version.

  • Mr.Murder

    Concepts, concepts, concepts!

    Then once you get the feel for changing who takes over a route in the concept or who replaces the outlet(back) you have the R&S in two or three wide sets.

    If Chris were to get more detailed he’s go into “switch” and “scissors” comparisons and how those looks use the same concepts in different ways.

    Then all go/four verts becomes F or H sail(different MOFO read, different hook/sit assignments), or they cross then go in switch, or they cross twice and go scissors, or they switch who crosses at the top on trips side or from the boundary side back to field on the scissors look. (Stairs? I use that tag for a drive/levels that looks like stairs on a vertical third flood when the three routes are drawn on their breaks).

  • Mr.Murder

    Interior stems can key hots, exterior ones can diagnose the zone rotation, you can lose some of that in motion by being limited in what you can see presnap.

  • Maddog football coach

    I enjoyed the article and agree with some of what the author stated, but how can he say Tiger Ellison ran a modified run and shoot? I believe coach Ellison is credited witht the invention of the offense. I for one think the original book “Run & Shoot Football: Offense of the Future” is one of my absolute favorites.

  • Ken

    I have a copy of “Offense of the Future” on my shelf. I’ve loved the offense ever since I first read it back in the ’70s. Hemlock’s statement is provocative, for sure. However, those of you who’ve read the book know that the original is a lot more run-oriented than the “Chuck and Duck” (and no, I’m not taking Buddy Ryan’s side). The Mouse Davis/John Jenkins offense is more evolutionary than modified. Contrast Coach Hemlock’s statement:

    “The running game isn’t a huge part of my system, so a play-action system wouldn’t be entirely persuasive or successful anyway.”

    with Ellison’s system, which is chock full of stuff like “Wagon Train East,” a power sweep Vince Lombardi would have been proud of.

    It’s amazing how locked in to formative concepts one can get when one does football as a hobby instead of a living. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had winning in Playmaker Football is that I can’t let go of the Vince Lombardi/Blanton Collier/Tom Landry era, as scored by Sam Spence and narrated by John Facenda, frozen tundra as far as the eye can see.

    That, and Playmaker doesn’t run the option worth a darn. 😉

  • Ken

    Adding: One thing Tiger Ellison and Coach Hemlock would be in complete agreement on is the need to commit to the system. In the original Run and Shoot the double slot is the only formation (motion gives you the variation). At the end of the book, Ellison even wrote that if he’d had it to do over, he’d have gone two-platoon at Middletown to give the offensive players even more time with the playbook.

  • coachd5085

    One thing about Hemlock’s thoughts and writings (both here and on other websites). A large majority of his discussions revolve around being a “true” run and shoot team and validating that the offense will “work” as designed rather than doing what offenses are ultimately supposed to do–help win football games. I find it interesting because he addresses the concept of “seeking the answers to Y if the topic is X” yet he often focuses on remaining true to the R&S (Y)rather than winning football games (X)

    This is not to take away from his great knowledge of the game. Just an observation on this, as well as several of his other posts on the subject.

  • stan

    I second coach5085’s comment. I had the same thought when I read it.

  • Hemlock

    I did not intend to respond to comments, but I just want to clarify a few things to coachd5085 and stan.

    Winning is what we are in this business to do. There are many different ways to accomplish this goal. I’m a system person. For a number of reasons, most of which I underscored above, I believe that a system, regardless of whether it be the Run-N-Shoot, the triple option, or the AirRaid, provides you with a comprehensive platform on which to base your offensive program. My reasons for this are pedagogical as well as cultural, strategic, and tactical.

    My reasons for staying pure to the offense are identical to those Paul Johnson articulates when speaking about the triple option. How do you define winning? Obviously, the goal is to win every week. However, what if you are in a situation in which that is simply not going to happen. We’ve all been in situations like that. What would Paul Johnson do if GT was losing now? Would he scrap the triple option or water it down just to get him through this year? For a fact, because I’ve heard him say this in person, he would not. He would boil the offense down to its most basic elements and proceed from their – the goal being to lay the foundation for his program. The same goes for Mike Leach, June Jones, and Rich Rodriguez at Michigan this year and last year. Is RichRod a bad coach because he running his system despite the fact that all the pieces are not in place. His track-record indicates the opposite. It would be easy for him to modify things, perhaps put some pro-style wrinkles in, but that would not help him achieve his long-term goals. Winning one or two more games at the expense of your program is not worth it. I’ve been on staffs where this happened, that is, the HC came in and brought with him a system, but the talent on hand was not exactly what he needed in order to make it go. What did he do? He watered it down and three years later he was still muddling along without an identity – he eventually got fired. Dennis Erickson will be the first to tell you that the mistake he made in the pros was listening to all the “experts” who told him that he could not run a spread-oneback in the NFL.

    The goal of every offense is to win games. However, football is not just about individual games and individual seasons; it’s really about creating a program with a sustainable identity and teaching program designed to facilitate the accomplishment of those objectives. This, at least, is what programs that are great year and year out do.

    As a side note, Nick Saban did not have all the pieces in place at UA his first year to run his defense? Did he compromise? No. He taught his system and laid the foundation for his program.

  • Kevin

    Good points, Hemlock. I know this discussion is focused on college and pro coaching. My thoughts go to high school (since I coach at that level). How much of a “systems” approach will work at the high school level? There does come a point when a coach must say, “You get what you get..” and you take the fullback you have and run the I formation with him..
    I understand the “identity” connection, but if my mindset is to sling the football around and I don’t have a kid to read the D or throw, do I force it to keep the identity? I can’t recruit for high school (legally)…Any thoughts on this..?

  • Hemlock

    Kevin, your question is a good one. You cannot recruit players; what you must do is develop them within your community. A good program is one that developes players from the youth leagues on to play for the varsity. As a program, the HS coaches must communicate and teach their system, along with the drills, etc that go with it in order to develop players that will contribute. Thus, your question is really one of player development. I, for example, will not coach HS ball again unless I’m in the right situation, in other words, one in which I will be able to use the varsity as a platform to aculturate the youth of our community to the type of football we play.

    Remember, players are not born, the vast majority are developed and cultivated over years. Coaches that say I don’t have QB who can throw every year have to realize that the reason this is so is because they have not developed one and by develop I mean not simply from the time a kid gets to the varsity, but from middle-school on.

  • Jasper

    this article is a bunch of bullocks.

  • John

    Hi Jasper,

    I think I speak for the entire rest of the readership here when I say, “Thank you for your substantive contribution!”

    Have a nice day.

  • Ron Mexico

    Thanks for the very informative article and many informative comments.

    re: Hemlock’s comments about building an identity and through that building a program. You said that the NFL is different because coaches have unlimited practice and teaching time, but I’d argue the same dynamics you describe in your comment above apply there. Head coaches change frequently, are under pressure to win with an expectation that winning is supposed to occur quickly, with a roster stacked with the last regime’s players. There’s even an additional wrinkle of who has “final say” over the roster. I think it’s true to say, that the specific situations (and the Saints are a good example) where a head coach knows they have time to shape the organization are an exception.

    And I realize that the “unlimited” practice time is a comparative term, but some of the same considerations (e.g. how much can I effectively communicate, who will listen, will Lawrence Taylor show up today, etc.) also constrain coaches at the NFL level.

  • zenny

    I found this article and discussion to be extremely interesting and informative. However, I have to disagree with one point that Hemlock has repeated a few times.

    While I agree that simple is good and sticking to the system is generally the right way to go, sometimes you need to flexible enough to run a less “pure” version of a system to win with the players available.

    Urban Meyer didn’t have a particularly mobile QB when he first arrived at Florida, so he went to a more conventional set, resulting in the 2006 national championship. Nevertheless, the re-introduced spread worked very well the next two seasons, as a Heisman Trophy-winning QB and then a 2nd national championship attest.

  • Will

    I couldn’t agree more with Zenny. As Meyer and other great coaches have said, the players dictate the system. Sure, as a coach you’d prefer to run one system over another, but if your team has a couple of great running backs but not much of a quarteback, you run the ball. Hemlock has already said that that’s more a question of player development & that’s true, but until you develop the players you need, you play the hand you’re dealt.

  • stan


    I think it’s foolish to build a team’s identity around an offensive system (and the run and shoot at that!). Better to build a team identity and ethos around far more important qualities that apply on both sides of the ball and on special teams.

  • Eugene Carpet

    Success from focusing and becoming good at one thing. Prying open windows in a defense that is attempting to cover the four wides just takes a little time.
    With only one set you get a lot of repetitions for your offense to become comfortable.

  • Sammy Carpe

    New England has been able to be so successful and with so many of the players being replace and still being successful. Replacement quarterback and still a successful offense. How many other teams have been able to have a winning season after losing their starting QB.

  • Sammy Carpe

    It would be interesting to see how Indy does if Peyton ever goes down. So much of Brady’s success is from the system as proven last year.

    I hope to never find this out because I love to watch Peyton play.

  • steve sharik

    The problem with the run and shoot really isn’t offense, IMO. You need to ask what effect the run and shoot will have on your own defense. If your offense doesn’t have TEs and FBs, what happens when you face a power running team? You don’t have the personnel to simulate such an attack in practice. This Lions and Oilers did b/c they were in the NFL. But Hawaii, Texas Tech, etc. have had a lot of difficulty defending power running attacks such as Wisconsin b/c they can’t simulate it in practice, much in the same way a full house T team can’t simulate a spread offense well.

    I love you offensive guys, but head coaches need to consider the effects it will have on the entire team, not just how well they can put points on the board.