Smart Notes – Big 10, Holgorsen, Muschamp – 12/14/2010

Well that’s just disappointing. The new Big 10 logo:


Couple this logo with the new Big 10 division names — Leaders and Legends — and you have, well, yawn. The new championship trophy for the Big 10 will be called the “Staff-Paterno Championship Trophy,” and the trophy for best quarterback will be called the “Griese-Brees” trophy which, while appropriate (it honors two former Purdue QBs who went on to win Super Bowls), sounds strangely dirty. Brian and the mgoblog commenters have generally better division name ideas and logos.

2. Holgorsen, the search. Dana Holgorsen, orchestrator of Oklahoma State’s number one ranked offense, is rumored for a few different jobs. Florida fans are clamoring for him to join Muschamp’s staff at Florida, though this is based only on a few datapoints — i.e. that Muschamp’s defenses struggled at times with Leach’s Airraid at Texas Tech (where Holgorsen was a longtime assistant) and with Oklahoma State, and that Muschamp worked with an Airraid head coach previously in Chris Hatcher — but and not any actual sources. We do know that he interviewed for the head gig at Pittsburgh, and the talk now is that he will join West Virginia, either as offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting, or simply as head coach if Bill Stewart is shown the door after the bowl game.

Regardless of how all this plays out, we know one thing: Holgorsen’s offenses are good. In the last few years, first at Houston and then at Oklahoma State, he has taken the basic Airraid framework developed by Mike Leach and Hal Mumme (who Dana not only coached with but also played for at Iowa Wesleyan) and added his own stamp. I’ve discussed some of this previously, though there is much more to say (it will make a good summer project, which would be aided by the generous donation of game film — hint, hint). For now, I’d say the biggest overarching differences between Leach’s Airraid and Holgorsen’s offense are:

(A) Leach focuses on the Airraid staples, and makes a total commitment in his offense to the mesh play, which combines a high/low vertical stretch (a corner route over a runningback in the flat) with a horizontal stretch (two shallow crossing receivers and either runningbacks or receivers in the flats). This is a great play, but because the receivers show their intentions immediately at the snap, the play can be subject to pattern reading. Leach combats such tactics by “tagging” or altering specific receivers’ routes on the play while keeping the overall structure intact, Holgorsen instead generally prefers to build his passing game off of “vertical stems,” i.e. the receivers all begin their routes by releasing vertically and only show their intentions when they make their break. Now, this is not to say that Dana doesn’t use flat routes or crossing routes — staples of all modern passing games — but instead simply means that the basis for the offense comes from the vertical releases and the pressure this puts on the defense, and he prefers to save those adjustments for specific situations he can call out. Exhibit A in Holgorsen’s offense is four verticals, which he (along with then-fellow Texas Tech assistants Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech HC and former Arizona OC), Robert Anae (BYU OC), and Bill Bedenbough (Arizona co-offensive coordinator)) explains in depth in this coaching clinic article.

(B) Holgorsen is more patient than Leach, in that he is more willing to run than his mentor was. As he told Sports Illsustrated’s Andy Staples:

Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen couldn’t help but laugh this week as he created a composite of several dozen similar conversations that took place in the near-decade he spent as coach Mike Leach’s eye in the sky at Texas Tech. Leach would growl into his headset and ask why the Red Raiders’ quarterback took a sack or threw an incomplete pass or an interception.

Leach: “Who was open?”

Holgorsen: “Mike, I know you don’t want to hear this, but there wasn’t anybody open.”

Leach: “What do you mean there wasn’t anybody open?”

Holgorsen: “They dropped nine people and they double-covered all our guys. There was nobody open.”

Leach: “Well, how’d they get pressure on the quarterback?”

Holgorsen: “Well, because one guy can’t block one guy for seven seconds.”

Between games, Holgorsen would entreat Leach to call a few more running plays to keep the defense honest. Leach — who, to be fair, won an awful lot of games doing it his way — usually declined and kept right on calling passes….

“For so many years, I was scheming up plays, I was talking to Coach Leach, I was trying to find specific pass plays to run against a whole bunch of defenders — which gets tough at times,” said Holgorsen, who still calls Leach regularly to talk Xs and Os. “Having [RB Kendall Hunter] back there makes it easy to call plays, because you hand it to him, and he gets yards. Then if you’re not getting yards, there’s usually a pretty good reason for that.”

(C) Holgorsen is also less patient than Leach, however, because the (relatively, at least) greater willingness to run sets up more downfield throwing opportunities. Hal Mumme’s philosophy for the Airraid was “throw the ball short to people who score.” I think Dana Holgorsen’s philosophy has been shortened to simply “score.” This makes sense, too, because there’s good evidence that it’s better to go for chunks of yardage — explosive pass plays — than to simply try and dink and dunk it down the field. Now, in the early days of the spread the dink and dunk was an exceptional strategy, because defenses were unprepared and five yard completions, through the miracle of yards-after-the-catch, often turned into ten- or twenty-yard gains, but now it’s not so easy. Thus, the ability to use aggressively schemed pass plays with misdirection — play-action, fake screens, action passes, etc — is the hallmark of the best passing offenses: Holgorsen’s, Gus Malzahn’s (Auburn), Chris Petersen’s (Boise), and Bobby Petrino’s (Arkansas).

Ultimately though, there are more similarities than differences and, as Holgorsen says (see the video clip below where he talks philosophy), the common thread unifying all the best “Airraid teams” is the way they practice: simple assignments, with specific, football focused drills that allow their players to get maximum repetitions. Many teams preach this but the Airraid guys have figured out to how make practice really work; and really, there is no other way to be successful than to start with how you practice.

3. Muschamp, boom. Florida has hired former LSU/Auburn/Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and I found out about it in much the same way as most of the national media did: because Tim Tebow tweeted it (apparently from the Heisman ceremony?):

This is a good, if risky, hire. The reality is if you’re hiring a new head coach you are essentially left with two types of candidates: the Nothing But Upside, Wow He’s Fiery/Smart/Personable, But He’s Never Been a Head Coach and the He Seems Fine and Has Head Coaching Experience But Why Is He Available? Occasionally a guy emerges who seems to have it all — like Urban Meyer when he went to Florida originally — but as we’ve seen problems can still emerge there and Florida didn’t exactly get to time it’s choice, as Meyer forced its hand.

How all this ends up is anyone’s guess — and a lot will depend on what kind of offensive staff Muschamp brings to Gainesville — but for now enjoy a couple of good Muschamp stories, courtesy of Chris Hatcher, who was head coach at Valdosta St. while Muschamp served as defensive coordinator (as told to Spencer Hall):

By the way, Chris Hatcher, once you catch him, is happy to tell stories about Muschamp, the new Texas defensive coordinator. There are a few. He once called Hatcher four hours after practice to rage about non-contact whistles costing his players sacks in practice. He also watched Muschamp coach a whole game wearing a makeshift turban made of athletic tape and a headset.

“Third game of our career. We’re playing Southern Arkansas, and we just signed a deal with CSS TV. We’re the first I-AA game they broadcast. I look down the sideline before the game, and a grad assistant is putting pre-wrap around Muschamp’s head. His headset had been smashed to pieces on the plane ride, and he had to find a way to keep his headset on, so he had it taped to his head. He looked like The Red Badge of Courage.”

Hatcher is laughing out loud as he says this, but wants me to make sure Muschamp gets the props, as well.

“Please include this in the article, though: He may the best football coach I’ve ever coached with. He has a knack for getting his kids to play so hard for him. The best, by far, at his job.”

Done. But just try to picture Muschamp without a tape turban this fall after reading that.

4. Quick hits.

– New Miami coach Al Golden works out to the Final Countdown.

Cam Newton does Letterman’s Top Ten.

Gus Malzahn deals the Commodore a blow.

Hunter S. Thompson, Conan O’Brien, guns and hard liquor. (h/t EDSBS.)

– Josh Heupel, former Mike Leach protégé and National Championship winning QB at Oklahoma, will be the new OU playcaller. Showing that the holy grail in college football right now appears to be the quest to get the success of Mike Leach’s offense without the baggage of Mike Leach with it.

The Times reviews a new book about Jim Thorpe. Key quote:

In contrast, and perhaps not surprisingly for the author of a highly praised biography of Burt Lancaster, who played Thorpe in the 1951 film “Jim Thorpe — All American,” the book’s second half, which covers Thorpe’s spotty film career, brims with life in its depiction of Hollywood during the 1930s and ’40s. Thorpe existed on the fringes of the studio system, trading on his name and playing mainly small roles as an Indian, but he was also not afraid of anonymous manual labor, as when he hired on with Standard Oil to paint things like gas stations and trucks. “Can’t keep the wife and the kids in food on ancient glory,” he told a sportswriter in 1930, when he was 42. …

…Drink and profligacy speeded his business failures and estranged him from his relatives. His plight wasn’t helped by the string of bars he invested in or was hired to appear at, like the Sports Club in Los Angeles, “a small, dimly lit bar and grill on a noise-ridden street,” as described by the journalist Al Stump, who produced what Buford calls “a haunting portrait” of the man: “He was weak, pliable, irresponsible and sometimes unruly, and he contributed to his own downfall.” He was also “the embodiment of this country’s eternal treatment of the vanishing Indian . . . under­paid, exploited, stripped of his medals, his records and his pride.”

  • Dubber

    “Having [RB Kendall Hunter] back there makes it easy to call plays, because you hand it to him, and he gets yards. Then if you’re not getting yards, there’s usually a pretty good reason for that.”

    This is so simple……..and so profound.

  • Jack Arute

    You really hate Miami, don’t you? Not only does the Al Golden hiring get zero analysis (while Muschamp-to-UF gets an entire numbered item to himself) you misattribute where he’s coaching now.

    Come on, Chris.

  • ged3

    Don’t DH and Leach treat pre-snap motion differently? My recollection is Leach doesn’t like it that much, while DH uses it as a major part of his game plan in an effort to create confusion in the defense.

  • Jack Arute: I fixed the school reference for Golden. I actually think it’s a good hire (subscribing to the, “If you can win at Temple…” philosophy), though I don’t know much about his schemes. I’m sure to learn more. I can also assure you I do not hate Miami.

  • ged3: I agree, that is another difference, though a less systematic one. Leach is very focused on giving his QB almost unlimited freedom at the line to check plays. If you do that you pretty much want to get lined up and see where they are (or ain’t). Shifts and motion however can be used to certain effects on the defense, though you want to plan your play rather than expect your QB to check post-shift.

  • Old South

    Clearly, Chris made a simple mistake on a coach no one’s ever heard of because he has an all-consuming hatred of Miami. Purdue and Miami are great rivals after all.

  • Shane Laake

    I wish someone would talk Leach into running the offense in Gainesville for big bucks. He can stay in the game, stay near Key West (well if some booster lets him borrow his plane–it’s a horrible drive from Gainesville), and avoid falling off of the face of the earth like Tommy Bowden or others who never got another shot. After couple years turning around the Gator offense and showing that air raid can win in the SEC with top talent, and he’ll get calls for major vacancies.

  • Dollar

    A lot being made of Dana Holgorson, and he has not a lot of track record to base that on.

    He had talent at Ok State, Weeden is not only a good athlete with skills, but he’s twenty-fricken-seven years old. Blackman will be a first round WR, and Kendall Hunter has been an exceptional RB at Ok State for all his career, when not injured. He’s tough to tackle, and many at Ok State find him a bare cut below Barry Sanders.

    Talent wise, Ok State has not been the Children of the Poor.

    To compare, not much is made of Kevin Wilson at OU, because its said that Wilson has OU’s talent to work with.

    Well, which is it ? Scheme or talent . Is that not always the $64 million question ?

  • Aarnout

    I know it’s only minor, but seeing as not a lot of coaches do this, isn’t it important to note that Holgorsen, like Leach, keeps his receivers on the same side of the field as much as possible. Leach believes this assures better route running from his receivers.
    Chris, do you know of any other coaches who do this, and if so, if they do it for other reasons than Leach?


  • Aarnout: All the airraid guys do this, and it is for the reason you state: They get better at doing one thing really, really well. It also flows from how they teach the offense, to reduce the learning by the receivers: Instead of teaching them “if you’re #2 in the formation, you run a post, but if you’re the third receiver from the sideline you run a flat, unless you’re a tight-end and then you run this…” they say, “If we call ‘Mesh,’ and you’re Z, you run a corner, period.” That way the coaches then can deal with the formationing — i.e. make sure Z runs his route from a spot where it makes sense, but otherwise Z can just really focus on running a good corner than thinking about where he is on the field. I think this is an exceptionally good teaching tool. I do think there’s a use in the other system, but only really for certain route concepts, like quicks/3-step. It really reduces the teaching.

    And the best example of this technique, other than from the Airraid guys, is probably the Indianapolis Colts, particularly in the mid-2000s heydays. Marvin Harrison basically always lined up to the right and Reggie Wayne always lined up t the left. They changed the formations by using one TE and 1 slot receiver or two TEs, and then moved those guys around.

  • Dollar: I like Kevin Wilson, and in fact I wrote a long piece for Yahoo! about him last season:

    I think he has a good shot to succeed at Indiana. He knows the Big 10 well, having been an assistant at Northwestern under Randy Walker, back when they were one of the pioneers of the no-huddle run-first spread now made famous by Chip Kelly and Gus Malzahn. He’s never been really a passing game guru — though he’s learned more and more, and has coached some very good passing games at OU. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Wilson’s status as “genius” is diluted by the fact that he’s had some very good players. It’s not a knock — it’s about wins — but that’s how it goes.

    And I agree that Holgorsen wound up having more talent than was expected, particularly with Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon, though Holgorsen is aided by the very low expectations and the underachieving nature of the squad last season.

    It’s a fickle thing, being king of the hill in these “who is the smarter coach” debates. Good ideas only stay ahead of the curve for so long (as evidenced by Layden’s book, mentioned in the subsequent post). I think if you ask most coaches, they are content to have had a good plan and to have taught their men well, and if you ask most fans, they just want a simple thing: wins.

  • Jim Urban

    Did anybody else notice that Holgorson’s voice sounds almost exactly like Leach?

  • Lynne

    Holgorsen loves the sport & will work to the best of his ability with his new team. He is a talented individual that strives for excellence. Just a note to jim’s 2 cents… Dana sounds just like his father. Here’s hoping he has many winning seasons ahead.