Smart Notes – Trick passes, Rich Rodriguez, Emory Bellard- 2/12/2011

This has already gone everywhere:

There are two lessons to this: (1) this kind of trickery doesn’t always translate well to actual playing time, and obviously playing quarterback requires a lot of skills beyond this sort of thing and (2) this is still great stuff, but, related to (1), the football being an extension of you is merely necessary rather than sufficient to be a great quarterback. You can see this latter point in basketball: if you ever visit an NBA or even college practice, you can see the players doing unreal things with the ball, but in a game, with the pressure on and defense, it’s much more difficult. That said, you can also take the lesson that it takes more than being able to throw a couple of nice passes in backyard football (or to hit a few shots at the local gym) to be great. The real thing is always harder than it looks.

Emory Bellard has passed away. Bellard, father of the wishbone (he wanted to call it the “Y” offense), was the original from-high-school-to-the-big-leagues-with-a-wacky-offense guy:

Bellard was on Darrell Royal’s staff at Texas in 1968 when the Longhorns developed a formation with three running backs that came to be known as the wishbone.

He coached at Texas high schools for more than two decades and won three state titles. His success landed him on the Texas staff, and while other assistants relaxed during the summer before the 1968 season, Bellard was busy trying to figure out a way to utilize a strong group of running backs after Texas endured three straight mediocre seasons.

Bellard’s idea was to put a third running back a yard behind the quarterback, flanked by two more running backs a few yards behind to form what looked like a “Y.” Quarterbacks had three options – hand off to the fullback, keep the ball or pitch to one of the other running backs.

Bellard’s insight was to take the Houston veer, which was already in place and working well, and to add the third back to make the formation symmetrical, so that the defense didn’t know which way the ball would go. Ironically, Bellard may have done more than anyone else to spread the offense (or any offense) by teaching it to then Oklahoma assistant Barry Switzer and Alabama legend Bear Bryant:

The other thing Campbell remembered was the way Bellard helped all callers in regards to the wishbone. Darrell Royal allowed it, even when it came to calls from Barry Switzer at Oklahoma.

“Emory wrote a book and I got a copy when I saw him last summer at a coaching clinic at San Angelo,” Campbell said. “He wrote how Darrell told him to help them all. One of the first who came to see about the wishbone was Bear Bryant. Darrell told Emory, ‘Give him everything we’ve got.’ I was always impressed by that. And Emory was gracious to everyone who came to see him.”

One of those was Hatfield.

“We took our defensive staff from Florida to A&M to see Emory,” Hatfield said. “We were playing Alabama and couldn’t stop the wishbone. We wanted to learn it. The funny thing about that, the day we got there to start spring practice, Emory had decided to tinker with it. They moved both halfbacks up in a dead-T much closer to the line. He just always was looking for a new advantage. That lasted about one week and they scrapped that.”

That’s what Campbell remembers, too.

“You’d go in his office and he’d be drawing plays, smoking that pipe, looking for a new play, a new formation, a new way to do something,” Campbell said. “He loved that. And he always drew on draft paper. He wanted to know how many steps apart the linemen’s splits were, how far back the linebackers were, the exact spacing of every player on the field. To do that, he drew on draft paper. He was exact.”

Switzer said the wishbone saved their jobs at Oklahoma.

“We had Jack Mildren and great players around him, but we couldn’t get them all on the field,” Switzer said. “We couldn’t get Greg Pruitt on the field. He was a wide receiver. The wishbone got them all out there in the same backfield. We were about to get our butts fired before we went to it.

“I remember getting a call when Emory put it in at Texas. One of our alums in Austin called us and he said, ‘You aren’t going to believe what they are doing at Texas. It’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. They’ve lost their minds.’ Well, when I saw it, I recognized immediately that it was fantastic. I argued for it in the spring before we finally did it that next fall during the open date. We were wallowing around 1-3 when we did it.”

As for Bellard’s help, Switzer will be eternally grateful.

“He didn’t have to help us,” Switzer said. “That offseason, Chuck (Fairbanks) called Darrell and he gave us permission to call Emory. And Emory answered all of our questions on the phone, all of them.”

Rich Rodriguez: Did he make progress? Rich Rodriguez keeps saying that he was making progress at Michigan and he keeps, rightfully, being taken to task for it. What is this about? To me it’s simple: Rich Rodriguez never fully embraced being a head coach; he always thought of himself as offensive coordinator. And the stats make it pretty clear that he did, in fact, make lots of progress on offense. But everyone outside the program knows that it is not enough, and anytime your defense goes from standard-Michigan-defense (even slightly substandard) to whatever was on the field the last couple of years, no person in their right mind can label that progress, Denard Robinson’s brilliance be damned. Now, it’s possible to be offensive coordinator as head coach — Bill Walsh was essentially that, and Chip Kelly is doing a great job of it now — but it’s not easy and you absolutely have to have the right people around you and you have to trust them. It’s obvious there was a breakdown there at Michigan. If I’m looking to hire Rich Rodriguez to be a head coach (which I think can still be a great idea), I’d like him to admit his mistakes first.

  • pk

    Chris,

    Rich’s defenses at Michigan were obviously awful. But isn’t it safe to say that next year’s defense would probably be markedly improved with all the youth on the field and the injuries that were sustained this past year? They went 7-5 with possibly the worst defense in the history of college football. Many of those defensive players were freshmen that now have valuable experience. The common retort to that is, ‘Well, the defense may have been young but the offense didn’t produce in big games against tough teams.’ The best players on their offense were sophomores, and they were very close to finally picking up their Steve Slaton this year – that is, until Dave Brandon hung Rod out to dry for the entire month of December. There’s absolutely no question in my mind that Michigan would be in the good to very good range in 2011. And I’m not even a Wolverine fan.

    I’m surprised to see you ask the “progress” question. Michigan knew what they were getting when they hired him. I know 3-9 to 7-6 isn’t the type of ‘progress’ Michigan was looking for. But is it worse than losing to App State? By giving Rich Rod only three years, Michigan is well on its way to becoming the new Notre Dame – delusional fans, unrealistic expectations, and pathetic nostalgia for time period that’s long gone.

  • Chris

    pk: It’s a tough situation. On offense, I totally agree with you and think Rich Rod’s reputation should remain intact. Even with the knock against the offense in “big games,” if you sort Michigan’s stats and limit it to conference opponents, winning opponents, ranked opponents, and away games the offense is still #1 or #2 in the Big 10 in the major categories (scoring, yards, yards per play, etc).

    I guess what gets me is that, while he clearly has a plan for the offense and stuck to it, he did not have one for the defense, as he cycled through defensive coordinators, professing to give them leeway while imposing on them defenses they didn’t know or use. It was just weird. I think a lot of that was inspired by the fact that his offense was coming along and he knew he was in the hotseat, but he didn’t have his plan down. When Saban looks for an offensive coordinator he both looks for fit (pro-style, etc) and someone he can coach but also someone he can legitimately hand things off to. That’s one reason he got rid of Applewhite after the first season. It’s a tricky balance and I don’t think it’s unfair to say that he didn’t do an effective job building his team, overall.

    Also, I hate to give too much weight to one game, but I think RichRod was completely safe (unless Jim Harbaugh said he desperately wanted to coach Michigan) until the bowl game debacle — and Mississippi State was not a *great* team last season.

    I do agree with you that the new coach is stepping into a better situation than what RichRod stepped into, but he knew what he was doing when he signed up. He said he thought Michigan had enough talent that you just sort of automatically won at least eight games, and he found out that wasn’t true.

    In any event, I like Rich Rodriguez a lot and think he’s a good guy and a good coach, who let the situation get away from him. As I’ve said, sometimes you have to fail to succeed, with Bill Belichick being the best example of that. Hopefully Rich does some soul searching as I think he can take over another program and very quickly have a lot of success with them.

  • Hemlock

    Chris,

    I agree to some extent with you take RichRod at Michigan, but I think that one cannot overlook the extent to which he gutted the program by design when he came in. I think he really believed that he was going to get at least five years. After talking with folks that I know that were there with him, he told the AD when he was hired exactly what he was going to do, which says to me that Michigan had to have known what they were in for. The fact is, Lloyd Carr recruited quite poorly during his last four years at Michigan.

    So, basically what I’m saying is that I think that Rich’s failure had way more to do with culture than anything else. Yes, the defense was an abomination, and I agree that he panicked, especially when he hired Gregg Robinson, a great defensive mind, but not a guy geared to coaching froshs and sophmores. When I watched UM play D this year I sensed that GRob threw his entire package at them, which explains all of the botched assignments. Would have been a bit different if he had them play Field Cover 3 every snap.

  • Rich ought to keep it zipped

    There is NO WAY that Hoke is walking into a better situation than the one that Carr handed off to Rodriguez. If Rich had done what great coaches do — build around the talent they have — he could’ve retained Mallett and possibly Arrington and/or Manningham and had a good offense in 2008 to go with a good, talented defense that held Utah to 3 points in the second half of their game and 25 points overall (the Utes’ lowest output that season). Instead, Rich didn’t deign to “re-recruit” any of the talent on the roster and fawned all over T. Pryor. Although Carr’s recruiting classes in 2005 and 2007 (on defense, especially) turned out to be big busts, there was still more talent on the roster then than now.

    The canard that “the 2010 defense was young, they played a lot of underclassmen who will only get better, right?” is bunk. As Chris Spielman accurately pointed out, these kids are just not good, Michigan caliber football players. They’re the kind of kids that used to show up on Indiana’s roster. Anyone who is excited about the prospect of Ray Vinopal, Carvin Johnson, et al. starting another three years couldn’t find cover two with a flashlight and a map.

    Simply put, Michigan’s defense is a disaster. Rich’s staff didn’t recruit defense and couldn’t develop what little talent they did bring in. It will take Hoke and his staff years to catch up to the Iowas, Wisconsins, and Penn States — let alone OSU. This is a huge contrast to the 2008 defense that featured Terence Taylor, Donovan Warren, Brandon Graham, Tim Jamison, et al.

    On offense, 2011 offense will have talent. But they still lack real talent or depth at RB, TE, or (despite Rich’s fondness for diminutive slots) WR. And thanks to Rich Rod’s overall lack of organization in all things (especially recruiting) and the “shotgun”, “let’s recruit 6 OLs this year and 1 next, 3 safeties this year and none for a decade” approach to recruiting, Michigan’s recruiting needs are desperate at nearly every position — even at QB and OL where they do, admittedly, have decent to good talent.

    Finally, Rich tubed Michigan’s once stellar relationships with HS coaches in Michigan and Ohio. He did so both by virtue of his failure to embrace the class and elan that has marked Michigan coaching staffs since Fritz Crisler strode the sidelines and by telling coaches in those states that they’d be lucky if Michigan deigned to recruit their players. All so Rich and his staff (the two or three who DID travel to recruit) could hop on planes and fly to the uber-recruited talent fields of Florida.

    That’s genius for you. A guy ignores a century of tradition and great football players in his own back yard — kids who can DRIVE to campus — in favor of kids who you have to fly to see. Kids who think cold weather is a novelty and a pain. Kids whose parents have to fly every week to see them play.

    Yes, that’s genius. As a Michigan fan, I hope desperately that we never hire another genius in our lifetime.

    There are people at Michigan who have to wade through the crap Rich. It just isn’t you. It’s the new staff who’s going to have to work their tails off for half a decade to clean up the mess you left. And Michigan fans holding their noses at the bovine excrement that laces your never-ending, I’m the victim excuses.

  • DoubleB

    I am amazed at the number of Michigan fans who want to give Rodriguez a complete pass for his past 3 years. It’s the staid Michigan athletic culture, the Detroit Free Press “trumped up” accusations, Lloyd Carr’s recruiting (which averaged a Top 10 class according to Rivals his last 4 years), and god knows what else.

    He was the football coach at one of the premier programs and brands in the country and produced exactly one thing that matched that high level: the 2010 Michigan offense.

    Did anyone project anything close to this when he was hired? Did anyone think the program would sink like a stone upon his arrival because of any of the above reasons (the Free Press stuff notwithstanding)? Of course not. They are all “after the fact” excuses.

    A commenter above mentioned the loss to Appalachian State in 2007. That team went on to win their 2nd straight FCS title. The 2010 Michigan team beat a UMass team at home by 5–a team that went on to go 4-4 in the CAA and miss the playoffs entirely. It may not be a loss, but it certainly isn’t “progress” from the 9-4 year in 2007 that included the loss to Appalachian State.

  • http://www.shakinthesouthland.com DrB

    I for one predicted RichRod would stub his toe badly at Michigan because the players there don’t suit that scheme at all.

    I never felt that his defense would be so abysmal, and in recruiting defensive players he got his ass kicked.

  • Frank

    Yes, RR’s offense showed improvement, but most of the spectacular play was limited to teams not of Big Ten caliber. Couple that with the fact that Forcier his freshman year, and Robinson last year, were both banged up for most of the season, makes you wonder just how viable the offense would really would be going forward.

    RR’s offense is too one-dimensional for Big Ten play, relying too much on the “ideal” quarterback who must stay healthy.

    RR was an experiment that failed at Michigan, due in large part to the man himself. The only good thing remaining from his tenure (besides Denard Robinson) is the expectation that future Michigan offenses be more innovative and explosive than those under Bo and Carr.

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  • robc

    3 wins to 5 wins to 7 wins.

    Looks like improvement to me. I dont think the strength of schedule changed that dramatically.

    Im a big believer in giving any coach 4 years unless he destroys the program (Kragthorpe). And that trend doesnt look like a program destroyed. My experience led me to this, I started at Ga Tech the same year as Bobby Ross. Win totals were 2,3,7,11 (and MNC) in my 4 years as an undergrad. If he had been fired after winning 7 with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores in 1989, then the amazing 1990 season wouldnt have happened – the coaches thought 1991 was going to be the year, but it came a year earlier than they thought.

    Those 1987 and 1988 teams were well worse than Michigan, those 5 wins included 4 over 1-AA teams. And 0-fer both years in ACC play.

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