Before Mike Leach or Dana Holgorsen, there was John Jenkins of run-and-shoot fame as maybe the original air-it-out southwest mad scientist (other than Dutch Meyer of TCU, of course). Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what Houston was doing on offense was heresy, particularly the way they did it: by slaughtering foes with outrageous scores and stats whenever possible. Indeed, Jenkins was putting up “video game statistics” — 700 yard passing games, 80 or 90 points — before football video games could even keep those kinds of statistics. And then of course, aside from his outrageous offense, there was simply the outrageous man. From a famous SI profile at the time:
“Hey, Hoss, the main reason people play football is for fun, and this offense is fun,” [former Houston Cougars coach John] Jenkins says. “All it is, is throwing and catching. Our guys are out there all summer practicing throwing and catching. Can you imagine players in the wishbone wanting to go out and practice in 100-degree heat? What do they say, ‘Hey, Hoss, let’s go out and block each other. You hurt me, then I’ll bust you!’ ”
. . . Last December, when Houston ended its 10-1 season by devastating Arizona State 62-45 in the Tokyo Dome, Cougar quarterback David Klingler set an NCAA single-game record by passing for 716 yards. Only he didn’t know he was nearing the record until somebody on the sideline mentioned it. “It was Jenkins,” Klingler said later. “He kept trying to find out what [yardage] I had.” In the postseason Blue-Gray game, Jenkins installed the run-and-shoot for the Gray team and then used a megaphone to shout out the plays. “That wasn’t right,” said an opposing coach. “In games like that you should run offenses…that both teams will understand.”
It is the numbers—especially the outrageously lopsided scores that his offense has engendered — that have bathed Jenkins in so much scalding acid. Scores like 60-0, 82-28, 66-15, 69-0, 65-7, 66-10 and 64-0 have become commonplace in the Houston record book since 1987, when Jenkins became the offensive coordinator under coach Jack Pardee….
Jenkins does not claim to have invented the offense, by the way, only to have expanded it…. “Everything’s similar, but different,” Jenkins says. “We’re more advanced, more complex. Tinkering with this deal, messing with it in my head, the possibilities through the avenues in the air are so unlimited it’s scary.”
Jenkins actually converses in this hip-poetic, mad-scientist fashion, and he really does believe he has come upon the secret of the football universe—”like NASA discovering some new solar system,” he says. “Other teams are crawling, we’re flying.”
Paranoid — isn’t every coach? — about revealing the intimate details of his offense, Jenkins lectures at clinics only on fundamentals, prohibits other college coaches from watching his practices and keeps a shredder over his office wastebasket, the better to keep the eyes of spies from the 350-page workbooks he issues to Houston’s skill-position players every week. “Do IBM and Xerox share their policies so some competitor can come in later and kick their butts?” says Jenkins.
Tony Fitzpatrick, a Houston assistant coach who played for the Gamblers when both Davis and Jenkins were assistant coaches there, says, “Jenks is so far ahead of everybody else, it’s a joke. Mouse comes in here now, looks at our films and even he doesn’t understand them. Spreading the field? Mouse had [the Gamblers'] slot guys split arm’s length from the tackles. Jenks would have them start their routes over by the Gatorade carts if he could.”
As the video clips above and below show, what Jenkins was doing in 1992 looks a lot like what teams are doing only now, almost twenty years later.
Observe the way Jenkins approaches playcalling when he’s backed up near his own end zone (extremely aggressive) and when he can smell the opposing end zone (also aggressive). He had one gear: go. Similarly, the actual route structures they used are as modern as anything else used now. The one thing I quibble with here is the half-roll protection. Jenkins liked the half-roll — and the run and shoot was built on it — because it affected the way the safeties played and helped them manipulate coverages. But just watching it you get the feeling that every pass play was a bit of a fire drill with the quarterback having to be a good athlete just to get the ball out. The modern approach to protections is clearly an improvement.
This revisit to Jenkins’s offense is inspired by this recent bit from the Coach Huey site. One gem:
2×2 Choice — “Choice Even” — keeps the same route structure as base Choice from 3×1. Instead of backside #3 running the drag/cross, he will run a whip as the frontside #2. Puts him in roughly the same position he would be if he was coming across the field from 3×1. You must control the interior short defender so you get a true 1-v-1 vs. the CB.
In terms of adjusting routes, Jenkins started teaching reading leverage, and Jones has continued that trend, rather than identifying and categorizing coverage. Essentially, you are teaching each guy to read their portion of the coverage. Yes, you still get indicators from shells and rotation, but I can make a much faster decision if I am only concerned about my portion of the coverage rather than the entire coverage structure. A side benefit to this is the ability to correctly diagnose split-field coverages (i.e., TCU) and attack them correctly.
Good stuff. Here’s some additional reading material:
- Smartfootball: Run and Shoot Series Part 1: Intro
- Smartfootball: Run and Shoot Series Part 2: Seam Read and “Go”
- Smartfootball: Run and Shoot Series Part 3: The “Choice”
- Smartfootball: Run and Shoot Series Part 4: The “Streak”
- John Jenkins’s Houston Gamblers (USFL) QB Manual — A must read.
The best part of that QB manual is it captures Jenkins’s inimitable and indomitable personality: Every other line is about how if they do this or that, they’ll “shred” the defense. And then a bunch of his examples diagramming successful plays looks more like a fanboy showing how great his schemes worked. But that’s Jenkins. These kinds of stories don’t always end well — it certainly didn’t for Jenkins — but it’s fun while it lasts.