To watch Chan Gailey’s post-firing statement to the press in its entirety, click here:
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – “BUILDING A LEGACY.”
That’s the foot-high, wall-long message adorning a hallway that leads to the Buffalo Bills’ indoor practice field.
In reality, the message should read, “PERPETUALLY REBUILDING A LEGACY FROM SCRATCH.”
The sad-sack NFL franchise whacked yet another head coach on Monday, following another short, failed stint of a man not quite up to the job.
Chan Gailey is gone. So are all 18 of his assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt(right, with Gailey, in June.)
Who could be surprised?
The Bills fire a head coach about every three years here – almost as reliably as a periodical insect infestation.
You can’t make this up:
Gailey’s three-year record (16-32, .333) was worse than his predecessor Dick Jauron’s four-year record (27-37, .422), which was worse than his predecessor Mike Mularkey’s two-year record (14-18, .438), which was only marginally better than his predecessor Gregg Williams’ three-year record (17-31, .354) – all of whom haven’t come close to matching the 29-19 record (.604) of Wade Phillips – who was fired for not winning enough.
Phillips was the last head coach to take the Bills to the playoffs, after the 1999 season. Buffalo’s 13-year drought since is the longest in the NFL.
To be fair, standards and expectations in Buffalo were much higher when owner Ralph Wilson whacked Wade – the residue of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early ’90s.
Not one molecule of that residue remains. Well, other than some framed tributes on the hallway walls within One Bills Drive.
Expectations are lower now. Much.
Hell, if the next coach goes .500 after the three years he’s almost sure to get a fourth. A playoff berth might even warrant a parade, similar to the one that success-starved Torontonians put on for the Maple Leafs merely for reaching the Campbell Conference finals in 1993.
Gailey is a nice guy who knows offensive football forward and backward. And he worked his ass off to turn the club around, as defensive tackle Kyle Williams pointed out in praising Gailey moments after the news broke:
“There’s not been anybody else up here spending 100 hours a week trying to help me win, or make me a better football player,” Williams said.
Yet as Gailey himself told reporters in a brief, classy statement on Monday, it’s a production business. And he didn’t produce much other than more burst hope, more failed expectations.
Gailey’s Bills won only four of 24 games against teams that finished .500 or better, lost 14 of 18 games against their AFC East rivals, and were 5-19 on the road.
Beyond such statistics, while his pass-centric offence was creative schematically and earned public praise from such defensive-minded NFL head coaches as Pete Carroll, Rex Ryan and Jeff Fisher, it was how Gailey misused personnel, called plays in the crunch and continually relied too much on a clearly struggling Ryan Fitzpatrick that drove everybody nuts.
This certainly is no shot at C.J. Spiller, but that the running back was still averaging more than six yards yards per carry entering Week 17 said only one thing – that Gailey wasn’t using him enough.
At one point a few weeks ago, Spiller was averaging a run of 20+ yards every 13 carries; but he averaged only 11 carries a game. Go figure.
For Bills fans, one of the most depressing things about a season that had contained so much hope four months ago is that it was all there for the taking. Outside of a few teams the AFC was terrible this year, and the Bills had more tomato cans on their schedule than most.
Yet the only clubs the Bills could defeat were ones of their own ilk, or worse – Kansas City (2-14), Cleveland (5-11), Arizona (5-11), Miami (7-9), Jacksonville (2-14) and the New York Jets (6-10).
In 2013 Buffalo’s schedule – by NFL rotation – is considerably more difficult. Four playoff teams visit: New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Atlanta, compared to only one this year, New England. And the Bills play at Pittsburgh, New Orleans and improving Tampa Bay.
But, even here, with a new head coach comes renewed hope.
Kinda like those huge blow-up Santas we see on lawns every December.
Shrinking the club’s requisite three-year cycle into 24 hours, the Bills reinflate hope and expectations to bulging capacity in the morning. Merry Christmas!
Then, inevitably, by dusk all the air has gone pffffft – leaving a rumpled, repulsive, rubber clump of nothing.
But by the next morning, someone has pumped it full again.
The Buffalo Bills fired head coach Chan Gailey just before 11 a.m. EST on Monday. (*my photo, right, taken Dec. 12)
Half an hour later, Gailey said this to reporters, without taking questions:
“A couple things.
“One … The staff has been relieved of their duties as well, so we all get that straight.
“The second thing, there won’t be any questions after this. I’ve just got a few things I want to say, then we’ll be done.
“The first thing I want to say is thanks to the Bills organization – to Buddy (Nix) and Mr. (Ralph) Wilson for the opportunity. I understand this is a business. We didn’t get the job done. I’ve been called two other times to get things turned around, was able to do it. We didn’t get this one done soon enough. I understand that completely.
“I want to thank the fans – great Buffalo fans, great football town. These are loyal, loyal fans and I understand that.
“I think that the next staff will have a great opportunity for success and to make this another great football franchise.
“This will probably be – and I say probably, but I think it will be – the first placed that’s ever fired me that I pull for.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It has come to this for poor Tim Tebow.
The most celebrated, written-about benchwarmer in NFL history had hoped to befuddle NFL defences this season as a feared, second-offence wildcat specialist with the New York Jets.
Instead, he barely played at all. And had almost no impact.
Tebow’s hollow 2012 season could not have ended more inconsequentially on Sunday, when he saw the field for one play – on which he merely handed off for a two-yard gain out of the wildcat – in the second quarter of a 28-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
That’s quite the come-down from his out-of-the-blue playoff run 12 months ago in Denver, when he led the Broncos into the second round of the playoffs and became a pop-culture superstar.
Tebow is still Tebow, though. And he knows it.
And he milks it for what it is as best he can.
Thus, while trudging toward the Jets team bus about an hour after Sunday’s loss, he noticed about three dozen fans atop a hill outside Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Tebow climbed the 50 or so steps and allowed himself to be swarmed. He posed for smart-phone pictures, accepted pats on the back and signed some autographs. (That’s my photo, above.)
That, right there, has become his only usefulness as an NFL quarterback.
From over-achieving left-hander to over-pleasing glad-hander.
Minutes earlier, in an overcrowded Jets locker room, Tebow gamely tried to mask his disappointment while offering some desultory words to the press.
“Well, this year has had its ups and downs,” Tebow said. “Obviously you wouldn’t have liked to end on this note.”
How was the season personally for him? he was asked.
“I think you have to take a few days to take it all in and look at the season …”
Does he expect to return to the Jets next year, what with all the speculation that his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars are anxious to acquire him?
“I’m not sure. Like I said, I’ll take a few days to just let everything sink in from the season and see from there.”
Did this season set his career back?
After all, he could always become a celebrity greeter in Vegas.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Pregame th0ughts, notes and observations before the Carnival (Bills) play the Circus (Jets).
For starters, cue the appropos soundtrack:
– Sunshine, wind, and c-c-cold greet the players for warmups.
– Tons (probably literally) of snow still on seats, especially in upper decks. But workers for past couple of hours were working diligently to clear out as much as possible.
– Mark Sanchez, who gets the start for Jets, was with He Who Shall Always Be Named In A Jets Story on the field at about 10 am EST. The latter, Tebow, was already in workout togs. Sanchez was in shirt, tie and overcoat. Both appeared to be making precise calculations in gauging the wind. So instead of “chuck it up wildly, in the vicinity” it’ll be “chuck it up wildly, in the area.”
– Busiest part of game day for Rian Lindell taking place right now (11:50) — pregame warmup kicks.
– Chan Gailey walks onto Ralph Wilson Stadium field at 12:05 pm … for the last time?
Behind a them’s-the-breaks headshake and a firm handshake, that’s essentially what a bunch of NFL franchises will be saying to their face-of-the-franchise millionaires – starting on Monday.
All the bromides will be said … It’s not personal, just business. Things just didn’t work out. Appreciate all your hard work. But those hounding bastards in the press didn’t give us any other option.
Among those about to pay a visit to Helen down the hall in HR are failed head coaches, failed coordinators, failed GMs and – soon enough – failed starting quarterbacks.
Reports suggest anywhere from five to 13 head coaches will be shown the door in the days ahead. As a result, dozens of their assistant coaches will pack up and uproot their families, too. Happy New Year.
The doomed quarterback under-performers probably won’t learn their fates until February or March – just before teams have to commit however many more guaranteed millions to them.
Here’s who we think are likeliest to sing their swan songs (above right … er, maybe that’s a different Swan Song) at their current NFL stops only hours from now:
ANDY REID, Philadelphia Eagles. For more than two months, Reid (my camp photo, right)has been the lamest duck since Daffy tried to convince Elmer Fudd it wuth wabbit season. Six NFC East titles, nine playoff appearances and five NFC title-game appearances – all things of the past in the 14-year Reid regime. Philly is 4-11 this year, and 12-19 over the past two seasons. Reid’s dispirited, mistake-ridden team was expected to compete both last year and this for the Super Bowl, but never got close. This year’s Eagles are tied for the worst record in the NFC. A fresh start is required for all.
NORV TURNER, San Diego Chargers. Turner himself has already admitted he’d be content merely to be an offensive coordinator elsewhere next season. And that’s likely his next landing spot – soon. San Diego is Turner’s third failure as NFL head coach, after previous thuds in Washington and Oakland. At age 60, a fourth chance is unlikely. Turner appears to have made peace with that fate.
ROMEO CRENNEL, Kansas City Chiefs. How does a team with five Pro Bowlers wind up 2-13 heading into Week 17, likely to land the No. 1 overall draft pick next April? By being terribly coached – full empathies notwithstanding for what Crennel personally endured in the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide tragedy. On the field, Crennel’s offence behind QBs Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn has reeked. And the defence – supposedly Crennel’s specialty – massively underperformed.
MIKE MUNCHAK, Tennessee Titans. After a pair of humiliating blowout losses, owner Bud Adams described his Titans’ play this season as “embarrassing,” “not acceptable,” and “in my 50 years of owning an NFL franchise, I’m at a loss to recall … such a disappointment for myself and fans of the Titans. We were grossly outcoached and outplayed from start to finish.” That about covers it. The second such loss was just last Sunday. Munchak’s only argument is that he’s only in Year 2.
PAT SHURMUR, Cleveland Browns. New owner. New top football man. Ergo, new head coach. Shurmur actually has done an admirable job. He’s had to work with the youngest, greenest roster in the NFL this year. The Browns broke camp with 26 first- or second-year players on the 53-man roster, and that number now stands at 27. Yet since late October, the Browns are 4-4. The 47-year-old Shurmur deserves another head-coaching gig some day.
TONY SPARANO, offence, New York Jets. Can you think of any measure by which Sparano’s first year in New York has been anything but a complete failure? Me either. Talent shortages abound, sure. But he made Mark Sanchez worse, not better. And Sparano remains the only human with a clue as to both what he was trying to accomplish with Tim Tebow, and why he chose the times he did to insert him.
MIKE TICE, offence, Chicago Bears. Quarterback Jay Cutler was only speaking for virtually all Bears fans when he cold-shouldered Tice for all the world to see after another non-sensical series of play calls this season. If Cutler is at his wit’s end, head coach Lovie Smith probably is too.
SCOTT LINEHAN, offence, Detroit Lions. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is head-strong and unpredictable enough to retain Linehan, if only to defy his quickly growing and evermore vocal critics among media and fans. But even when Linehan had healthy WRs besides Megatron to work with this season, the Lions passing attack hiccupped at all the wrong times, especially in the red zone.
DAVE WANNSTEDT, defence, Buffalo Bills. (Above, my camp photo). A defence that had one of the league’s best playmaking safeties (Jairus Byrd) and an all-pro calibre defensive tackle (Kyle Williams) added one of the top rookie cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore) and a $100-million pass-rush specialist (DE Mario Williams). And he reinstalled the 4-3 scheme that all defenders were more comfortable with. Yet the Bills defence remains among the NFL’s most putrid, statistically and otherwise. The late-season flourish occurred against struggling offensive units of mostly bad teams. Even if GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey are retained – and in our view, either both will be retained or both will be fired – Wannstedt is the scapegoat who’ll be axed.
A.J. SMITH, San Diego. As with head coach Norv Turner, his firing is a mere formality on Monday or Tuesday. Smith barely survived after last season. He won’t be so fortunate this time. He threw all his chips into one wagon and hitched it to Turner.
SCOTT PIOLI, Kansas City. Unless you’ve listened to Kansas City sports radio on Mondays this season, you have no idea just how much the locals despise this man and the job he has done since 2009. In only four years, Pioli is 0-for-2 on head coaches (Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel), and o-fer on all QBs (Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Kyle Orton …).
MIKE TANNENBAUM, New York Jets. The Jets have a dearth of talent only at these positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive line, linebacker, safety. Exacty. This year’s draft was a bust, too, as the first two picks – DL Quinton Coples and WR Stephen Hill – have been low-to-no-impact players. The fate-sealers: extending Mark Sanchez’s contract, and trading for Tim Tebow.
MARK SANCHEZ, New York Jets. With the exception of a solid Week 1 performance against a bad Buffalo defence, Sanchez has been awful – a 64.0 passer rating from completing just 53.7% of his passes for 10 TDs and 16 interceptions. Sanchez is the 33rd rated passer in a 32-team league. Done.
TIM TEBOW, New York Jets. Perhaps only Tom Cruise at the Oscars has been passed over more times than the Sunday-school poster-boy was this fall. When Rex Ryan finally had had enough of Sanchez after Week 15, he gave the ball to greenhorn Greg McElroy instead. Jacksonville beckons.
BLAINE GABBERT, Jacksonville Jaguars. Even before he’d hurt his shoulder, and even before Maurice Jones-Drew went down for the year with a nasty foot injury, the second-year Gabbert was firing blanks – left, right, centre, deep and short. Whether or not the Jags cut him, it’s hard to see him serving as anything but an emergency backup, anywhere.
RYAN FITZPATRICK, Buffalo Bills. There’s a lot to admire in this Harvard grad. Works his tail off. Great team player. Great in the community. Fitz just isn’t very good at football at the NFL level. That’s a detriment. He has milked every ounce of talent from his not-so-talented body. His biggest failing? A weak arm combined with shoddy mechanics that render him unlikely to complete deep balls. And everyone knows it.
MICHAEL VICK, Philadelphia Eagles. (my camp photo, right). Turnover machines who are 33 years old – as Vick will be next summer – either start for bad teams, or do the ball-cap/hand-clap thing on the sidelines for good teams. Ten years ago Vick would have been a breathtaking candidate to run one of the newfangled zone-read-option based attacks. Now, he’d just get hurt even sooner.
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We’ll spare you repeat reasons for the rest. You know why they’re listed here. They suck:
Matt Cassell, Kansas City
Brady Quinn, Kansas City
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders
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THREE HOT-SEAT COACHES LIKELY TO SURVIVE:
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers. After a 1-6 start that cost GM Marty Hurney his job, Rivera has guided the Panthers to five wins in eight games, including a defeat of Atlanta.
Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions(my camp photo, right). His team wildly under-performed in 2012, and might be the NFC’s worst. But he did take over an 0-16 team after 2008. Will be given another chance to right the ship. Adding a shard of discipline wouldn’t hurt.
Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders. Year 1 of the attitudinal about-face in Oakland was disastrous. Allen should get at least one more year to transform the Raiders into the disciplined, defence-first team he envisions.
If futility in the NFL can be defined as finishing in the bottom half of your division with a losing record, then consider the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills.
Only once since the current divisions were ordered in 2002 have the Steelers finished third or worse in the AFC North, and with a losing record. That was in 2003, when Pittsburgh went 6-10 and finished third behind Baltimore and Cincinnati.
It will happen again if the Steelers lose at home in their season finale to the Cleveland Browns. Third place is in stone for Pittsburgh; the losing record is not. With a win Pittsburgh would get to 8-8.
By contrast, only twice since 2002 has Buffalo NOT finished third or worse in the AFC East with a losing record.
One time was in 2004, when the Bills finished third but went 9-7, the other was in 2007, when Buffalo’s losing record (7-9) was enough to place them second, ahead of both the Jets (4-12) and Dolphins (1-15).
No matter what happens Sunday in their 2012 finale against the visiting Jets, the Bills are guaranteed to finish either last or tied for last in the AFC East, with a 6-10, 5-10-1 or 5-11 record.
OPTION FINALLY AN OPTION IN NFL, AS BARRY SWITZER ALWAYS ARGUED
If you’ve closely followed American football for three-plus decades, you’ve probably heard Barry Switzer sing the praises of the option offence at one time or another.
Ya know, the college-style schemes predicated on the quarterback running, with the option to give or fake to a running back – either by pitchback or handoff.
Switzer was head coach of the University of Oklahoma Sooner juggernauts that ran it down everybody’s throats from the Wishbone in the 1970s and ’80s. That was before he became the most recent man to coach the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl title, in 1995.
Switzer always has said the option attack could work in the NFL.
Finally, it is.
With the NFL’s new wave of dual-threat quarterbacks ripping off big gainers and dazzling touchdowns on option plays this season, we caught up by phone with Switzer this week.
He’s now age 75, living out his years as the resident legend in Norman, Okla.
“The option is the No. 1 play in football,” Switzer told me. “More long runs are made on the perimeter of defences with the option than any other play in football.
“That’s my life, that’s my playbook.”
Switzer has been saying as much since the ’70s, and no one in the NFL ever believed him. Because no NFL coach ever wanted to subject a quarterback to the pounding.
Switzer had his own chance to implement the option in the mid 1990s, when Jerry Jones hired him – five years after his brilliant 16-year run ended at Oklahoma – to replace Jimmy Johnson as head coach of the Cowboys. But, hey, with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Co. on offence, resorting to the option wasn’t remotely an option.
Nor was it anywhere else in the NFL all through those years.
Times have changed.
Of the all the rookie and second-year quarterbacks starting in the NFL this season (Greg McElroy of the New York Jets will become the 16th on Sunday against San Diego), several were dynamic dual-threat stars back in college, where they ran a lot of option.
Surprisingly, their NFL offensive coordinators are designing run-first plays for them as pros. Even option plays.
Washington’s Robert Griffin III leads the pack, but San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Carolina’s Cam Newton have shown they can be every bit as dangerous and exciting as RG3 once they get around a corner with the ball in their hands.
“They’ve used Robert Griffin to make plays, using the read-option and stuff like that,” Switzer said. “They’ve done some interesting things with him – all to put him on the corner.”
Switzer makes the clarification that he has never advocated running an option offence lock, stock and barrel in the NFL.
“You don’t run it every down,” Switzer said. “You don’t run it every series. But it has its place.
“In pro football, you’re going to win with the passing game. They’re going to recruit the prototype thrower, and they’re not gonna pay a guy a lot of money to be a damn option quarterback.”
That’s a crucial point.
RG3 is an awe-inspiring runner – fast, instinctive, great feet. But that isn’t why he was the No. 2 overall draft pick in April; rather, it’s because he’s an incredibly gifted and accurate passer, in the pocket and on the run.
Same with Newton the year before, Carolina’s No. 1 overall draft pick.
And it’s the same reason why Wilson supplanted Matt Flynn at Seattle’s training camp, and why Kaepernick unseated Alex Smith last month in San Franciscso.
By contrast, even the best option quarterbacks in Switzer’s college heyday don’t remotely compare as passers. While their acumen in the highly complex and nuanced triple-option game was beyond impressive, few option quarterbacks ever passed their teams to victory from a big deficit.
The passing stats of Wishbone (especially) and Option-I quarterbacks in the 1970s and early ’80s were as atrocious by today’s standards as they were paltry. To be fair, many of their infrequent pass attempts were low-odds deep shots to loosen up defences.
Take J.C. Watts.
He was Switzer’s quarterback in 1979 and 1980 at Oklahoma, before playing six years in the CFL for Ottawa and Toronto, and before becoming an influential Republican politician in the States. Watt never attempted more than 81 passes in an entire season – 12 games! And he never completed 50% of those passes. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio was 8-to-19.
The option-I quarterbacks were usually a bit better.
Rick Leach – before he played pro baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays – was a four-year starter at Michigan. He finished 14th, eighth and third in Heisman Trophy balloting from 1976-78. He was the first player in NCAA history to account for as many as 82 touchdowns passing and running.
Yet Leach completed fewer than 50% of his career passes, and almost had as many interceptions (35) as touchdowns (48).
Today’s dual-threat stars in the NFL are exceptional passers first and foremost, who can also dazzle with their feet. Big difference.
As we have diagrammed in our Chalkboard Session feature in recent weeks, both Griffin with the Redskins and Kaepernick with the 49ers are running plays out of a new Pistol formation that’s novel even in the college ranks.
Until someone comes up with a better name, we’re calling it the Bonewish – because by appearance it’s an inverted Wishbone.
The quarterback takes a snap at pistol depth, with a running back directly behind him and blockers flanking him on either side.
In Washington, either Griffin or running back Alfred Morris usually runs out of this formation – a “read option” based on Griffin’s read of the defence. But against Dallas late last month, Griffin faked the handoff, dropped back and fired a rope 60 yards in the air to a wide receiver for a touchdown.
As with the old Wishbone, the Bonewish appears destined to produce big plays in the passing game, if only because passes are relatively infrequent, and thus unexpected.
Option plays vex NFL defenders in other ways.
Two weeks ago in Miami, Kaepernick faked a Bonewish handoff up the gut to LaMichael James and bolted around left end, untouched, for a game-clinching 50-yard TD run.
Never mind that the other 10 Dolphins defenders all collapsed to the middle to get James. The defensive back on the run side was in press-man coverage against the only wide receiver on the field, and he thus had his back to the backfield. Kaepernick ran right by him before the cornerback knew what was happening. (Here’s the play, below:)
“I’ve seen that formation,” Switzer said. “You cannot play man-to-man and stop it when they run the option. If you’re running like hell with the wide receiver, before you know it you’re chasing the ball carrier’s ass down the field.”
Defensive linemen and linebackers can get burned even worse by option plays, Switzer said.
“Especially defensive ends. Now they can’t just rush the passer. They have to defend the option rush. You cannot rush inside an offensive tackle and have a free rush – they’ll come around the corner on your ass before you know it.”
Ask Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills about that. Last Sunday in Toronto, the $100-million defensive end got burned badly twice by QB Wilson of the Seahawks.
Wilson made Williams pay for crashing hard and over-committing on a zone-read fake handoff. Wilson both times pulled the ball from running back Marshawn Lynch’s belly on the criss-cross, and scored himself on TD runs of 14 and 13 yards.
Wilson’s Seahawks play host to Kaepernick’s 49ers on Sunday night in a big NFC West showdown. Expect both young quarterbacks to run some option plays, perhaps further proving the option play has merit even at the NFL level.
“It’s always been effective!” Switzer said defiantly. “There’s been no cycles to it.
“There’s a place for it in the NFL. It takes discipline and it takes a good understanding of it, and you’ve got to work on it and execute. Then it has a place.”
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WISHBONE DEAD? NO WAY, SWITZER SAYS:
Of course, the one option formation nearest and dearest to Barry Switzer’s heart is the Wishbone.
He won three national championships with it at the University of Oklahoma from 1973-88, compiling a 157-29-4 record along the way.
Except for a few holdouts in U.S. college football – mainly just the service academies – the Wishbone has been obsolete since the early 1990s.
Just don’t tell that to Switzer.
“Someone said to me, ‘Is the wishbone dead?’ And I said, ‘No, the only thing dead are the guys that coached the son-of-a-bitchin’ thing.’”
Common perception is that the University of Miami Hurricanes’ defences in the mid to late 1980s exposed all the shortcomings of the Wishbone and Option-I offences in marquee bowl games, with their huge, fast and powerful defensive fronts.
Not true, Switzer said.
“Good players on defence handle any offence,” Switzer said. “That’s why people say you win with defence first. In the mid-’80s we were 33-0 against the rest of the world, but we were 0-3 against Miami. Miami had great talent in the ’80s. They should have won three national championships. They had tremendous talent and speed.
“But they were shutting down EVERYBODY’s offence, not just our Wishbone.”
And yet, as Switzer told The Sporting News in 1994, nobody ever suggested the I-formation – or any conventional pro-style offence – had become obsolete.
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(The above videos contrast the 1977 Wishbone attack of #5 Texas A&M’s Emory Bellard vs. the Option-I offence of #3 Michigan’s Bo Schembechler)
THE HISTORY OF THE OPTION OFFENCE:
Option football dates to 1941 in American football.
But the rule change that made it possible occurred 14 years earlier. Not that anyone remembers that.
It was while researching my next football history book – the untold story of how the University of Chicago’s Amos Alonzo Stagg sold out to dismantle Fielding H. Yost’s ‘Point-a-Minute’ Michigan machine, circa 1901-05 – that I stumbled on the key rule change, lost to antiquity.
It involved Yost, one of football’s great coaching minds and visionaries.
In 1927, a new rule was passed in the college ranks mandating that a muffed or errant backward pass (a lateral) would be blown dead at the point of recovery by the defence.
Many coaches hated the rule. After the season, Yost was one of the few members of the American Football Coaches Association who fought hard for the retention of it. He argued that the rule would compel the more creative coaches to conjure wonderful offensive wrinkles, what with the risk of a gimme touchdown by the defence eliminated.
By 1934, the innovations indeed started to come, which prompted Yost to further predict: “The real use of the lateral pass is just in its infancy. Future football players will learn to pass and receive a football with the same proficiency that basketball players handle a basketball.”
Seven years later, University of Missouri head coach Don Faurot had the eureka moment – inventing the “option” offence, in which a quarterback running laterally decides either keep the ball and cut up field, or pitch the ball backward to a trailing, hard-charging, further flanked running back.
The pitch-or-keep principle of the option is no different than that behind the series of lateral passes in rugby: in trying to flank the defence by pitching the ball out yet wider, you either get around the corner, or create a gap to burst through.
Here, then, are eight signature evolutionary formations of the option offence in American football (big thanks to Steve Sapardanis for the graphics help!) – all devised and implemented at the college level … until now:
1. THE SPLIT-T
Originator: Don Faurot, head coach of University of Missouri, 1941.
Elements: The birth of the ‘triple option’ – a fake or give to the first back up the gut, then a pitch-or-keep down the line by the quarterback … The first offence to feature linemen not bunched shoulder-to-shoulder, but rather in wide ‘splits’ to create defensive gaps … The quarterback’s option pitch wasn’t one-handed. He’d go down the line, turn his back to the defence and lateral it with two hands to the trailing back, as a QB would today on a pitch sweep. Slow developing but effective for the time.
Heyday: 1950s and 1960s. Popularized by Notre Dame head coach Frank Leahy in the early ’50s, and Oklahoma head coach Bud Wilkinson in the mid ’50s.
2. THE HOUSTON VEER
Originator:Bill Yeoman, head coach of University of Houston, 1968.
Elements: With teams in college and pro lining up a pair of ‘wide’ pass receivers, rather than ends tight to the line, as always had been the case up to WWII, Yeoman incorporated two wide receivers into his modification of the Split-T option attack … The two halfbacks were symmetrically split, lining up behind the guards, with no fullback. By now, option quarterbacks were beginning to pitch back one-handed, with a quick flick of the wrist – which made the pitch play far faster, with less telegraphing.
Heyday: Late 1960s and 1970s, mostly in the South. Lou Holtz at the University of Arkansas was one of the lead proponents in the late ’70s.
3. THE OPTION-I
Originator: Head coach Tom Nugent is credited with originating the I-formation at Florida State University in 1950, but a young Gene Stallings at Texas A&M in the late 1960s popularized the Option-I.
Elements: The ‘tailback’ stands mostly erect, hands on hips, so he can see over the crouched fullback directly in front of him … As with the Veer, the Option-I features two WRs and a TE.
Heyday: 1960s to 1990s, but especially 1970s.
Derivatives: By the early 1970s, when running predominated college football, teams sometimes subbed out a wide receiver for a wingback – a fast slotback type who would keep defences from over-pursuing to the option side by taking a QB’s option pitch on a reverse the other way. Michigan and Ohio State helped to popularize this wingback feature, which Tom Osborne’s Nebraska teams used to devastating effect by the mid 1990s.
4. THE WISHBONE
Originator: Emory Bellard, offensive coordinator of University of Texas, 1968.
Elements: Tasked by Texas head coach Darrell Royal with devising a new four-back rushing attack, Bellard came up with this devastating formation. It effectively trades one of the Option-I’s wideouts for another running back. The option-pitch trailer always comes from the opposite side, so the option-side halfback becomes a lead blocking back – something the Option-I lacked.
Heyday: The 1970s to the mid 1980s, although a few teams (such as the service academies) never have dropped it.The lead proponents were Royal’s Texas, Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma and Bear Bryant’s Alabama juggernauts.
Derivatives: On long passing downs, Wishbone teams would “break the bone” and send one of the halfbacks in motion to set up as a wide receiver.
5. THE FLEXBONE
Originator: Fisher DeBerry, head coach of the Air Force Academy, mid 1980s, a variation of Tiger Ellison’s original formation some two decades earlier.
Elements: Essentially the Wishbone, except two slotbacks (smallish, fast running backs in the mould of Patriots’ Danny Woodhead) replace the two halfbacks, and are ‘flexed’ wide of the tackles, and much closer to the line of scrimmage – much like an I-formation wingback … On passing downs, the slotbacks can become the 3rd and 4th downfield pass receivers.
Heyday: 1980s and 1990s, although few teams adopted it. Syracuse under Paul Pasqualoni was one, and QB Donovan McNabb became a star in it in the late 1990s … Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech revived the Flexbone with his own variation a few years ago.
6. THE ZONE-READ SPREAD (double option)
Originator: Rich Rodriguez, head coach of Glenville State, in 1991.
Elements: Takes the spread-the-defence-out principle of a four-wide, shotgun spread passing attack, but mainly to open up lanes for running purposes. The double option does not involve a pitchback. Rather, the QB and RB criss-cross, with the QB belly-faking to the RB, much like a QB and FB would do in previous option offences. The QB reads to see if the defensive end on the RB’s starting side is crashing in to get the RB. If so, the QB pulls the ball and runs into that vacated hole; otherwise, he gives to the RB.
Heyday: Late 1990s to present. Wildly popular at the high school and college levels. Popularized by Rodriguez himself in offensive-coordinator stops at Tulane and Clemson, before becoming head coach at West Virginia in 2001. Key disciples and further innovators include Urban Meyer (at Utah, Florida and now Ohio State) and Chip Kelly (at Oregon).
Derivatives: Hurry-up mode, which Kelly and Oregon use to extreme, devastating effect … A key passing element of the zone-read is the fake-handoff, quick bubble screen pass to one of the slotbacks, which effectively acts as a third (albeit passing) option … Subbing out a WR or SB, for a TE or FB or even an H-back tight end of sorts.
7. THE ZONE-READ SPREAD (triple option)
Originator: Rich Rodriguez, head coach of West Virginia, approx. 2001.
Elements: One of the slotbacks comes in motion before the snap and sets up on the same line as the running back, but on the other side of the quarterback – like the FB and HBs of the Wishbone. The QB and RB do their double-option thing, and if the QB pulls the ball and runs, the SB trails the QB, awaiting a potential option pitch.
Heyday: Early 2000s to present, by select teams employing the zone-read double-option. Randy Walker at Northwestern was an early implementer, and further innovator.
8. THE PISTOL ‘BONEWISH’ – AN INVERTED WISHBONE
Originator: OK, we’re giving it this name: the “Bonewish.” What else to call an inverted Wishbone? The ‘short shotgun’ Pistol formation was devised by head coach Chris Ault at the University of Nevada in 2004. Dozens of college teams and several NFL teams (in the renamed “Wildcat”) since have employed versions of the Pistol. The full-house Pistol, or Bonewish formation, developed in the college ranks just in the past couple years, principally at Clemson University.
Elements: The QB stands in the Pistol (that is, much closer to the centre than in the Shotgun), with a running back two yards directly behind him.At the college level, the backfield men flanking the QB usually are additional running backs, or fullbacks … The key feature is a double-option play. The QB hands off to the running back up the gut, or pulls and takes off around end, with the aid of his two flanked backfield blockers … At least two NFL teams in 2012 have embraced this formation. Mike and Kyle Shanahan on the Washington Redskins have a fullback and a tight end flank RG3. Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers employed two tight ends on either side of Colin Kaepernick on his game-sealing, read-option-keep TD run two weeks ago in Miami.
(Check back. Will update occasionally before the 4:05 pm EST kickoff….)
TORONTO — News, notes and observations as we await kickoff at the Rogers Centre between the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks:
– Three months ago, we all expected Buffalo winter weather outside for this day. Instead, it’s more like a Seattle summer — cold (40sF / 5-6C) and hard rain. Hell, even the grass is still green around here. In my weekly Sunday morning touch football game among friends, one guy picked a dandelion out of the turf. In Central Ontario. In December … Love it.
– Among the early warmup handshakes between players and coaches of rival teams, Bills defensive end Kyle Moore hugged up with his coach at USC, Pete Carroll — now the head man with the Seahawks. And Bills QBs coach David Lee gave props to Russell Wilson, the standout rookie QB of the Seahawks.
– The Rogers Centre (nee SkyDome) is as I remember it for football — or baseball, or circuses, or conventions, or anything else for that matter. To quote a classic line of a former Toronto Sun colleague, Craig Daniels: “It’s the place where atmosphere goes to die.”
– The Rogers Centre’s capacity this year for its NFL capacity is 45,300. I’ve been assured for months that there will be no ‘papering’ of the place this year. Just legit ticket sales. As of Wednesday morning, about 5,000 remained unsold. The walkup crowd was likely imperiled by the horrible weather here early this afternoon — torrential cold rain. Yes, the lid is closed inside.
– Bills PK Rian Lindell makes 52-yarder in warmups. Almost assuredly the last time he gets asked to do that today.
– All the NFL film crews on the Seahawks during team stretching like white on snow wet on rain. Bills? Not so much as yet.
– No Donald Jones today for the Bills. I saw him Friday night here in Toronto, and he didn’t appear too optimistic he’d be able to play. We compared old blown-up calf stories. This means rookie T.J. Graham is going to have to be BALLIN’ today for the Bills, in players vernacular. If all the Seahawks corners were able to play, that’d spell extremely bad news for Buffalo. As it is, only really bad news.
So ‘spooked’ by latest family death, was afraid to leave his house
In sports, we too often see that cliché applied to describe how an athlete, or team, cleared some obstacle to reach an unlikely level of success.
But that’s just boxscore adversity.
Real-life adversity is a whole different thing. When you consider how much of it Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has had to endure in his short time on this earth, you seriously wonder how he gets through a day.
And you completely understand why Dareus had become, in his words, “so spooked” – to the point that all fall long, until this week, he had been afraid to fly in an airplane.
Or ride in a car.
Or even leave his house, for any reason whatsoever.
The latest incomprehensible personal tragedy in the 23-year-old’s life occurred on Sept. 9, when his younger brother – Simeon Gilmore, age 19 – was discovered gunned down, dead, in a triple-homicide/robbery in Pelham, Ala.
For Dareus, that was the cruelest form of piling-on.
His Dad died when he was 6.
His grandmother, who helped raise him, died when he was 13.
His high school football coach and father figure was killed in a car crash when Dareus lived with him, at age 18.
And his single mother, who had been confined to a wheelchair for years in eroding health (complications from congestive heart problems), died when he was 20.
All four were mentors to Dareus. By contrast, Dareus was one of Simeon’s closest mentors. And Simeon needed mentoring. He was a good-hearted but troubled young man who’d long since dropped out of high school, ashamed of his life-long struggles to learn how to read and write, according to some who knew him.
That Simeon was taken from his five, life-scarred older brothers and sister in so violent a manner, and for so trivial a reason – “Somebody killed him over $40,” Dareus said – understandably shook Dareus to his 6-foot-3, 331-pound core.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty hard to play football, period – altogether,” Dareus told me in an interview Monday night at a downtown Toronto apparel store. Dareus was accompanying three teammates on a whirlwind promotional trip to Toronto, six days before the Bills’ annual game at the Rogers Centre. The foe this year is the Seattle Seahawks.
“This is the first place I’ve been to since all this happened,” Dareus said. “I haven’t been home (to Alabama), I haven’t been on a plane (outside of football trips). This is the first time I’ve been anywhere. I’ve just been scared.
“I didn’t leave my house for months. I just got to the point where I’m able to leave it now. For the things to go the way they went, it just hit me in a whole other way. I’ve been looking over my shoulder, and it just got me spooked.”
What was he so worried about, in particular?
“Just scared that something might happen. The plane could go down. A car wreck. It’s just made me afraid to do anything. But I just kind of overcame all of that, and (realized) if it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. That’s how I’ve started looking at it.
“I’m not as uptight. I’m just relaxed. If it’s your time, it’s your time. So just live your life, and I’ve just started to feel that way. And I’ve just started to play that way.”
Indeed, since the Bills’ Week 10 game at New England, Dareus has cleared his mind enough to resume his apprenticeship as a disruptive NFL force on the inside of a resurgent Bills’ defensive line.
Dareus has as many tackles (16) in the five games since that Nov. 11 game in Foxboro as he had in the eight games prior. And he’s had a quarterback hit in each of the past five games, plus 1.5 sacks and four pass knock-downs – compared to his three QB hits, 2.0 sacks and one pass knock-down in the first eight games.
While Dareus never missed a start as he struggled to deal with his brother’s death, it took him that long to realize he wasn’t himself – and wasn’t playing like he knew he could.
“I’ve just got back into my own now,” he said. “Since the Patriots game, I told the coaches and I told the players – there’s no nonsense to me now. I’m gonna play my butt off. I’m not going to be distracted.
“I was really distracted before that. I had a lot of fan support, which I appreciated. But at the same time, (Simeon) still wasn’t here. He was my youngest brother. I was real close to him.”
Dareus grew up with his six siblings in a tough part of Birmingham, Ala. Despite the succession of tragedies, by all accounts Dareus was as jovial and happy-go-lucky a kid as you’d ever meet.
“Marcell is still a big, old playful kid at heart,” one of his best friends, Moreland Smith, told ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha two years ago. “I don’t know if I’d have his personality after what he’s gone through.”
Only months after his Huffman High School coach in Birmingham – Scott Livingston – died in that 2008 car crash, Dareus began playing at the University of Alabama for head coach Nick Saban.
Dareus got on the field sparingly as a true freshman, but he started four games in the Crimson Tide’s national-championship season of 2009. That’s when pro scouts started to salivate over his talent. In 2010 Dareus was dominant.
In 15 career starts at Bama, Dareus registered 11 sacks. For a defensive tackle playing in America’s premier college football conference, the SEC, that’s impressive.
Dareus declared for the NFL draft after his junior year, and at the scouting combine in February 2011 he ran a 4.93-second 40-yard dash – as a 319-pounder. That’s off-the-charts athleticism for such a big man.
The Bills selected Dareus No. 3 overall two months later. He signed a reported $20.4-million, four-year contract.
As a rookie last year Dareus battled injuries but still started all 16 games, recording 5.5 sacks.
He’ll need two sacks in Buffalo’s final three games of 2012 – against the Seahawks on Sunday in Toronto, at Miami on Dec. 23 and at home on Dec. 30 against the New York Jets – just to match his rookie total.
Many fans and some experts who judge such things purely by the stats sheet probably will declare Dareus’ second season in Buffalo as something of a disappointment.
As stats go, fair enough.
But Dareus is now attempting to do so much more than merely improve on the football field or, off the field, merely move past his latest family calamity.
He aims to lead a better life.
Dareus brought that up after I asked him if he feels he now possesses a greater appreciation for how precious and fragile life is, especially in contrast to the senseless off-field incidents that have claimed the lives of two NFLers in recent weeks.
“I swear, you took it right out of my mouth,” Dareus said. “There are so many things (like that) going on right now. And then there’s what happened to my little brother. Somebody killed him over $40. And it’s just … Life is just that short. I had been taking it for granted.
“I am gonna alter my life now, and alter my way of living – drastically. I’ve dropped a lot of friends that I thought were friends, just in the last couple of months. I don’t go around certain areas that I used to go around. I don’t hang with certain people. I don’t do certain things.
“I’m not an old man – I’m only 23 years old – but I had to alter a lot of things, just so I could feel comfortable with my everyday life.”
Talk about overcoming adversity. Real adversity.
Generations ago, sports leagues rightly banned rooting for teams – or players – in the press box. Thank goodness no such rule exists away from the straight white lines.
Bills’ Dareus ‘not worried’ about Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks blew away the Arizona Cardinals 58-0 last Sunday.
Eight weeks earlier, the Buffalo Bills needed overtime to beat the Cardinals, 19-16.
Is Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus wary of the Seahawks, who play Buffalo on Sunday in Toronto at the Rogers Center?
“Yeah, they scored 58 points,” Dareus said in an interview on Monday night in Toronto. “We watched film today, and I watched film myself to check ’em out. I watched the offensive line and broke the team down.
“I’m not worried about them. I’m not worried about the Seahawks at all.”