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Spread offenses typically place the quarterback in the shotgun formation , and "spread" the defense horizontally using three-, four-, and even five-receiver sets. Many spread offenses also employ a no-huddle approach. Some implementations of the spread also feature wide splits between the offensive linemen.
Many spread offenses use the read option running play to put pressure on both sides of the defense. Spread offenses also leverage vertical down field passing routes to spread the defense vertically, to open up multiple vertical seams for both the running and passing game.
Russell began coaching Masonic Home in , and due to the fact that his teams were often over-matched physically by other schools, they were called the "Mighty Mites". While there, he deployed the earliest form of a spread offense to great success. In Texas Christian University TCU coaching legend Leo "Dutch" Meyer wrote a book entitled Spread Formation Football , detailing his ideas about football formations, in which the first sentence was, "Spread formations are not new to football.
That in turn created natural holes in the line and seams in the defensive secondary. Spreading out the defense reduced the need for power blocking by undersized linemen. But, as Bart Wright notes in his book Football Revolution: The ball came in a direct snap to the tailback, and out of that formation Meyer created confusion with handoffs, fake handoffs, and pivots that slowed the defensive rush to the ball….
The spread's first evolution came about in when former NIU Huskies head coach Howard Fletcher adapted Meyer's spread with the shotgun formation to create what he termed the "Shotgun Spread"  a more pass-oriented version.
Under Fletcher's newly created offense, quarterback George Bork led the nation in total offense and passing in and However, few coaches around the country followed events in the NCAA College Division and, therefore, few coaches were aware of Fletcher's offense as run-oriented offenses continued to dominate football at every level of play throughout the s.
The football played at the dawn of the s generally featured hard running, ball control football, accented occasionally on third and long by a pass out of a stationary pocket.
Football coaches have always tended to be a relatively conservative group, and most of them subscribed in to the aphorism generally attributed to Darrell Royal, then head coach at the University of Texas: You can catch the ball, you can throw it incomplete, or have it intercepted.
A more enduring iteration of the spread offense originated with legendary high school coach Jack Neumeier and his Granada Hills High School Highlanders Los Angeles City Championship football team. Few examples of coaches with successful, innovative passing offenses existed at any level of competition in late In his history, Blood, Sweat and Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: But not even the most inventive coach operates in a vacuum.
While there is no evidence to suggest Neumeier had heard of Rusty Russell or Howard Fletcher in , Jack Neumeier clearly built his offensive theories upon a foundation established by other coaches. Ellison, a high school coach from Ohio and a college teammate and friend of legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes , published a book, Run and Shoot Football: The quarterback was encouraged to scramble and to find open receivers. The offense used motion and receivers changing pass routes based on the reactions of defenders.
Another piece of the puzzle Neumeier assembled preparing for the season came from Red Hickey during Hickey's stint coaching the San Francisco 49ers. The shotgun, based on an old short punt formation that dated back to the World War I era, which Pop Warner then updated as a double wing formation in the s at Stanford , featured the quarterback setting up for a long snap seven yards behind the center.
Hickey thought it might help to slow the Colt pass rush and give the 49ers quarterback another second or two to spot his receivers. Opponents soon neutralized the formation when they realized that their defenses could take advantage of the need for the center to focus on the long snap before making his block.
Linebackers blitzing up the middle collapsed the pocket protecting 49er quarterbacks. By the end of the NFL season, football coaches universally agreed that the shotgun formation was dead and buried, until Jack Neumeier resurrected it as part of the new spread passing offense he synthesized.
Today, most football teams utilize some form of the shotgun, although it has continued to evolve into variations such as the pistol formation.
But there are other coaches — Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, Bill Walsh, Dutch Meyer, Rusty Russell and Mouse Davis — whose brilliant creativity has caused some football writers to suggest that they actually deserve credit for creating the spread offense.
Sid Gillman, after a long career, coached the San Diego Chargers throughout the s. Before his lengthy stint with the Chargers, he coached the Los Angeles Rams. An innovator with the use of motion and passing in football offenses, Gillman also revolutionized the use of game films to study opposing teams.
Gillman continued coaching off and on into the s. In an article written by Bob Oates of the Los Angeles Times in , Gillman talked about evolving trends and the future of football. Its offensive potential — with four guys up there in receiving positions — is mathematically almost limitless. It causes the defense more trouble than any two-back formation.
But none of them had developed these ideas when Jack Neumeier began testing his invention in Coryell had developed a national reputation as one of the most prominent innovators of the I formation during the s. They made an impression. Building on his experiences in San Diego, Coryell took his offense to new heights while coaching the St. He made further strides with his offensive concepts after the Chargers hired him to return to San Diego in But Don Coryell had just begun experimenting with all of these elements in The Bengals, then a new expansion franchise under head coach Paul Brown, one of the great innovators in football history, had lost promising young quarterback Greg Cook during the season to a career-ending rotator cuff injury.
Carter had a notoriously weak arm and was short by NFL standards for a quarterback, making the then conventional seven-step dropback into a stationary pocket for passing problematic. Tall, strong pass rushers found on every NFL defensive line in would bury the undersized Carter in the pocket. In response, Walsh created an offense that incorporated designed scrambles, short three-step dropbacks and quick, perfectly timed horizontal patterns that allowed the Bengals to control the ball and move it down the field.
Walsh himself credited many predecessors for inspiring his genius. His inspirations included Clark Shaughnessy, particularly for his use of motion while turning around the football program at Stanford in with an innovative new offense built around the T formation. Walsh paired his coaching brilliance with the physical talents of Joe Montana at quarterback and an array of receivers including Dwight Clark, Roger Craig and Jerry Rice who were strong enough to take a beating while turning the ball upfield after catching a short pass.
As noted above, Russell utilized a variation of the spread offense as the coach of the Fort Worth Masonic Home and School for orphans beginning during the s. The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football" , by sportswriter and author Jim Dent, so it is clear that variations of a spread offense existed for almost 50 years when Jack Neumeier experienced his epiphany in late However, it is unlikely that Jack Neumeier had ever even heard of Rusty Russell or his Mighty Mites as he began designing his new offense in They culminated in Hillsboro winning the Oregon state championship in His success at Hillsboro in turn led Davis to Portland State the following year, initially as offensive coordinator and later as head coach.
The option reads and pass routes of the Run-and-Shoot allowed the receivers to react to the defense and the quarterback to then read the receivers reacting to the defense. The quarterback would throw the football to a predetermined spot based on those predictably programmed reactions. Spreading the defense horizontally with formations, and vertically with passing concepts. Isolating defenders in match ups where your guy has the best chance to win.
It all seems so simple now, but in when everyone and their mother was running the Veer it truly was revolutionary. Other local high school coaches — mostly competitors — saw it, liked it, copied it and began to utilize it. Today, there are books written about Neumeier's offense. Coaching workshops introduce coaches to the one-back spread and teach them how to implement it. They also teach coaches how to defend against it. In the s, there were no coaching clinics, YouTube videos or internet blogs to make the case for the one-back spread offense to high school coaches, much less college or NFL coaches.
Most coaches in looked at innovative passing offenses with disdain. New football concepts spread slowly through the instinctively conservative ranks of football coaches. For several years after the extraordinary success of his Granada Hills championship team, Jack Neumeier continued to labor in relative obscurity. While continuing to look for ways to enhance his spread offense, Coach Neumeier never matched the success of his team. He continued to field teams utilizing the one-back spread offense over the next few years, whether they possessed the unique physical and intellectual skills of his Granada Hills players or not.
Jack Elway, who played quarterback himself during his playing days, arrived in the spring of as the new head football coach at California State University Northridge after serving as offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Washington State.
Before his arrival at CSUN, literally down the street from Granada Hills High School, Coach Elway went looking for a coach and a high school football program that would nurture the budding talents of his son John, who had played 9th grade football in Washington. Jack Elway heard about Neumeier through the coaching grapevine and the two immediately hit it off. With John entering the 10th grade and Granada Hills High School — still a three-year high school — located literally a few blocks down the street from the Cal State Northridge campus, the Elways moved into the neighborhood.
Neumeier ran precisely the type of offense Jack Elway imagined for his son John, a tremendous all-around athlete. But John Elway envisioned himself as a running back on the football field as he entered high school.
Fortunately, Jack Elway had already begun to work on persuading his son to rethink his options. When John Elway met Jack Neumeier during the summer of , it took almost no time at all for the seasoned Scot coach to persuade John to give up his dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol, running back Calvin Hill.
Instead, Neumeier helped John to imagine himself as a quarterback and the focal point of the Granada Hills spread offense, originally designed for the incredibly accurate passing skills of Neumeier's Granada Hills High School quarterback Dana Potter.
Potter would help coach the newly arrived 10th grader in the nuances of the spread. According to Tim Layden, the senior Elway told Price that the really interesting action was taking place on the field at the nearby high school where his son John was playing quarterback under Jack Neumeier. Jack Elway began to utilize the one-back spread in his offense at Northridge during the season.
He took it with him when he became head coach at San Jose State a year later. During his tenure at San Jose State and later at Stanford, Jack Elway became an even more successful proselytizer for the one-back spread offense.
Elway worked with Jack Neumeier to teach the offense to a number of prominent members of the coaching profession, most significantly Dennis Erickson. Dennis Erickson initially heard about the spread offense while serving as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State in the late s. As a result of the Elway connection, Erickson spent time that year learning about the offense with Jack Neumeier. Over the next few years, Erickson tinkered with the Neumeier offense and then took it with him to subsequent head coaching positions.
Later, as the running backs coach at the University of Utah, Erickson continued to serve as a leading advocate for the one-back spread. Similarly, when Joe Tiller succeeded Dennis Erickson as head coach at Wyoming, Tiller simply left in place the one-back spread offense that Erickson installed during his tenure there. Tiller went on to become an outstanding college head coach at Purdue. At Purdue, Tiller utilized the one-back spread offense again with tremendous success.
His quarterbacks at Purdue playing out of the one-back spread included Kyle Orton and Drew Brees, among others. Meyer refined his offense at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, where he won national championships in and and coached the Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow.