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Coach to Coach – Want to Use a Faster Tempo as a Weapon? Be Creative in Deciding Howby: Bryon Hamilton
Head Coach, Foothill High School, Palo Cedro (CA)
© January 2013
NCAA bowl games started on December 15th and finished on January 7th, and, like many of you, I watched almost every game. Of all the current football trends on display, there was one that seemed to present itself in almost every game - the no-huddle, up-tempo offense. Spread offenses have been a football standard for many seasons. However, the pace at which teams are executing their schemes is becoming more and more of a key factor in their offensive philosophy and identity.
In today’s football terminology, the word tempo refers to how quickly a team can get a play called, a formation set and an offensive play efficiently executed. Teams take great pride in determining how fast they can run a series of plays and how many offensive snaps they can achieve in four quarters of football. The dizzying pace at which teams can run their offense was on display in one of the very first bowl games of the year.
In the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Nevada and Arizona combined to run over 110 plays in the first half alone. In the second half, Arizona scored 14 points in the last 48 seconds to win the game by one point. An almost inconceivable feat was accomplished partly due to the fact that Arizona was able to navigate two scoring drives, aided by the recovery of an onside kick, all in less than one minute. Tempo was a key factor in that win and it has been and will continue to be a key factor in the future of football. With this in mind, I would like to share with you some of the ideas that we have implemented at Foothill High School to help our team become more efficient in the area of play calling, play execution and tempo.
In 2005, I knew that our team needed to do something different on offense. As a result, I developed a new package of the spread offense that is now known as the Shotgun Zone Fly . The SZF Offense was initially installed as a no-huddle, up-tempo offense. Trying to efficiently run a new offense without huddling and at a fast pace presented some early difficulties for our players and staff. We found out early that there is more to becoming a no-huddle, up-tempo offense than simply not huddling and moving fast. Logistical issues like play calling, personnel packaging, conditioning (high school teams often utilize two-way players, adding a different dynamic than most college teams) all presented problems that had to be addressed.
Over a span of several seasons, I spent countless hours developing a system that helped solve these problems for our team. I found a way to call plays, execute them at a high level and expand the playbook while maintaining the ability to work at a desired tempo in an efficient manner. Although it is not possible to give a detailed explanation on every aspect of our schematic installation and play calling system, I will share some of the basic ideas that we have established and used over the past five seasons.
To start, I will tell you that we do not have a traditional playbook at Foothill High School. Our typical game day call sheet has over 200 plays on it and we rarely make assignment errors. On the surface that may sound impossible but our play system is built on a simple, position-specific spreadsheet that is displayed on a wrist coach (play bands) worn by all skilled position players as well as the center. The benefits of using the spreadsheet-style wrist coach are too numerous to describe. I can tell you that in my 21 years of coaching, the change from traditional play calling and play installation to what we are doing today is the best thing I have ever done.
In our system, we have replaced formation names, personnel packages, play assignments and snap counts with colors and numbers. What used to be “10 personnel … trips right, zoom 50 delta Y option on two” is simply “Yellow 5” today. We have replaced the need to call personnel, formation, play call and snap count by simply calling out or displaying a color and number. This simple change has allowed us to execute plays at various tempos based on our game plan. If we want to go fast, we can, and if we want to slow the game down, we can do that as well. In the above example “Yellow” is the column that represents our trips formation, and “5” refers to the box (cell) in that column that will display a players’ specific assignment. If the play calls for the Y to run an option route, the Y wrist coach will say “Option Route” in the fifth box on the yellow column. As far as the snap count goes, we always dedicate certain colors as specific snap counts. Yellow might be dedicated as a “on two” snap count. This eliminates the need for the QB to call out a snap count and it allows us to practice with the same snap counts all year long. This helps to eliminate mistakes and allows us to get off the ball very quickly. The wrist coach also eliminates the need to huddle. The players simply look to the sideline to get the color and the number. Once they have that information they know the formation, their assignment and the snap count. The system is very easy, fast and efficient.
Expanding a playbook without having every player memorize every single play is another advantage of using this system. Regardless of how many pass plays we put in, our receivers only have to know the passing tree and where to line up and that information can be applied to countless pass plays. We may have ten plays that have the Y receiver running a corner route, but as long as he knows what a #7 route is (designated on our passing tree) and where to line up (based on the color which is a formation), he can run the play. His wrist coach will simply say “7 Route” in the colored play cell that I call. This eliminates the need to have him learn the entire play call. This system also allows players to play numerous positions if needed simply by changing wrist coach bands.
Another advantage is that our receivers never know if they are only a decoy or if they are a primary target. Due to the fact that they only have a route on their bands, they do not know if they are a primary or a secondary choice. This promotes 100% effort on each route. In this example, our offensive line would have their protection identified in their designated play cell. Where the Y receiver was told to run a 7 route, the OL wrist coach would display their protection for that particular play. Each player would have their specific assignment identified on their wrist coach band simply by identifying the called color and number. This applies to all run and pass plays.
Developing the software to set this system up was a lot of work but simpler systems can be used. If you want to use something similar, you can use any basic word processing software to manually fill in each box and use colored font or the colored fill option to create and color the columns. Another option would be to use a more advanced spreadsheet system to create your bands. We developed our wrist coach software by utilizing Excel spreadsheet functions. Our Excel spreadsheet formula allows me to input each play assignment to each specific position. Once the plays are inputted, I simply print out each position wrist coach sheets and place them into the position-specific wrist coach bands. We laminate each card before
Our system is by no means superior to any of the other systems that are being used on many campuses throughout the country. My purpose in sharing a few of these ideas with you is to demonstrate that you can be creative in installing and developing a system that is right for you and your team. If you desire to use tempo as a weapon, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and have some fun with it. Tempo is one of the new weapons in football. It may definitely be a fad but it’s a fad that I believe is here to stay.
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