May 1, 2008

Coaches hand off play-calling duties

If he could find the time during a game week last season, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier would look up at his assistants every so often while he wrote up ball-plays for third-and-1s and third-and-7s and red-zone plays and two-point plays.

Spurrier seemed to be the busiest person in the room.

"Everybody's sitting there looking at me and I say, 'I do everything around here, right?' " Spurrier said. "They said 'Well, that's the way you do it, coach.' "

GOOD CALL attempted to identify who calls the plays on each of the 120 Division I-A teams.
Head coaches who call offensive plays:
Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Bill Cubit, Western Michigan
Todd Dodge, North Texas
Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
Steve Fairchild, Colorado State
Turner Gill, Buffalo
Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
June Jones, SMU
Brian Kelly, Cincinnati
Jerry Kill, Northern Illinois
Mike Leach, Texas Tech
Shane Montgomery, Miami University
Hal Mumme, New Mexico State
Houston Nutt, Ole Miss
Bobby Petrino, Arkansas
Mike Riley, Oregon State
Bob Toledo, Tulane
Jim Tressel, Ohio State
Michigan and Oklahoma State are uncertain who will call plays.
Head coaches who make defensive calls:
Al Groh, Virginia
Brady Hoke, Ball State
Rocky Long, New Mexico
Greg McMackin, Hawaii
Bronco Mendenhall , B.Y.U.
Gary Patterson, TCU
Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Greg Robinson, Syracuse
Greg Schiano, Rutgers
It was a realization that it was time for Spurrier, 63, to give up the reins on offense. For the first time in Spurrier's college coaching career, he will not serve as his team's primary offensive play-caller.

Spurrier is the latest coach to relinquish play-calling duties. Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, California's Jeff Tedford and Maryland's Ralph Friedgen also named new play-callers this spring. Of the 120 Division I-A coaches, roughly a quarter call their own plays, either offensively or defensively.

Spurrier is quick to say he's not giving up on play-calling altogether. He remains South Carolina's offensive coordinator and he won't allow the play-calling duties to leave the family. Those responsibilities will fall to his son/receivers coach, Steve Spurrier Jr.

The coaches hope their lessened involvement in the day-to-day grind of offensive game-planning will help them see their teams as a whole.

After serving as his own coordinator for the past two seasons, Friedgen re-hired former Terrapins assistant James Franklin to run the offense. Weis has given play-calling responsibilities to fourth-year offensive coordinator Mike Haywood. Tedford is letting offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti call the plays.

It won't be an easy transition. But it is a necessary one, the coaches believe.

"This is a tough one for me to do, but I'm trying to give them an opportunity to run the offense with me interjecting rather than me demanding and telling them everything that we're going to do," Weis said. "Play-calling is my greatest strength, but I'm the head coach, and I think that when you're play-calling on offense, you might not necessarily be the best head coach."

Calling plays is not limited to Saturdays. Preparation requires hours of film study through the week, then briefing the quarterback and the rest of the offense on what plays are likely to be run.

A well-regarded offensive coordinator at Tennessee, David Cutcliffe continued to call plays when he became coach at Ole Miss. But it became apparent he would not be able to balance his head-coaching duties with his play-calling responsibilities. Now coach at Duke after another stint as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, Cutcliffe has decided to cede play-calling to offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

"When I was doing it at Ole Miss, there was just no time for sleep," Cutcliffe said. "(I slept) literally two hours a night on three nights (a week). It's hard to maintain that for any length of time."

Friedgen called plays as a coordinator at Georgia Tech before hiring a coordinator when he arrived at Maryland in 2000. He spent the past two seasons doubling as his own coordinator, but he, too, discovered he couldn't juggle both jobs.

"I felt I wasn't with my players as much as in the past," Friedgen said. "It's important that I'm available for them and hear their problems, to motivate them on a daily basis. I felt I would miss things as a coordinator that I normally wouldn't miss. I just couldn't do both as effectively as I think they needed to be done."

Part of the reason head coaches have had to spend more time on play-calling responsibilities is because of the increased sophistication of offenses. Spurrier often called his own plays at Duke and Florida and in his first three seasons at South Carolina without a play sheet.

"Sometimes I didn't even need a sheet. I'd probably already thrown it down after an interception or something and just called them off the top of my head," he said. "Nowadays, there are so many formations and plays and shifts, you almost have to have a sheet with you at all times."

Some coaches still relish their involvement in play-calling. New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt will call plays after taking a two-year break at Arkansas. He and his replacement at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino, are the only head coaches in the SEC who call their own plays. Both said they felt closer to the team by calling plays.

"It's something I've always enjoyed doing," Petrino said. "It's something I think is one of my strengths as a coach. It helps you develop closer relationships with the quarterbacks and with the other offensive players and stay really involved in it."

If Texas Tech coach Mike Leach didn't call his own plays, he fears he'd become more of a CEO than a coach. "To me, it's a huge part of being a coach and one of the most exciting things of the deal," Leach said. "Otherwise, you just feel like a hand-shaker."

Georgia coach Mark Richt, who gave play-calling duties to coordinator Mike Bobo before last season, doesn't feel like a hand-shaker. Richt now says he has his hands in more parts of the game, and he said he became more attuned to his team's emotions with the weight of constant decision-making removed from his shoulders.

"You see the program from a different perspective," Richt said. "Before, I was in the middle of the forest chopping wood like everybody else. There's some value in the leader being right in the middle. Once I moved away from that, I was able to back away and see everything from a different perspective, almost from the outside looking in."

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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