March 12, 2009

Offensive coaches gather to help each other improve

HOUSTONKansas offensive coordinator Ed Warinner wants to diagram a play, but he has no pen, no napkin, no nothing. So, he improvises by using his fingers on a wall while sitting in a booth at Saint Dane's, a midtown Houston sports bar.

"On this route, you have to make sure the 'X' receiver doesn't bend off his route too quickly," Warinner says. "If that happens, it may change how this safety rolls into coverage."

New York Jets wide receivers coach Noel Mazzone and University of Houston offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen nod.

"What if the 'X' receiver tries this?" asks Mazzone, drawing an imaginary route with his index finger on the wall next to Warinner's fingers.

Welcome to the meeting after the meeting.

Earlier in the day, Warinner, Mazzone, Holgorsen and other coaches met and shared ideas at what is known in the business as the "One-Back Clinic." It's a highly informal yet formal gathering of coaches who all run one-back offenses and get together to share ideas. Kevin Sumlin took over as coach at Houston in 2008, and he has served as host of the event in each of the past two years.

"This is something that has gone on going back to the mid-1990s," Sumlin says. " Mike Price at Washington State really got this thing going. That's when I first started taking part in it."

Save for an offseason or two earlier this decade, this clinic has continued for almost 15 years, with the roster of schools in attendance varying.

"There was a time about 2000, 2001, when this thing got too big," says Mazzone, who has played a big role in this clinic over the years and served as host when he was offensive coordinator at places such as Ole Miss, Auburn and North Carolina State. "We had way too many coaches. It was losing its intimacy. We like to keep this a fairly small event where things are more informal."

There are similar gatherings of one-back offensive coaches across the nation, but this is considered the premier event. And not just any coach can show up you have to be invited. The ground rules are simple: Just one coach per conference, and no schools attending the event can be scheduled to play each other in the upcoming season.

"We didn't start inviting schools until about two weeks ago," Holgorsen says. "If we had done it earlier, word would have gotten out and we would have been inundated with requests to attend.

"Nobody comes here, listens to the speakers and dramatically overhauls their offense. What we do is take a few ideas from here and there, and implement them into our offense. It's all about fine-tuning what you do."

Doling out bits of info

It's 10 a.m. on a warm Monday in March in Room 1030, an auditorium inside Houston's football complex, and coaches are sitting in cushy theatre chairs with pens poised over notebooks.

Take out your pen and paper
Here's a look at what was discussed and who led the discussion at the recent "Houston One-Back Clinic"
Dana Holgorsen, Houston offensive coordinator: Quick zone runs
Sonny Dykes, Arizona offensive coordinator: Red-zone offense
Darrell Dickey, New Mexico offensive coordinator: Running game and receiver screens
Shannon Dawson, Stephen F. Austin: "mesh" packages
Noel Mazzone, New York Jets receivers coach: Third downs
Bryan Harsin, Boise State offensive coordinator: Flood package, zone pass package, third downs
Paul Petrino, Arkansas offensive coordinator: Quick game
Ed Warinner, Kansas offensive coordinator: One-back play action
Mike Dunbar, former Minnesota offensive coordinator: One-back run game
Each coach is here looking to improve certain aspects of their one-back offense. Boise State would like to run better from one-back sets, while Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino unveils a "to-do" list of items he's looking to improve. Among them are ways to run better vs. a 3-3-5 set and how to execute "spark" and "spot" screens.

"You come in prepared, looking to learn certain things," Petrino says. "But you always will come across other things you weren't anticipating. That's what makes this event so good. But we aren't going to give away all of our stuff. No staff does that."

Holgorsen estimates he discusses just a fraction of his offense at clinics; there are certain things he keeps under wraps that he considers vital to his attack's success.

"True, there aren't many secrets after a while," Holgorsen says. "Teams scout each other, exchange tape … but we always are working on new things that we don't want to reveal. … At least not yet."

The coach at the front of the room is Mazzone, a commanding presence with a big voice that fills the room. Mazzone goes back and forth between a white grease board and a video screen, detailing the intricacies of how to handle third-down plays.

"If you have a purpose to motion your receiver on this play, then motion him," says Mazzone, who takes to calling players "cats." "On this play, if the quarterback sees the back of the corner's numbers, then he should throw the ball."

Coaches pepper Mazzone with questions throughout his presentation.

"What is the receiver's landmark on that route?"

"Do you run that route into the boundary?"

"How do you have the backside tackle block on that play?"

And so it goes, this free-flow exchange of ideas. The clinic is enhanced by breakout sessions specific to offensive positions. Receivers coaches, offensive line coaches and running back coaches meet in small rooms down the hall to discuss nuances specific to each position.

The coaches share drill tapes, showing how they teach specific parts of their offense to their specific position. How do the Arizona offensive linemen set up in pass protection? What do the Kansas receivers do when running dig routes?

"You are looking for any edge you can get," Sumlin says. "You may learn a new drill or a new way to teach something that you never had thought of."

Learning from others

It's getting deep into Monday afternoon, the last day of the clinic, as Warinner discusses the nuances of the Jayhawks' one-back, play-action game. Behind Warinner, two large video screens flicker with cut-ups of Kansas' game against Missouri from last fall, and there's Jayhawks quarterback Todd Reesing lobbing a touchdown pass to win the game.

"When we run screens, we don't have Todd ever come to a stop in his drop," Warinner says. "We have him drift and retreat. That keeps the defensive linemen coming with their rush. If Reesing stopped dropping, the linemen would stop rushing and put their hands up to block the pass. Todd isn't the tallest guy, so he needs that edge."

Warinner runs the play, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. "Any questions?"

Polite applause follows Warinner's presentation. He appreciates it, but not as much as what he has learned from others on this trip. Warinner knows great things could loom for the Jayhawks this fall, thanks to the return of Reesing and numerous other veteran weapons in what should be one of the Big 12's most potent offenses.

"This was tremendous for me," Warinner says. "We all basically run the same offense, but we have details and components that are specific to what we do and best-suited to the talent on our roster. Just hearing and seeing how others do things can spark a thought in your head to look at some aspect of your offense differently."

A few hours later, in a back room of the Ragin Cajun Restaurant on Richmond Avenue just south of downtown Houston, the chatter is loud as the coaches gather for one last meal, one last "meeting after the meeting" before heading back to their campuses to prep for spring drills.

Mazzone, Warinner and Sumlin sit at a table eating shrimp po' boys and red beans and rice. Mazzone grabs a napkin and starts diagramming a play, and Warinner and Sumlin move closer. The learning hasn't stopped.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior 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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