Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

David Shaw on Stanford’s Offense

Posted by admin February - 24 - 2015 - Tuesday

I spent a shortened week-end in Northern Virginia this past Friday and Saturday… at the Nike Coach of the Year Clinic in Washington, DC. I was honored to be invited to speak on our Uptempo Spread (“Malzahn”) Wing T Package on Saturday morning. My plan was to stay through Sunday and attend church with a friend of mine who’s a pastor in NoVa and hear him preach. Unfortunately, I walked out of the room at 10 am on Saturday morning, looked outside and basically saw a “white out!” It was just about blizzard conditions… at least for a Tidewater Virginia boy who’s not used to much snow! I threw my stuff in the car and got out of town as fast as I could! Not before, however, I had the opportunity to listen to Stanford’s Head Football Coach David Shaw speak on Friday night. He talked mainly about their offense but gave some glimpses into their overall philosophy on how they conduct their program… at a school that places such a high premium on academics. Since I’ve called my school, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, the “Stanford of Western Tidewater”, I thought it would be an important talk to listen to. I wasn’t disappointed.

Coach Shaw said that they ask “4 questions” when evaluating their offense at Stanford. The first question is, I think, pertinent to all of you reading this who are head coaches at your school. He stated that his staff first asks themselves: Who are we? Shaw said that every program needs an identity. The media love to blast the schools that have a “system” for an offense! Coach Shaw was saying that you’re making a mistake if you don’t have a system. You need to be known for something! Whether it’s spread and throw the ball; option or, like Stanford and NSA, power running… you need to have an identity that your coaches and players can rally around.

He went further… when he said that his staff then has to answer the question of: What are our base concepts? Run or pass? Shaw said that you must limit your concepts so you can teach technique. He is BIG on execution! That’s something that all of us need to pay more attention to. I mentioned in my talk on Saturday morning that I am not impressed when a coach shows me his playbook that is 11 or 12 inches thick. That guy probably needs to get rid of about 75% of his offensive plays and get back to basics!

Question #2 was: How many different way can we change the look? Stanford is big on changing the formation but still running the same play. He challenges his staff to “maximize the number of ways they can disguise their simplicity” by showing as many different formations and personnel groupings as possible. The key word in there is: simplicity!

Question #3 was: What base defense will we face? In other words, how will a defense attempt to stop a play? Will they play man coverage and blitz their linebackers? Will they play zone? He made a point that, for them… if an opponent drops their safeties down into the box, it’s time to throw play-action! A good rule of thumb. He also encouraged using several unbalanced formations to force a defense to “over” adjust. Keep them guessing!

Finally, question #4 was: How are you trying to stop our base plays? This is an extension of Question #3; in that, you want to find a weakness. It might be a DB that they’re trying to “hide.” It might be a D Lineman who penetrates or another who stands up instead of firing out. Coach Shaw then builds his game plan around attacking that weak link.

He closed with a general question and answer period. Several questions from the audience concerned how they deal with the high academic standards that Stanford has. I loved his point: “Welllllllllll… we could whine and complain and fight the Admissions Department, but that’s not how we do things at Stanford. We simply go out and find the best of the best and help them become the very best football player and young man that we can make them.” Classy words from a very classy guy!!!

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