Thursday, October 3, 2013

Singletary and the spread offense

At this weekend's game, Baylor will be honoring Mike Singletary as a Baylor football legend.  With all due respect to RG3 and Art Briles's other great players, Singlerary may be one of the greatest ever to play at Baylor.  He had a great career with Chicago after leaving Baylor, and is still coaching in the NFL.  He had a huge role at Baylor, particularly on Baylor's 1980 SWC Champion team.  But in the history of the game of college football, one of his most pivotal games is one that still hurts for Baylor fans.

I just finished reading Football Revolution: The Rise of the Spread Offense and How It Transformed College Football by Bart Wright. I recommend it for an interesting historical look at how college football has changed. Of particular interest to Baylor fans is Wright's account of the 1980 game versus San Jose State in Waco.

SJSU's head coach Jack Elway (John's father) and his offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson were pioneers of the spread offense. The Bears were 7-0, ranked 10th in the nation, and picked to beat visiting San Jose State by 20 1/2. Elway and Erickson's offensive schemes effectively took Singletary, who was used to defending the wishbone and option offenses in the Southwest Conference, out of the game.

Years later Singletary reflected, "I guess it's kind of cool to think back on it as the first time people realized what the spread could do. I didn't think it was very cool at the time; it was just so weird. . . . It was just so different to play against that kind of football." Baylor coach Grant Teaff called their spread offense "extremely tough to stop." Elway called that Baylor win "the greatest win in my 28 years of coaching."

I would much rather this game be remembered as one more victory in Baylor's undefeated season, at the end of which they play for a national title. Instead, we were victim of a rising tide of change in the game, by Wright's account a pivotal point in the rise of the spread offense. To be sure, it was a great season (the last time we won an outright conference championship), it's just too bad we were on the losing side of the tide of history that day.

Other Baylor notes in the book: 
--Art Briles gets a brief mention as a "Leach disciple" who continues to successfully run the spread offense.
--Kevin Steele is quoted extensively and favorably, leading me to think, "Surely this is a different Kevin Steele!" But Wright confirmed that it's the same guy, mentioning Steele's "ill-fated stint as head coach at Baylor." He goes on to call Steele "one of the college game's most high-profile defensive coordinators at Florida State, Alabama, and Clemson." I wonder if he ever whispers in the offensive coordinator's ear, "Don't take a knee! Go for it! We have to create an attitude!"

Oh, by the way, I think Baylor's defense will make Singletary proud on Saturday, and Baylor's spread offense will run up the score once again.  Baylor 63, West Virginia 24. 

Sic 'em!

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