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Play calling requires a comfort zone, a feel for the personnel and game

Being an offensive coordinator is a learned experience, not something you can just do overnight.

Georgia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

They say the presidency is something our U.S. presidents don’t have a grasp of until around year three of their first term. Many people argue for one, six year term for the U.S. Commander in Chief for just that reason. They would rather have them hitting their stride going into year four rather than planning their re-election campaign.

I believe that a first-time head coach doesn’t have a grasp of their new job for around three years, either. I know that I really started to feel being a head coach heading into the spring of year four. I had to establish my identity, figure out what I liked and didn’t, and to grow up with and into the role. It takes work, it takes a village, it takes Jack Daniels.

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images


An offensive coordinator’s role isn’t any different. Even if you’re already on staff, it still takes time to get to know the players, establish a playbook, and get a feel again for calling plays. Whether it’s overcoming the other voices on the headset, seeing what works in situations with the team you have this year, or even being clearheaded over all the noise from the band amidst another rousing rendition of “25 or 6 to 4.”

Each school is different. While at one stop you might be comfortable calling an inside zone read with a wrapping h-back on 4th and goal from the one, at another stop you might feel more comfortable running a QB sneak behind that nasty center, while a 3rd gig it might be a passing play that gets you six points because of that dead accurate QB who is a “Baker Mayfield type” (yes, I’m joking about the Baker thing).

During the course of this season, I slowly felt more and more comfortable calling plays at my current gig. I was promoted from assistant coach to coordinator this past off-season and it took time to not only transition into the role but also to get a feel for calling offensive plays again. Luckily, I had been a JV OC two years prior, and a varsity OC for a couple of years in a row before that. However, it takes time to get back into the swing. But I still had to get back into the groove of play-calling which is part psychic, part statistician, and all poise under pressure. There is an art to calling plays (read about that here).

Sometimes it’s all about having that comfort zone. Think about the last time Dan Enos was an OC. He was at Arkansas, it was 2015-2017, and Bret Bielema was trying to out Alabama, well, Alabama- while being in the same division. When you take over a job as an OC it’s hard not to go back to your base offense. We were promised an up-tempo, spread, modern offense and got the Arkansas 2017 scheme no one in college football knew or loved.

Miami v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Adapt or Die

It really is the hardest part of teaching, learning, calling plays, or being a great sexual partner. If you aren’t scoring, you probably have to think of a new method. Hell, I heard this quote not that long ago, “If it takes too long you’re probably on the wrong road.” Do what you must with that imagery.

Whether he has been forced to call more deep shots with Jarren Williams, leave more backs and tight ends in for pass pro help (Deejay Dallas has been an All-American pass protector), run more shotgun sets (5 of 6 TD’s against Louisville were called from the ‘gun), and employ RPO’s- or he decided to do so himself, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the adaptation occurring at all, and it showing positive results. Nothing will sour a play caller more than being forced to adapt and having it not work out for the better.

The thing about play calling is what plays we even think about calling during games. Teams often carry far too many concepts into a single game than you will actually call. If you have 50 concepts (counting variations by formation, motion, shift, RPO tag, etc) but you only get 65 snaps on offense- what’s 50 concepts really worth? When people study our brains, much of their research says that while we know what options will make us happy, and which will make us unhappy, we rarely think of that third type- the one we haven’t tried yet.

I provide my “box coach” with a read sheet for each game.

The reason any good head coach wants experienced coordinators and any good coordinator wants experienced assistant coaches isn’t just for acquisition and development. It’s for deployment during games, too. Not enough can be said for having a quality box guy to spot where the three technique is lining up, what look you’re getting over your slot on your RPO’s, or which lineman isn’t zone stepping hard enough to scoop his gap on the back side of zone plays.

I provide my “box coach” with a read sheet for each game. It’s a document that is built upon during the season but allows someone up top, who may or may not be as experienced in the offense, some guidance into what we’re reading on certain plays. I’ve offered a sample in the screenshot above. I also like to have a call sheet available for both assistants and myself.

A call sheet I like to keep on me, and offer to my assistant coaches.

Now my box coach knows what to suggest in certain situations and can have an idea of our game plan, scheme, and focus heading into the game and coming out of drives or halves. I don’t call plays when backed up the same way I do when I’m at the 20 yard line heading in to score. Defenses don’t either.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Louisville at Miami Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What this all means

When Manny Diaz hired Dan Enos he promised the fanbase things that had yet to be delivered until the Florida State game in some part and the Louisville game in whole. When the three tight end sets walked onto the field, were lined up into the boundary, and a jet sweep or toss was ran into said boundary- we all let out a groan in unison. And it was well deserved. I’m not sure if it was an “enough is enough” moment for Coach Diaz, or if Coach Enos finally started to trust himself or his players- but it’s a nice change of pace.

Williams obviously has the arm to make deep throws against weaker defenses. If those balls land as well against Clemson, who knows, but against 99% of the Miami schedule every season- he’ll be just fine. Dallas won’t be around in 2020, unless something shocking happens (I think he could be a 4th round pick with his ability to pass protect, catch the ball, play in the kicking game, and pound the rock), but someone else will have to take that spot until the offensive line improves.

With Williams’ growth has come the emergence of Mike Harley and Dee Wiggins. It’s amazing what throwing a catchable, accurate ball can do for wide receivers suffering from the drops. This off-season I was excited about the prospect of multiple tight end sets (read about that here) but I was seeing RPO’s, split zone runs, and getting Brevin Jordan in 1on1 matchups, not mashing the ball into the center on 1st and 10, and then throwing long drawn out play-actions on 3rd and 12.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Louisville at Miami Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Future

If the future of the Miami offense looks like the Louisville game (read more about that here), the ‘Canes scoring machine is in good hands. Sure, Louisville plays some really bad defense, but a passing touchdowns record is just that, a record. Williams set the record against an ACC team while Ken Dorsey and Bernie Kosar, ‘Canes legends, didn’t throw six touchdowns against FAMU.

We saw much less time spent under center for Williams, who spent his high school years in the shotgun; and we saw Dallas being used as the versatile weapon that he is, and the entire receiving corp clicking and getting involved. Passes came out of the QB’s hand quicker, and thus, the offensive line looked like it was the old ‘Canes trenches from 2000-2001.

Let’s hope that the recruiting class brought in can be successfully acquired, developed, and deployed (read more about that here) for a Coastal Championship season in 2020, and an ACC Championship by 2021. Let’s hope that this break out against Louisville was just Coach Enos getting into his comfort zone with the scheme, the playbook, the personnel and the ACC and not an ultimatum from the head guy or if it was, it’s one Enos will gladly accept after the 52 point performance.