Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 Jun 2010

Where Did The Spread Offense Come From?

Chris Brown from the wonderful Smart Football takes a look at the origins of the spread offense. One other cog that needs to be added to his list of influences: the Split-T. A lot like the T-formation that was popular in the 1930s, the Split-T was an invention of Missouri's Don Faurot, who upon losing star quarterback Paul Christman to the NFL, tried to find ways to create mismatches and misdirection. He spread the line out into wider splits (one of the main features of today's spread) to create lanes, and in the system's basic option play, he allowed the defensive end to go unblocked (rarely done at the time), allowing the QB to read the end to determine whether to pitch the ball or keep it. This is the basic premise of today's zone read, a go-to play for a lot of today's spread offenses. Old school Missouri fans like to say that the spread is a direct descendant of the Split-T, and while that's not true (its principles obviously play no larger a role than those of the Run & Shoot), a few of the principles Faurot derived out of necessity are still in use today.

Just call Faurot the Hal Mumme of his day: he created a system with which others succeeded at a higher level than he did. During World War II, he coached the Iowa Pre-Flight football team and introduced his concepts to young assistants like Bud Wilkinson, Jim Tatum, and John Vaught. When those coaches got jobs after the war (Tatum was hired at Oklahoma, then left for Maryland, Wilkinson took Tatum's place at Oklahoma, and Vaught ended up at Ole Miss), they all used the Split-T as a foundation of their offenses. Being that they were more active recruiters than Faurot (and were rather creative minds and outstanding coaches themselves), they all thrived, winning national titles while Faurot was playing brutal schedules and fighting for second place in the Big 6/Big 7 conference (behind Oklahoma) every year.

Anyway, as defenses slowly begin to adjust to and counter the spread, it is an interesting time to look at how this style of offense came about in the first place.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 23 Jun 2010

4 comments, Last at 23 Jun 2010, 7:02pm by DoubleB4


by alexbond :: Wed, 06/23/2010 - 10:55am

Smart Football is a really excellent site, but he's gotten a little too spread-focused for my taste at this point. In the archives is some really top notch discussion of Norm Chow-style passing plays, that applies to both the college and NFL games.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 06/23/2010 - 1:02pm

Was vonference called big 6 and big 7 then? When was SWC creayed?

by Bill Connelly :: Wed, 06/23/2010 - 3:47pm

It was the Big 6 until Colorado joined in 1948, then it was the Big 7. Oklahoma State joined about a decade later, and voila ... Big 8. SWC was in existence this whole time as well.

by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/23/2010 - 7:02pm

SWC 1914-1996 RIP