"Gee. why can't we have nice things?"
-question from BlueLoneWolf when discussing the concept of this.
The complaint (Ok, some of us have a complaint, others seem to have just given up hope.) or observation from fans and sports media has been that Virginia Tech just doesn't have an offense. When you think of Beamer Ball, you think more of blocked punts, long returns on special teams, and ball hawking defensive backs with a nose trouble and a shot at six in the opposing offense's face. When we think of the Lunch Pail, we think of often undersized, but always bruising defensive linemen and linebackers; ever motivated by a perpetually flaming hot Bud Foster on the sideline.
We don't really have clear pictures of sustained dominant offenses. We have the Vick (1) seasons, all one of them, well maybe two, but basically one. We have Tyrod's great 2009, and Logan Thomas's Lane Stadium heroics. We remember a succession of running backs here and there; Suggs, Evans, Williams, Wilson... sigh. We just never could sustain it. Early exists due to the promise of professional big bucks, chronic injuries all have led to the perception meeting reality. Virginia Tech just really doesn't have an offense. There have been pieces, and parts, but never a long term systemic line of successful first rate offensive players.
The reality about college football is that it's the player that chooses the team, unlike the team choosing the player in the pros. What this leads to is a form of football "band-wagoning" that starves many potentially good programs of critical talent, and leaves many marginal players languishing on practice squads never rising high enough in the depth charts to get meaningful playing time. So many kids choose to be a little fish in a big pond (with a big championship ring or two) than to be a big fish in a little pond - where the championship ring isn't so ostentatious If it's there at all. Kids want to play for a winner. Well, I wanted to be an engineer, but there was something about that Calculus stuff, and Chemistry, that kept me from designing the next fighter jet.
How did we arrive at the bottom of the downward spiral, where we have a baker's dozen, or more, "Athletes" vying for two or three wide receiver slots, a log jam at quarter back where the number 2 QB isn't really, and the number 3 and 4 guys were heavily recruited for the position, and neither might ever get to play at more than a few series in the Spring Game each year? How is it that we have a Swiss cheese cobbled together with former defensive lineman Offensive line that is statistically 20 to 30 pounds lighter than the competition at each position?
Just what is a "Theory of Offense" and why is it THE most important "thing" to establish?
You can't have a good offense without an effective offensive line. That's the basic rule and it is absolutely true, but it isn't the heart of the issue. You can have a decently talented quarterback, and reasonably good running backs, but a consistent effective and winning execution of plays requires some rational concept of the order and type of plays being called. The same goes for wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive lineman. Without a concept, goal, or long term mission statement that guides a coaching and recruiting staff, none of those positions can be consistently filled with quality players. So, why do I call it a "Theory" and not a "Concept" or "Goal"?
Well to state that I want to have a team that runs 60% of the time, passes short 30% and stretches the field no more than 10% of the time is no sufficiently broad. It is, in fact too narrow a view (and this is basically a tactical goal) not a governing Theory. Here is an example of a "Theory" of offense (of which I subscribe, BTW) that will be guaranteed to produce the basis for a rational Offensive System:
We will build an offense that seeks to score the highest number of points per minute of possession by using creative, effective, and audacious play design and implementation.
Notice what this statement does not say. It does not promise to control the ball by running it a bunch of times. In our case tanking two plays into the line of scrimmage and forcing the quarterback into obvious passing situations that guarantees a higher failure rate. I also didn't include a type of offense. I didn't provide for Pro style, Spread Option, Single Wing, or even Wishbone or Veer. Those sorts of decisions are not "theory" level they are executions. In Tech's case are also completely problematic because other than the Wishbone, we have seen just about every one of those executed poorly in games.
Let's break it down:
We - not ‘I' not ‘He'; ‘WE' - this is critical, too many organizations depend on one person - usually the head coach to do the work. Now the HC might be "responsible" for the organization's effort and effectiveness, but he is going to be severely hamstrung by the human limitations of being one person for -the next critical word, which is a very loaded verb.
Will - not ‘can' (maybe you can, maybe you really can't); not ‘shall' (an external obligation component there...it's a compliance word), but WILL - this is an act of internal strength, and perseverance over difficult circumstances. There is a personal stake in this concept, and an acceptance of responsibility.
Build - To build or to make is a loaded action. Romance languages use ‘make' for a very large number of critical things in the chain of creating. English, being the ultimate polyglot language, has several words for building, constructing, making, assembling, etc. But, we very often use the word "BUILD" to connote or confer an honorific along with an action. To ‘build' something is to do all of the hard work, materials sourcing, designing, constructing, testing, and marketing of a good or service. It is a VALUE statement.
We have addressed the mission, now we move to the theory part of the statement:
"...seeks to score the highest number of points per minute of possession..."
This might be where some folks will begin to jump off, dodging into ball and clock burning, running keeping the ball away from the opposing offense (not a bad idea, frankly, but not what this is about.) Everyone out there who has suffered through a "Snake" Stabler , two or three score comeback or pulled their hair out as Roger "the Dodger" Staubach and the Fantastic Plastic man in the fedora pulled a come from behind victory out in the final five minutes of a game? (Ok, some folks were overjoyed by such feats - and my Steelers have pulled off a couple themselves over the decades... one Super Bowl does come to mind.... maybe really a couple.) But my "TMF's 50 Years of Loving Football" chapter about un-thought of statistics is begging for a page and a database on proving the strong suspicion that what statistic that illustrates the greatest number of winning football teams is one I have never seen before, That the team that possesses the highest points per minute of possession statistic, is a winner, and not only that, a consistent winner over the long haul. (I'd love to take credit for it, but I am sure that some statistician out there actually has the rights to, but no one wants to give him credit for it, because he's probably a fat bespectacled gnome with a love for converting text data into spread sheets and loading CSV's into databases. I am willing to wager a burger, onion rings, and a fountain drink at my favorite Blacksburg dive restaurant for someone to actually do the grind and prove it right or wrong... preferably right.)
That's the very definition of a Theory.
The last part, well it might be more obvious than my obscure statistic thing:
"...using creative, effective, and audacious play design and implementation. "
[Insert heavy sigh here]
Creative - That goes a long way to explaining many things in the jumbled confusing mess that seems to be the Hokie play book, but the 20 page section on how to gain three net yards on 3 plays has to be burned as an apology to the word ‘creative'.
Effective - We aren't good at that one, either. Well sometimes, but sometimes not, but definitely not enough to attract recruits with more "stars on thars". (Apologies to Dr. Seuss's Sneetches.)
And lastly we have the most important part of this entire essay.
Audacious play design and implementation - The legends of Western warfare are ripe with all sorts of comments and statements about how a particular general won this battle or that campaign. Prussia's Friedrich der Grosse (Frederick the Great)'s told the advice seekers. "L'audace! L'audace! Toujours L'audace!" (The Prussian royal court spoke French, not German - German was the "language of stable boys"), later during operation Husky and the Sicilian Campaign, when faced with the difficulties of trying to beat Montgomery to Messina, and cut off the German retreat, George Patton repeated Friedrich's axiom. "Audacity! Audacity! ALWAYS Audacity!" (Patton said it in French. He was a serious Francophile.)
This coaching staff has what it has, and needs to use a solid theory of offense to create an effective strategic organizational concept, so that it can better use its existing player personnel, and create tactical advantage for each game situation using the most audacious game plan and execution possible.
If Virginia Tech wants "Nice Things" we had better BUILD an organization that attracts those better people. Since college recruiting is a self-reinforcing behavioral spiral, it behooves this staff to learn to make do with what it has, and stop trying to implement something that it has neither the talent nor the personnel to accomplish. Once they start winning with what they have, they will begin to see the kinds of players that they would like to have.
Winning is its own recruiting tool, and winning starts with an effective foundational anchor. Right now, I am not convinced that this staff has a clue as to what it even can accomplish on the offensive side of the ball. New versions of Andrew Luck and the next Tony Dorsett are not going to help us without that systemic change.