Plays get in focus after a hand off

Spurrier, Richt agree delegation is a boost, but Petrino, Nutt keep the reins

jperson@thestate.comApril 25, 2008 

When Mark Richt called Georgia’s offensive plays, the Bulldogs’ coach said he often failed to see the forest for the trees.

So Richt handed off play-calling duties last year to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo — part of a growing trend among head coaches who delegate play-calling in order to spend more time overseeing other areas.

“Before I was in the middle of the forest chopping wood like everybody else, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think there’s some value to the leader being right in the middle of it,” Richt said recently. “But once I moved away from that I was able to kind of back away some and see everything from a little bit different perspective, almost from the outside looking in.”

When Richt relinquished control of the offensive X’s-and-O’s, it left South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier as the only SEC head coach drawing up offensive plays.

But Spurrier was one of two well-known coaches who announced this offseason they were passing the play sheet to an assistant. Spurrier will let his son, receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., handle the majority of the play-calling, while Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis turned to offensive coordinator Mike Haywood following the Fighting Irish’s 3-9 finish.

The Spurriers are not USC’s first father-son duo to make a play-calling handoff, although the transition under former coach Lou Holtz was more of a hostile takeover. Following consecutive 5-7 seasons in 2002 and 2003, Holtz stripped Skip Holtz of his coordinator’s title and play-calling duties without telling him.

Unlike the Holtzes, the Spurriers appear to be on the same page of the offensive play book.

“Steve Jr. has been with me 11 years now coaching the offense and all this,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, he knows sort of how we want to try and get it done.”

Richt refrained from getting on the headset last year to overrule Bobo’s calls. Instead, Richt talked with Bobo between series to suggest certain plays or formations.

“I called plays for 15 years or more, and I know what it’s like to have somebody in your ear and guys trying to make suggestions,” said Richt, who also jotted down ideas during the week and gave them to Bobo in private.

With his extra time, Richt was able to spend 15 minutes in his office with each of his players last fall, “getting a chance to know them better.”

Spurrier said the switch allows him more time to look for big-play opportunities against various defensive schemes, which have multiplied during Spurrier’s 23 years as a head coach.

“It’s changed a lot in the last 20 years. When I first was a play-caller, sometimes I didn’t even need a sheet. I’d probably already thrown it down after an interception or something and just called them off the top of my head,” Spurrier said.

“Nowadays, there are so many plays and formations and shifts, you’ve almost got to have a sheet with you at all times and know exactly where all the plays are on the sheet.”

But a few coaches continue to call plays, including two in the SEC this season: new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and his predecessor, Mississippi’s Houston Nutt.

After the Razorbacks posted losing seasons in 2004 and 2005, Nutt surrendered the play-calling to Gus Malzahn and, later, David Lee. Now that he is calling plays again, Nutt said mornings are spent working on the offense and afternoons are for “head coaching responsibilities” such as meetings with administrators and media members.

“I just love being a part of the game. You’re into it,” he said. “To me, it just keeps you much closer to your team.”

Spurrier learned a lesson about the sometimes-futile nature of game-planning two years ago. After watching tape and designing pass plays all summer in preparation for the 2006 opener at Mississippi State, Spurrier had to scrap the script and run the ball when USC’s linemen could not protect quarterback Blake Mitchell.

“You can waste a lot of time scheming up if you can’t block,” Spurrier said. “So I’m going to try and help the entire offense and the entire team a little bit better maybe, but creating a little bit more time away from the exact play calling.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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