October 2, 2012 in Sports

Pac-12 football coaches script best strategies

Associated Press photo

UCLA football coach Jim Mora said “scripting” has its roots in the West Coast Offense popularized by Bill Walsh.
(Full-size photo)

To hear Washington State coach Mike Leach tell it, the word “script” is probably too simplistic to describe the series of offensive plays plotted out by some football coaches prior to each game.

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading about or watching the game of football, you’ve likely heard a commentator or analyst refer to a coach scripting his team’s first 15 or so plays, though Leach scoffs at the implication that those scripts are at all binding.

“Some of these articles I’ve read on scripting just kill me,” Leach said. “These guys act like, ‘Well, No. 3 is this and you have to run it.’ I mean, that’s crazy.”

In the interest of not writing one of those articles, the opinions of Leach’s Pac-12 peers were sought in an attempt to better explain the practice.

Jim L. Mora, now the head coach at UCLA, would be a good place to start. He’s held assistant and head coaching positions in the NFL and in the college game, and has coached teams that script and teams, such as his Bruins this season, that don’t.

As Mora noted, scripting has its roots in the West Coast offense, and was popularized by the late Bill Walsh when he was coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Walsh planned which plays he would run on his team’s first 15 offensive snaps before the game started, intending to gauge the defense’s reaction to a variety of looks.

“The reason he scripted was because he wanted to get a feel early in the game for what type of adjustments the defense was going to make,” said Mora, who was San Francisco’s defensive coordinator during Walsh’s tenure as the 49ers’ vice president and general manager. “He thought through the first 15 plays of the game, if he could give them multiple personnel groups, multiple shifts, and multiple motions, he could predict what was going to happen later on in the game.”

It’s a strategy many coaches still follow, though within any script, there must be flexibility to adjust based on down-and-distance, field position and other factors.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes use a script, but it’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast diagram of what they’re going to run. At Arizona, coach Rich Rodriguez sometimes scripts what he calls his team’s “openers” on offense, but there’s plenty that can be changed, as well.

“We don’t adhere to it strictly, simply because we may see a different defense,” Rodriguez said. “We put some of our best ideas out there, one to see if we can execute it, two to see if it matches up well. With our offense we like to go pretty fast, so sometimes we get off that script pretty quickly, too.”

As for Leach, his early-game play-calling is even less premeditated.

“We have a game plan and that’s the material we cover in practice that we can adjust and fluctuate it around the situations in a game,” Leach said.

“No matter who you are, you have to prioritize what you’re going to feature in your practice or what you’re going to feature versus an opponent, and that’s basically what it amounts to.”

Berkeley blues

The California Golden Bears might be off to a disappointing 1-4 start this season, but coach Jeff Tedford said he isn’t letting his team look at it that way.

And he’d prefer they ignore those who do.

“I know things are out there. I don’t really read it or get into it,” Tedford said. “I mainly talk to the team about (how) we’re definitely not where we wanted to be, but we’re not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We’re going to attack this and work hard at it and stay together, and that’s what we need to do.”

Cal hosts No. 25 UCLA this week, having already suffered losses to ranked opponents Ohio State and Southern California.

Elsewhere: Some Oregon fans aren’t particularly pleased with the Ducks playing their fifth night game of the season this week against Washington (7:30 p.m. in Eugene). … Stanford coach David Shaw defended the play of quarterback Josh Nunes in the Cardinal’s 17-13 loss at Washington last week, saying Nunes didn’t play perfectly but that he also made some quality passes that weren’t caught. “Whatever response people have, I couldn’t care less,” Shaw said.

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