Offense Of Future Or Football Dinosaur?

Late in his career as Alabama's head football coach, Paul Bryant spoke of rules changes that were to the benefit of a team that ran a pro-style passing game. Bama was still using the triple option wishbone offense. Why not change?

"I'll let the next guy do that," Bryant replied. And the next Alabama coach, Ray Perkins, did change to a pro-style offense.

Not that Bryant couldn't have changed. He changed plenty of times in his coaching career. One day he spoke of why the Notre Dame box would no longer work. ("All you have to do is drop the defensive left tackle back a step and you've stopped it," was the explanation only he understood.) Bryant had played in and coached the Notre Dame box and the tight T and split T and the I formation and spread (shotgun) formation and ultimately the wishbone.

The wishbone was an outstanding offense, capable of producing lots of points while gobbling up time and keeping the opposing offense on the sidelines. It was a superb passing offense, and Alabama passing records set when Mal Moore was wishbone quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator lasted for decades.

Alabama used the wishbone from 1971 through 1982. Bama's record in that 12-year span in which there were 11 regular season games per year was 124-19-1. That averages out to a little more than 10 wins and a little less than two losses per year. For 12 years.

And it wasn't against the Sisters of the Poor, either. Alabama played in a very good Southeastern Conference and had outside games and bowl games against the likes of Southern Cal, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Washington, Ohio State, Penn State, Texas, Missouri, and Georgia Tech.

Crimson Tide teams using the wishbone won three national championships.

The biggest disadvantage came in recruiting offensive players. Alabama could overcome that fault because so many great prospects wanted to play for Bryant. Bryant had a number of players who went from the wishbone to high draft spots in the NFL, but that was the black cloud of the wishbone.

The service academies and some small schools still have success with the wishbone, because it's a good offense. It allows a team to option (rather than have to block) one or more defenders and it has a quarterback who is an extra running back, which makes for a tough assignment for the defense against any style of offense.

But prospects for schools like Alabama are thinking ahead, specifically thinking to the NFL. No NFL team is going to use the wishbone (quarterbacks are too vulnerable in it). Prospects thinking about pro careers look at the wishbone and think:

If I'm a quarterback, the wishbone doesn't get me ready for the pro-style passing game.

If I'm a wide receiver, I'm not going to catch many passes and there is only one wide receiver spot in the wishbone.

If I'm a running back, I've got to share the running responsibilities with two other running backs plus the quarterback.

If I'm an offensive lineman, I'm not going to be spending any time learning to pass block because every wishbone play is blocked like a running play.

There's always interest in a new offense. Auburn has impressed some people because the Tigers used a no-huddle spread and ran over 90 plays in a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Clemson last year. Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville called the offense "the wave of the future for high school football."

That would seem to indicate the high schools will provide a lot of players for that type offense. There's some buzz about that now among observers of Auburn recruiting.

But will that type offense provide many players for the NFL? And if players aren't going from a college offense to the NFL, how will that affect recruiting of top prospects?

Somehow it seems doubtful we'll see a 12-year run like Bama's wishbone era before we know.

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