Q&A: Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey

Recently we went in-depth with new Arizona State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Lindsey on his background and assimilation process in Tempe.

Chris Karpman: I watched a couple of your Southern Miss games from last season on YouTube, Nebraska and Western Kentucky and was fascinated by your philosophy or your style because it seems like you borrow from different types of offense. I see Air Raid, West Coast Offense and then some of the Gus Malzahn type offense. So I'm interested in who your mentors are or how you came to formulate your offense the way that you did? 

Chip Lindsey: "I really don't see ourselves as a spread offense in my mind. We're an 11 personnel team, really (one running back, one tight end). At Southern Miss we were and here we are. My background, I was 10 years Air Raid, I mean pure Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, whatever you think the Air Raid is, that's what I was. Then I went to Auburn and coach Malzahn and I got to be friends because he signed one of my high school players out of Atlanta and we just stayed in touch. I went to Troy and Troy was Air Raid, and then went back to high school. I went to Auburn (to learn) because we couldn't run the ball, the places I'd been. We were an open edge team. Even when I had Philip Lutzenkirchen, I don't know if you remember, the kid who played at Auburn and was killed in a car accident. So Philip, he's one of the all-time greats at Auburn and has all this stuff going on, he was a big tight end, 240 pounds, unbelievable ball skills. He was a tight end that I played with so technically that year I was 11 personnel but I flexed him all the time, played him like a wideout, he was very skilled. I played trips to the field and him by himself (on the other side) and he was a bad matchup. 

"So you get into a deal where you're playing somebody that you need to run the ball a little bit and you couldn't because you were open edge and I just got sick of it. So I went to Auburn and with Gus, he had a unique way of using it to run the ball. Obviously the year I was there we were really good, but the year before they'd won three games. Then I went to Southern Miss with Todd Monken, he'd been an NFL guy and there were some NFL stuff that he brought that he added to Oklahoma State when he went, which was Air Raid. Then he went to Southern Miss and kind of meshed that. Then I went to Auburn and kind of meshed stuff and then went to Southern Miss and he and I kind of further meshed stuff. So I would say [Monken] and I kind of put it together. He was a huge influence, and Gus Malzahn. My first head coach was Larry Blakeney at Troy, but he wasn't as involved in the offense as much then. Tony Franklin had been there and kind of set that up."

Chris Karpman: So as a high school coach you were pure Air Raid. How did that take shape?

Lindsey: "As a high school player we were pure Wing-T. As a coach, in 2003 I was the wide receivers coach in the Wing-T offense. The team we played the first game every year, so we were preparing all off-season for them, they'd gone to Kentucky and gotten with Hal Mumme (Air Raid pioneer), who is like the Godfather. They were running stuff, we didn't know what it was. We just watched it on film, drew the cards up, I was a young guy, played the quarterback (for scout team) against our defense. I had no idea what it was, I was just running the cards. But I started thinking, 'man, if I ever start coaching a high school team, I'm going to run this because this is fun.' You know I was thinking about getting the basketball players out there and stuff. A big deal in Alabama is trying to get guys out, making the game fun and exciting. In 2003 and 2004 I ended up visiting Texas Tech with that high school coach that we played the first game every year. He took me in for some reason, his name is Perry Swindall. For two years I went there, then I got involved with Tony Frankly and his system (Cal offensive coordinator in 2015). 

"Then In 2005 I became the head coach at a little country school in Alabama. They'd been terrible, up on the mountain, country, rural kids. They'd been running the Power I and double slot option, power football. We went into the gym one day and there was a kid over there and they said, 'yeah that kid over there plays football but he's going to quit.' And I said, 'really?' And they said, 'yeah because they moved him to tight end but he's a good athlete.' I had a football and went over to him, his name was Jeremy Yates. I said, 'Hey Jeremy, let me see you throw that football over there.' He threw it good enough and I told him, 'Jeremy, you're going to be the quarterback.' He said, 'Coach, I'm probably not going to play. I'm just going to play basketball. I told him, 'No, you're playing. I know you don't know me but we're going to throw it more than anybody around here. Write it down and come to me at the end of the year, but we're going to throw it more than everybody and I promise you everyone in the state will know who you are.' I was just talking, I didn't really know, I was recruiting, you know. He ends up playing, falls in love with it, and becomes the third leading passer all-time (in the state) behind Jamarcus Russell and Brody Croyle. He wasn't a big time college player, ended up going to junior college and then not playing any more, but we took that team, which had been 2-8, 3-7 and we went 5-5 (in the first season) and the second year 9-3 and win the first playoff game in school history. He threw for over 3,500 yards and 30-something touchdowns. To those people up there, they thought we were throwing it every down. You couldn't really go tempo there because guys were playing both ways."

"So I did that for two years, tried to get a better job at bigger schools, places that paid more and stuff. They wouldn't hire me because I didn't have 'big school experience.' So I went to Hoover High School as the offensive coordinator, was there one year. We were 10-2. They are always good there. They were Air Raid too. they offense was the same. Jeremy Pruitt, the defensive coordinator at Alabama and someone I'd gone to Alabama with and been friends with, asked me if I'd be interested in being the offensive coordinator at Hoover and I was. So I went there, Jeremy ended up going to Alabama to be their player personnel guy. I was there one year, and Lassiter High School hired me in Atlanta, Georgia, as the head coach. I was there for two years, we went 9-3 the first year and won the first playoff game in school history. The next year we went 12-0 and lost in the third playoff game. I was really going to stay in high school because I have four kids and they have a lottery deal where if your kids make good grades, they go to school for free. But then Troy, Neal Brown had replaced Tony Franklin -- Neal is the head coach at Troy now -- and left and gone to Texas Tech. They were looking for a quarterback guy who already knew the system. Kenny Edenfield became the coordinator, he was the receivers coach and they needed a quarterback guy who knew the system and Kenny hired me. My wife lost her job, we took a huge pay cut (as a family) to go, she's a pharmaceutical rep, they lay off every rep and the country sells out. She couldn't find a job there because Troy is really rural. She found one in Birmingham which is kind of the best place to live there, but two and a half hours away and I just wasn't going to be that far away from my wife and kids. So I said forget that and went back to high school for two years before Gus Malzahn hired me. Malzahn went from Tulsa to Auburn, recruited Philip, came in there four weeks in a row in January like you do, closed the deal on Philip and he and I became friends. So I went to Spain Park for two years and we had two pretty good years. Gus gets the Auburn job, he's going to hire a couple high school coaches and he told me if I came I'd be a coordinator in Conference USA within a year and that I just needed experience. So I did that, he was right, then went to Southern Miss for two and obviously this past season was good and I got to come here (to ASU)."

Karpman: Air Raid is primarily zone blocking, I noticed at Southern Miss you were primarily zone blocking. Here at ASU it's a mix. How do you see that at ASU moving forward?

Lindsey: "I think it'll still be a mix. At Southern Miss it was some mix. We ran inside inside zone, outside zone and some power, a little power. There was going to be some buck sweep and some counter, but we didn't get that going."

Karpman: That's the Malzahn stuff, right? Power until a defense commits to the box and then buck sweep. 

Lindsey: "And that's what we want to do here, we want to be a mix. Even at Auburn, the 2013 team was more of a zone team because of our quarterback skill set. After Nick Marshall (the quarterback) left, we were more of a gap scheme. So we'll have to see how we are and what our linemen are good at, and our quarterbacks. We'll build around that."

Karpman: So obviously you have the versatility to decide which quarterback gives you the best chance to win and then play to that strength, right? That's a strength of your meshing of the offensive styles. Whether that's running more read option or more opening things up in the passing game, etc. 

Lindsey: "Right. So at Southern Miss, our quarterback couldn't run outside. He played for me in high school. Everything we did was built around his skill set, getting the ball out quickly. Similar to what we did in the bowl game, although (Mike) Bercovici ran a little more than my guy would have at Southern Miss because he was a little better runner. But the key was, we didn't take a sack and we didn't turn the ball over in the bowl game. That was huge. He knew where to go with the ball, he was smart. You're going to get sacked some, of course. But we don't want a bunch of them and we don't want negative plays."

Karpman: So it's a lot of quick game, but you also have a big play component that has been pretty substantial, at least you did at Southern Miss, right? 

Lindsey: "Yeah, i think that goes back to recognizing coverage. Some of the plays that we have aren't made to throw it way over their head, but it just ends up being that way because they pressured us and the ball has to go here. You're right, I do try to have some pro-style stuff too, like all the West Coast stuff too. The stick, snag stuff. I love that and the spacing stuff. When I was in high school we were a huge quick game team, probably more than anybody. What's happened is everybody's gone to the RPO (run/pass option) stuff and it's replaced a lot of the quick game. But the RPO stuff has its drawbacks too. You get down near the goal line and the read tells you to throw it, or pull it and then throw it, but it's all happening faster and they're playing tight coverage and all that, it brings a different element. So I think you have to be careful about doing that [exclusively]. There's some guys out there that say that and do that and their quarterback will get hit a lot, because you're going to be outnumbered at times in the red zone. They're going to have more than you can block but yet you're supposed to throw it because the read tells you to throw it, so you're holding it because there's press coverage, so now you're holding it longer. It can get hairy."

Karpman: We won't see you getting under center in short yardage or goal line situations, or will we? 

Lindsey: "I think you could see that. I want to do some of that. We didn't do it in the bowl game because they hadn't done that and I didn't want to get up there and risk a fumble. My goal is to have some under center stuff for short yardage, goal line, and four minute offense, all of that." 

Karpman: You have a very wide variety of your screen game. I noticed you like to motion to two backs and throw the ball a lot to your backs in a variety of ways, including on third and long when you're trying to let your guys run for it off of shorter passes. That's kind of become trendy in recent years anyway. 

Lindsey: "Yeah, when you're in third and long, you already screwed up somewhere to get there. So you don't want to make it worse. But there are times and it depends on where you're at on the field and in the game. I remember a third and 21, we ran four verticals and if the quarterback throws a pick, no big deal, it's like a punt, and the guy comes down with it and it looks great and all that. It just depends on the flow of the game. The thing we did here for the bowl game, especially having a defensive coach, you get together and talk about it, you know, 'what do you think.'  West Virginia is a tempo team and they're fast too and I didn't really want to get into all that because now your defense is on the field a bunch and all that. But it ended up being a shootout and sometimes you can't help it."

Karpman: So the terminology and how everything will be communicated on offense here, will it be classically Air Raid or will you adopt what's already in place here? 

Lindsey: "It'll be what's already here I think, for the most part."

Karpman: Will you use the numbering designation for the positions also or no? 

Lindsey: "I don't know if we'll use that or not. I don't know if it'll be to that degree, but when you're watching it, you probably won't know (the differences). It's always good to mix up how you communicate things too. These guys have been in the league for four years now. Sometimes it's good to re-boot. Whether you call a guy a 9 or an X though, I don't think it really matters. A lot of our plays for the last two years had been called by the person, an X-this or Z-that, you know. For me the habit of not saying that is hard. The terminology they had used here was a little different. We are trying to stay with the same terminology they used here. But to say we'll always call it a 9 or whatever, I think we'll start that way because it's already in place so it's the easiest way to do it, and sometimes it's easier for me to change than the players."

Karpman: What about moving players around based on watching ASU last year and what you've done historically. Will there be less, more, about the same?

Lindsey: "I think it will be very similar. Just watching them through the years, we have ways to get all the best player in the best spot. We're never going to be limited to do that no matter what. Sometimes when you want to play fast, you substitute that for getting lined up quickly."

Karpman: What are the biggest challenges for the spring, just getting everything the way you want it? 

Lindsey: "The good thing is, it's already in place. You're not going to notice us being different a whole lot. The biggest thing for me, we've got to identify our playmakers in the spring. Figure out who they are,, what they do well, and then ways to get them the ball. Once we identify our playmakers, we build our offense around those guys. One of those will be the quarterback. I don't know that we'll have an idea who that is after spring ball. That thing could go all the way into our first game. At the same time, we'll have a direction to go with each of them. I have some idea, I mean, Tim White is a playmaker. He showed that. Other than Tim, I know the two running backs are playmakers. Other than that, we're kind of wide open. D.J. (Foster) is gone, Devin (Lucien) is gone. Now, there are guys behind them who are capable, but it's just time for them to do it."

Karpman: You like to throw the ball to your backs a lot too, I think two of them were among your top four receivers last year? I saw a wide variety of screens, swings, some other stuff. 

Lindsey: "Yeah we do, leak options, one of the things we did there that was really nice was learning to run leak options like they do in the NFL. Todd Monken was big on that. I don't think a lot of people do that (in college)."

Karpman: So how are you feeling about all of this, living out here, things like that. People told me your wife was a big proponent of you not pursuing the Southern Miss head job with Monken left to the NFL? 

Lindsey: "Yeah, she did. You know how wives are, they got all the power. I think she's really excited and my kids are very excited. They got a chance to come out for the bowl week and spend time with the kids of the other coaches and families. They one thing we have here is a family atmosphere, even more than I've ever seen around, even more than Auburn or Southern Miss. Wives come up here and walk around. Now, wives could do that at other places, but it's not always well thought of. Here, our wives will come eat with us. It's a family deal. I think my wife was excited about that. It's a family atmosphere, great place to live, good schools, so she was a big proponent of staying, there's no doubt. But at the same time, I really wanted to say too. Just being here two months, when I landed here the other day after going back home for two weeks to see my wife and kids because they are moving in March, when I landed, I felt like, 'man I'm back, this is my home.' It almost felt like that. This is a great place. With what we're doing with the stadium and the facilities, we're going to recruit to that. What we have is great, but you know how it is, it's an arms race."

Karpman: What about Todd Graham, just getting a better feel for him now? 

Lindsey: "I hear Todd Graham talk to the players here and it's the same things we talked about in high school. Act right, do what you're supposed, be where you're supposed to be, serve each other, be a serving teammate. He doesn't just say it, he really believes it. The guy is intense. He is a passionate dude, but you wouldn't want one that wasn't. You wouldn't want someone who didn't. He's raised millions, tens of millions of dollars, our APR rates are great, our graduate rates are great, guys are working masters degrees before they're done playing football, look at Bercovici, what he's done. On the field, the number of wins in four years, four straight bowl games, it's pretty darn good. That's what attracted me to this place. I could have gone and been a head coach somewhere, there were two or three opportunities, some smaller places. Why would you want to do that when you can come here?"

Karpman: Before I let you go, my audience would kill me if I didn't ask about the quarterback situation. So what are your initial thoughts on this, I know you're only in the early stages of working with them and learning what you'll need to in order to make a decision. 

Lindsey: "Very excited because they're all three really good players. That whole group as a unit is so impressive, and I'll tell you what, Mike (Norvell) had a lot to do with it. He recruited those guys. They conduct themselves the right way and know how to handles themselves in meetings. They understand how to prepare. Mike and I are different personalities, no doubt, but I think we're both equally as effective and those three guys are outstanding people. I'm very excited about them. All three haves strengths. It's good that I got to be here for the bowl and get to know them a little more. There's no doubt in my mind any of three can win us games here. And Dillon Sterling-Cole, the guy who is coming in, is very talented. That dude can play. He's coming into a situation this summer, if he prepares the right way, it could be a four-man race. They're all inexperienced, so play the one that moves the offense. There's no reason why not. It won't be the guy who throws it the farthest or the guy who is the tallest or fastest. If he is all that, great. But it'll be the guy who moves the team, moves the ball, doesn't turn it over, so we go and score points. If we throw for 400 like we did in the bowl, great, If we throw for 200 and run for 300 and win, great. It doesn't matter to me. I think it's the most talented group I've ever had, potentially, but still we've got to figure out who can lead the team, who has those intangibles, who can play when the lights are on. I've seen a lot of guys who can really throw it but the lights come on and it's like, 'what in the world?' And a big part of it is on me to bring the game to them. And then whoever is the starter, they've got to hold on to it. Whoever is the starter, build the game plan around them, and figure how to be be the most successful we can be. When I was at Auburn in 2013, we started off 3-0 or 4-0 and went to LSU and got beat pretty good. We had an off-week the next week and changed our identify, became the zone read team and we were more of a gap scheme, and we changed and won nine or 10 straight. It took us a while, Nick Marshall didn't get there until late summer. It took us a while. There are years I've run certain things more because it fit the quarterback. Then there are other years I didn't run as much. I ran more quick game because this guy doesn't run as well or whatever."

Karpman: It might make it harder because your quarterbacks at ASU are all talented in different ways. 

Lindsey: "They really are and it might make it harder. I believe what you'll see though, when things go bad, you'll look around and how do they handle it. It's not going to always be roses. Who does the team respect most, who is the best leader? The hard thing is they are all such good kids. Sometimes guys that aren't as good (people) make it easier because you don't worry about that as much, but these guys are all great people. all winners, all good players. We'll see how it plays out, I'm just excited about it."

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