Playbook Theft A Concern Among Coaches

FAYETTEVILLE — With a room full of Auburn football players and coaches milling about following a meeting of Auburn's offense, it took a lot of nerve for someone to walk in and take Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville's laptop.

But last week as Auburn prepared to face South Carolina, the laptop — holding Auburn's offensive game plan and valued by Tuberville at an eye-popping $15,000 — disappeared from the meeting room.

Michael D. Stockman, 53, was arrested Tuesday in Columbia, S.C., after law enforcement received a tip from someone who recognized him from a surveillance tape of the incident.

Although the suspect was labeled by Tuberville as a "drifter" and not someone bent on helping out Auburn's opponents, losing a playbook is a concern for coaches.

"I suppose they could pick up something here and there but I think the thing that would bother me the most is that somebody would think that's the way to go about doing their business," said Georgia coach Mark Richt.

Little more than a year ago, an playbook from Florida coach Urban Meyer wound up for sale on the Internet auction site eBay.com.

The book wasn't an authentic Meyer book but was compiled by a man who claimed to be a Louisiana high school coach who watched Meyer's teams at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.

A quick search on eBay on Wednesday turned up more than 250 hits on "playbook." Included in the results were several from recent years, including a 2005 Louisville offensive playbook that was said to include offensive terminology, signals, formations, motions and shifts, personnel groupings and audibles, among other things.

There was even a 2002 Auburn defensive playbook available for sale.

When Meyer was at Bowling Green and Utah, his gimmick-filled spread option offense was considered a novelty. Now, though, the offense is more common around the country, making insider knowledge less helpful.

"That's not unique anymore," Meyer said. "But I don't think it's because of the playbook, just the comfort level of people defending it, so many people running it and facing awful good personnel.

"I don't think that's going to help a team win the game, having a playbook."

While many coaches said they'd prefer not to have their books available, most said the amount of damage that could be done was minimal.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring is very protective of his playbook.

"It's like somebody going in your mama's purse," Herring said. "It's very private."

The amount of damage would depend on when the information was obtained, said Herring's offensive counterpart, Gus Malzahn.

"If it's that week, then you're in trouble," Malzahn said. "I'm concerned about everything but I'm not overly concerned about (losing a playbook)."

Any opposing coaches looking for insight on Malzahn's philosophy needn't look far. Malzahn's book, "The Hurry Up, No Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy" is widely available. But reading the book wouldn't give anyone many specifics on Malzahn's system.

"That book's just a philosophy," he said. "There's nothing incriminating about that."

Just as much can be gained by studying film — coaches have access to that anyway — as can be learned from a playbook.

"We get the film and what they've done in the previous weeks, so it's not like you're totally consumed with their playbook," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "But I'm sure if our defensive coordinator or offensive coordinator lost a playbook, we'd be upset because it's just like your bible, your book at home. You don't want anybody knowing everything that you believe in."

Playbooks change throughout the season, though.

At Arkansas, players are issued playbooks early in the week and the books are collected again Saturday before the games.

"There's no foolproof method," Herring said when asked if there was a way to prevent the information from being leaked. "Even in the NFL, they fine guys $5,000-10,000 if they lose their playbook. It's valued (but) I've got one and I don't work there anymore."

Herring's playbooks from his days with the Houston Texans are approximately 10 inches thick, he said. His Razorbacks' playbook is a mere 3-4 inches thick.

Nutt said the books are like "cookbooks, you don't use everything each week."

Herring likened them to toolboxes.

"You only put in what you need," he said. "I've got a bigger one and you kind of go in your toolbox and pull it out.

"The bottom line is what you're doing right now and what your players are executing."


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