The Spread Offense

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College head coach Steve Campbell, who has run the spread offense for the past eleven years and won two national championships with it at Delta State University and Mississippi Gulf Coach Community College, gives an in-depth discussion about the spread offense.

What was it about the spread offense that caused you to decide to run it as your offense?
"The thing I like about the spread is that it allows you to use the talent that you have on hand. If you have a quarterback that is an option guy you can run the option out of it. If you have a guy at quarterback who is a thrower, you can throw the football. You have to gear your offense around your quarterback. And the spread, because it is so diverse, allows you to gear the offense to whatever your talent is at quarterback."

When I think of the spread, I think of an offense that simply has four to five wide receivers in most plays. But that's really not the spread is it?
"No, there are lots of different spreads. You have your (Texas Tech) Michael Leach spread, which is four to five wideouts, throwing it 80% of the time. Then, you have your (Michigan) Rich Rodriguez spread which is a run-predominate spread. Here at Gulf Coast we will have two backs with one of the backs split out as an inside wide receiver - we call him a super back because he can play wideout or running back - and three wide receivers. Depending on what kind of backs you have, you can take another one of those wideouts out and go three backs. That allows you to have one true back and two hybrid runner-receiver backs. Now, you can really create problems because (the defense) doesn't know which way you are going to run the football or if you are going to throw it to someone.

"When I was at Delta State, we had one true running back, two super backs and at least two wideouts that we would put on the field. You could really spread the field with that. And you could run the football, throw the football, really do a lot of different things out of it."

You mentioned that you based your version of the spread on the talents of your quarterback. What if you have a quarterback that is tall and has a strong, accurate arm, but is not that mobile. Can you run the spread effectively with that kind of quarterback?
"You can have the spread with whatever you have at quarterback. If you have a big guy who can run, that's great, but if you have a big guy who can throw it, that's great also.

"I'll say this, when I was at Delta State I had a big, tall guy named Josh Bright. They said he couldn't run, but he passed for 1,500 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards. People thought we were crazy when we put the spread in with him."

Do you have to have a special type offensive lineman to run the spread offense?
"It helps to have athletic offensive linemen who can run, which is what I think you can get in the south. In the south there are more athletic kids who can run than there are the behemoths. Wisconsin is huge, Michigan is huge. But I don't think you find a large number of guys like that in the south, but you do find very athletic offensive linemen."

What are you looking for at wide receiver in the spread?
"Speed. That's the first thing you look for. Once you determine that a guy is fast enough, the bigger the better. But if you can find a guy who can fly and he's 5-5, then that's good enough. The main thing is he has to have that speed. If you spread them out and you are slow, they can still keep everybody in the box and run everything down. You have to be able to make them spread the field."

What advantages does the quarterback have playing in the spread offense compared to other offenses?
"If you are a no-huddle spread the quarterback can get help from his coach as far as being able to see what the best play is to run. The coach, from the sideline, can put him in the best situation to be successful against the particular defense that is being run. And because the best play is being called, you will see completion percentages go up, third down efficiency go up and total yardage go up."

Give me an example as to how you do that in a no-huddle.
"You can line up and call hut-hut and simulate the snap and the defense shows that they are in man coverage. Then you can call a protection that matches the blitz that they are sending and call a route that will beat man coverage. If you call hut-hut and they are not blitzing and it's third and seven and the defense is in zone, then you can call a zone beater pass-play and move the chains.

"Also, if you have the speed (at wideout), the defense has to defend both the width and the depth of the field.

"There are a lot of advantages to being in the spread offense."

Do you have to have a specific type running back in the spread?
"Again, it's speed."

What if you have somebody like an Anthony Dixon, a big, strong running back with decent speed?
"Oh, he would be great. You can have all sizes at running back. We've had the littlest guy in junior college football, a little 5-2 guy named Larry Warner. He made first-team All-American at Southern Illinois this year. And we've also had 230-pound backs who were successful. You can gear what you do with what you have on the field."

So, you don't really have to recruit specific type players to fit the spread other than to recruit speed?
"I try to go get special football players. If they are 5-5 and they are special we will go get them. If they are 6-5 and special, go get them. Even if they weigh 500 pounds and everybody says they are too fat and that they can't move, if they are special I will go get them. I will make what we do fit around those special players. You win championships with players, not plays."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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