Evolution of an Offense - and Coach (Part I)

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with new Tar Heel offensive coordinator John Shoop to talk about Shoop's past and his future plans for the UNC offense. Check back each week leading up to spring practice for the next segment of this multi-part feature.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- John Shoop is the man who will be primarily responsible for developing and implementing the offense for the North Carolina Tar Heels. What sort of offense will that be?

While it is far too early to draw any conclusions, offenses generally develop based on the philosophy of the head coach and the offensive coordinator, factoring in the personnel available to them. This is especially true when the offensive coordinator in question is not wedded to any particular system, as is the case with John Shoop.

As the offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, Shoop gained a reputation as a conservative play-caller whose offense depended upon running the ball, with a short passing game that seldom included a deep ball. Often criticized in Chicago, Shoop understands a fan's irresistible urge to challenge play calling and to believe they know far more than the offensive coordinator.

He's been there himself.

"I grew up just outside of Pittsburgh, the town's called Oakmont," Shoop said. "I've got two older brothers and every once in a while we'd listen to those [sports talk radio] shows and call in. One time I thought I needed to call in and tell Chuck Knoll that Franco Harris shouldn't be stepping out of bounds like he did. I think they're both in the Hall of Fame right now, so I'll just be quiet about that."

Shoop doesn't run from his Chicago experience, however. He embraces it. "I took over [the offensive coordinator duties for] a team that, at the time I took them over I think they were 2-11. We won 17 of our next 21 games. We went 13-3 and we won our division as well. So, we had some pretty good times in Chicago and I feel strongly about that. I'm quite proud of the time in Chicago."

Though it seldom enters the consciousness of the average football viewer, regional climate can affect the type of offense an NFL team employs. In addition, the presence or absence of a strong defensive unit can also impact the offensive scheme.

"In Chicago when you're playing in minus 20-degree weather, our team was built to win games 20-14," Shoop said. "Our team was built to win 16-13. That's how we were calling it – that's how we were playing. In Oakland, when Norv (Turner) was the head coach, it was a little bit different. We were trying to outscore people 30-28, because our defense wasn't very good. We didn't have Brian Urlacher there."

Chicago was Shoop's first stop as an offensive coordinator, and he doesn't attempt to dodge the role he played there, "There were certainly some things I could have done better. There is no doubt, and I'm pointing the thumb at myself on a lot of those, but in terms of football, we were a strong coaching staff and did a heck of a job and we went 13-3 in a pretty tough division and I feel strong about the job that we did."

Shoop joined the Chicago staff as a quarterback coach under offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Crowton established an offensive reputation while at Louisiana Tech – he was an early proponent of the spread offense. By his final year as head coach at Louisiana Tech, Crowton had built an offense that led the country in passing and finished second in total offense. In Chicago, the spread offense sputtered and eventually failed, even though it enjoyed some early success in Crowton's time there. He left Chicago during the latter part of the 2000 season to become the head coach at BYU, a tenure that was unsuccessful and eventually led to his dismissal. He is the new offensive coordinator at LSU under Les Miles, having most recently coached as the offensive coordinator for Oregon.

While Shoop's offenses in Chicago departed from Crowton's spread-oriented attack, Shoop's exposure to those spread concepts was part of his early education in the NFL. Still only 38 years old, Shoop has had a 12-year career as an NFL coach, becoming an NFL offensive coordinator at the age of 31. After Chicago, Shoop would go on to work with two other NFL coaches possessing excellent offensive minds – Jon Gruden and Norv Turner.

Gruden and Turner represent two different ends of the NFL spectrum in terms of offense, and in Part II we'll look at those influences on the evolution of John Shoop – and the UNC offense.

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