Evolution of an Offense - and Coach (Part II)

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 for the next segment of this multi-part feature.

(Click here for Part I)


The next part of John Shoop's education was an association with a coach from one of the most famous NFL offensive coaching trees and a year's tutelage in the "West Coast Offense."

After his tenure in Chicago, Shoop went to work for Jon Gruden as the quarterback coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I thought (Gruden) was one of the best offensive minds in the game and I went to sharpen my skills," Shoop said. "He called me immediately and I had a job the next day after leaving Chicago – and I really learned a lot."

Gruden learned much of his craft as an offensive coordinator from Mike Holmgren, who in turn had learned it from Bill Walsh, the originator of the West Coast Offense. Though Gruden dislikes the term and scoffs at the label, he can be safely classified in the "West Coast Offense" camp of NFL football

The term "West Coast Offense" became so ubiquitous in the NFL that it has lost much of its original meaning and distinctiveness, but become the generic label for the concepts developed by Bill Walsh. The gloss added over Walsh's original playbook has transformed those offenses to the point that Gruden once commented, "We had a game once where we lined up about 20 times in a power formation with three tight ends. If that's ‘West Coast,' I'm Jimmy Carter."

Walsh didn't develop his offense in a vacuum; as in most cases of innovation, necessity was the mother of invention.

Before the term "West Coast Offense," offense was invented, Bill Walsh was the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals then had a quarterback, Greg Cook, who had a great arm and the ability to accurately hit receivers down field. Walsh himself had been on Al Davis' staff in Oakland, and Davis had been on Sid Gillman's first Charger's staff. The concept of that offense was to throw deep and stretch the field vertically, which worked fine under Cook.

Walsh was forced to innovate after Cook, who averaged 17.5 yards per completion for the Bengals in 1969, suffered what amounted to a career-ending injury. His replacement in Cincinnati was Virgil Carter, who lacked Cook's arm and ability to throw deep. Walsh was faced with the problem of figuring out how to move the ball in the absence of a strong-armed quarterback.

Walsh decided to try and stretch defenses horizontally and force linebackers and safeties to drop into coverage, creating mismatches. Instead of trying to force long passes downfield, Carter often threw short passes that substituted for more traditional running plays – but Walsh would throw on any down-and-distance. Precise receiver patterns and timed throws were the hallmarks of that offense. Walsh ultimately created one of the most widely-copied offenses in the NFL, but had Cook never been injured he may have never invented the "West Coast Offense," as it is known today.

The preferred offense of Shoop's next mentor, Norv Turner, represents the other major approach to offense in the NFL, loosely described as a vertical passing game developed by the legendary Sid Gillman. Shoop left Tampa Bay, went to Oakland, and continued his maturation as an offensive coach under Turner.

"Norv Turner might have the best offensive mind in the country," Shoop said. I thought it was a great opportunity to strengthen a lot of what people considered were my weaknesses in getting the ball down the field to some super strong receivers. There was nobody -- nobody in the country -- better at that than Norv Turner."

Shoop sees that experience with Turner to have been immensely valuable. "The year I got to work for him we threw for close to 4,000 yards – right around there," Shoop said. "We had a 1,000-yard receiver in Randy Moss and Jerry Porter was right at I think 990 yards. We had a 1,000-yard rusher and our tailback had 70 catches - I learned a lot working for Norv and really value that experience."

The sum of Shoop's experience to date has left him with the firm belief of tailoring the scheme to the available personnel – particularly the quarterback. It was the absence of a quarterback – like Cook - who was able to throw the ball deep that led Walsh to develop his signature offense and the presence of strong-armed quarterbacks - like Troy Aikman - that encouraged Turner's offensive preferences. Who the UNC quarterback is, what his skills are, and what he does best will go a long way in dictating the offense Shoop installs this spring.

"(Our scheme) is going be what our team does best, starting with the quarterback," Shoop said. "Whoever our quarterback is, we're going to do what he does best. I've coached in every type of offense that there is, the spread with Gary Crowton; the West Coast Offense with Jon Gruden; the vertical offense with Norv Turner. We're going do what (the quarterback) does best."

In Part III of this series, we will take a look at how Shoop's experiences and his connection to Butch Davis may shape the 2007 UNC offense.

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