Shoop, Part III: Play Calling

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- With an understanding of the overall philosophy of the UNC offense as explained by Coach Shoop, and his interaction with head coach Butch Davis during game week and on game days, what about the possibility for creativity within the pro-style model? As it turns out, contrary perhaps to popular belief, there is some.

Shoop confirmed that during 2008 season North Carolina experimented with a read-option package involving Anthony Parker-Boyd as the quarterback. Aside from a single play against Virginia, a run by Parker-Boyd for two yards, it didn't see the light of day, but it was something the staff worked on – and will continue to work on.

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop earlier this month for a one-on-one interview. This is Part III of a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: Acclimation
Part II: Game Planning
Part III: Play Calling
Part IV: Thursday
Part V: Friday
"Every time you watched Ole Miss play or the Miami Dolphins play, you wonder why, ‘Man, didn't that we didn't get more of that? Why didn't we do that?' It is something we're really going to have to look hard at in the spring," Shoop said. "Sometimes great scenes are left on the editing room floor, but there's still next year."

"We're putting more in, studying every team in the country -- if somebody is doing something better than us, we've got to see it, and we've got to study it," Shoop said, while affirming UNC's commitment to a pro-style offense. "You've got to be careful, where a lot of staffs get in trouble is they lose their identity. But there is a place for it, and it may be a series, it may be a play, it may be an in and out, it may not show up at all, but we've worked on it and we're going to continue working on it. We just didn't feel it like it was ready for prime time."

It may not be just the read-option that Shoop and the offense work on next year. Even within the parameters of being a pro-style offense, he's not opposed to expanding the playbook. "I spent an hour on the phone with T.J. (Yates) today, and an hour in here yesterday with Cam (Sexton)," Shoop said. "‘Who did you like in this bowl season? Who do you think we need to study -- what quarterback, what offense? How can we get better?' Coach Davis has really created that environment for us; it's not in a lot of places. I'm anxious to get on with the offseason, get better as a staff and as a team."

There are other benefits to carving out specific roles for players, or designing a package of plays for a specific player. "When you know that you've got a package of plays that are going to be called for you, that helps morale," Shoop said.

Ryan Houston developed that type of specific role on the team last year as a short-yardage and goal line specialist. Houston scored eight touchdowns and was often in when the Tar Heels faced third-and-short. It was a role that Houston relished, and knew was his. Shoop half-jokingly talked about Houston's attitude towards his role, "The only guy who was excited that Kendric (Burney) didn't score on that interception against Boston College, where he got tackled on the one, was Ryan Houston. I kid him all the time about that. Ryan was going, "Yeah!"

As a side note, Houston's skill at converting short yardage also contributed to Shoop's favorite play of the year: Cam Sexton's touchdown run early in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame after the Irish bit on the run fake to Houston. "This is one of my favorite pictures," he said, pointing to a large photo on his office wall of Sexton hurdling a defender as he leaps into the end zone. "My wife had that framed for me. Cam really made that play work."

"Ryan got pretty good at having a nose for the goal line, so it wasn't hard to carve out that role for him," Shoop continued. "The better he got at that, the more it showed up. We tried to do it for different guys. There was a package of plays for Cooter Arnold that you saw late in the second half of the year, there is a package of plays for anybody that is showing up on the practice field that is really giving us a spark, that is doing some good things."

It is an ongoing process, and one that head coach Butch Davis and Shoop often discuss. "Coach (Davis) will say, ‘We've got to find a way to use this, this guy has a trait that is pretty good -- how can we nourish that, how can we convert that to points?" That constant search for something additional, whether it is a new wrinkle for the offense or a specialty role for a specific player seems to part of the fabric of this staff.

"If you're not a football junkie, (UNC) is not going to be the place for you," Shoop said.

Is there a play call Shoop would like to have back? Yes, more than one, but one in particular stood out for him.

"I wish I had thrown the ball down there in hindsight on the goal line against West Virginia," he reflected. "I sure wish I had thrown the ball, probably on the second down play, and we would have scored. But I kind of wanted to set an attitude, and they were a heck of a pass defense, and on the goal line, and tight red-zone, but looking at it again, we had the pass, I probably should have thrown a pass there."

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