It's spread/tempo/air raid, but Longo believes you have to run to win

Yes, new Rebel Offensive Coordinator technically runs an "Air Raid" offense, but he is also a believer in an aggressive, downhill running game and will bring that philosophy and plan to Ole Miss with him.

Don't let the garish, staggering passing numbers fool you about new Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo's attack.

His offenses at Sam Houston State the last three years have also put up gaudy rushing yards - in the 3,500 yard range in 2014 and 2015 and around 2600 in 2016 when he had a record-setting quarterback in First=Team FCS All-American Jeremiah Briscoe, who threw for 4600 yards and 57 touchdowns.

"Even though we did not run the ball as much in 2016 because of Jeremiah's passing ability, we were still very efficient when we did run it, averaging over five yards a carry," said Longo, "but the bottom line is that we will tailor our offense to the talent we have. While we will use Air Raid principles, we will have an aggressive, downhill running game.

"You cannot win big, you cannot win championships, without a great run game. It's a must."

And there it is, one of three reasons why Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze hired Longo, rushing the ball being one, his red zone efficiency being another and his success on third downs being yet another.

But before delving into those areas more specifically, Longo cited his pleasure of being at Ole Miss.

"The opportunity to be in the SEC is something every college coach aspires to," said Phil. "I am very excited, as is my family. When you are a competitor, and I am, you want to have the opportunity to do what you do against the very best and there is no question we will see that in the SEC. It's a dream come true and I can't wait to get going."

So, back to the original thoughts of how he is going to improve the Ole Miss offense, which has had a pretty good run in Freeze's five-year stint. The fact of the matter, Freeze wants more and believes Longo is the man to lead him that way.

On his success in the Red Zone, an 80% rate of scoring touchdowns in 2016, which is phenomenal.

"Ten or 15 years ago, we were not very good in the Red Zone, but the reason was that we didn't work on it enough. We worked too much in the middle of the field. Early in my career, I recognized red zone, third down and short yardage have to be worked on constantly. I have been very careful to police myself and my staff in regards to game-planning and practicing in those areas.

"When you are good in those areas, you are typically more likely to win."

Back to the run game, Ole Miss is, obviously, in on the number one running back in the nation in Clinton's Cam Akers. How does an Air Raid coach sell a guy like Cam to play in his offense?

"I feel we have a great product to sell running backs. I am 100 percent philosophically Air Raid in throwing the football, but I believe that in order to win championships on any level, you have to be able to run the football," he continued. "And when we run, I want it to be very physical and downhill. That is not rhetoric. That is how we are going to attack the run game - downhill and aggressive. We will run the ball as a necessity to win football games.

"I am always going to run the offense in a way to emphasize our particular talents on a particular squad. This year, we had a great quarterback and receivers so we utilized them, but we were still very efficient running the ball. We will not be looking for 40 runs and 40 passes a game. We will go where our talents lead us, but we have to be efficient running and throwing to have a chance to win."

How much RPO (run-pass option) does Longo run?

"The offense is not nearly dominated by the RPO approach as some people may think. We will have four or five base plays that are true RPO plays, but it is not as big a part of our system as people think," he noted. "As for offensive line play, we will have no plays where they will have to pull up after three yards. Everything we do is based on a true run concept when we run RPO. The offensive line, in this system, only believes we are running power when we run power and we want them to block it that way. Otherwise, it takes away from your aggressiveness up front and we don't want to do that.

"When we call a run play, that is what the OL will expect and that's how they will block it."

There has also been some talk about Longo's approach in the passing game of letting the receivers make the majority of the reads of the defense and the QB not having to do that as much.

"The quarterback has so much to do in setting plays and getting signals. About eight years ago, we had our quarterback getting the play signal, putting the running back in the right spot, putting the receivers in the right spot, communicate the play to the offensive line, identify the Mike linebacker, identify the coverage, It was just too much - the list was too long. Quarterback is the most important position on the field with regards to orchestrating the offense. We were handicapping the best player on the field. We decided to go in a different direction and that was to delegate some of the unnecessary responsibility off the quarterback to some of the other positions," he explained. "It is a lot easier for a receiver to ID a cloud corner or soft corner or coverage and make an adjustment with his route.

"It is also easier to signal a play in to all the players instead of the quarterback. We simplified the quarterback's world. He will receive the signal, ID the front and we will snap the football and let our good athletes go play."

Longo is knows there is a good foundation of offense at Ole Miss, so he's not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

"All these offensive coaches are very good football coaches. I am not coming in here to teach them things they don't already know. There is a lot of overlap in what they did and what I do. There's a lot of stealing going on in college football. It's a matter of putting everything into a system," he added. "The system I run has allowed me to be real flexible and utilize our available talent, our best players, efficiently, and it's allowed us to best attack the defenses we face.

"It's like looking at all the pieces of a puzzle on a table. Those pieces are specifically designed to fit the two or three pieces around them, but they all fit into a framework. The problem is that puzzle is very rigid. You can't take a piece and put it somewhere else. We have the same puzzle, but all our pieces are square and we can take any of them and move them around and they fit nicely all over the puzzle. We can be multiple and flexible but everything fits into the framework of the system at the end of the day."

Longo was asked if he knew about Shea Patterson and how he felt Shea fits his system.

"Shea is very athletic. He can throw and he can run. I had a quarterback like that in 2014 and 2015. Shea can really throw it and he's very mobile. He reminds me of a Johnny Manziel. I am sure that comparison has been made before. I can't wait to teach him our system and I'm excited to work with a guy of his immense dual talents," Longo noted. "I also believe he will have a really good supporting staff. A young, talented offensive line, some quality receivers and some very good backs to work with - those are the things we all look for.

"I'm walking into an existing situation with a lot of talent that we can be successful with."

Freeze and Longo will work hand-in-hand on the offense.

"We will work well together and marry our systems. There is a lot of overlap. We will change the terminology, but beyond that, I will rely a lot on the Coach Freeze and offensive staff to incorporate things into the system that will work. They all have SEC experience I don't have, and you can never quit learning. This will not be an ego deal. This will be a group of coaches working together to put the best product on the field," he stated. "We will do it within the system that Coach Freeze has asked me to bring in here and run."

There you have Phil Longo's offensive thoughts in a nutshell, but lets dig a little deeper.

At 48, he's getting his first "shot" at Division I football.

He's been somewhat of a journeyman, with stops st Slippery Rock, Southern Illinois, Minnesota-Duluth, Sam Houston State, Youngstown State, Patterson University - not exactly powerhouses like he will face now - after starting his coaching career in the high school ranks, similar to the path taken by Freeze.

We asked him, respectfully, why it took him this long to get to the "big time," and he took what could be construed by some as an uncomfortable question in full stride, not being offended at all.

"First of all, I did not play Division I football. I played Division III football at Rowan University, therefore, I had no avenue to be a graduate assistant at a large program, which is the route you just about have to take to break into the Division I," he began. "I could not get my career kicked off quickly. When you play for D-I coaches, you develop relationships with them, their staff and other coaches. That creates opportunities. I didn't have those chances.

"I started on the high school level as a 25-year old head coach where I had the opportunity to be the boss and learn the hard way. When I look back, I realize I didn't know anything then, but I kept working hard and learning. The I worked my way into small college at the very bottom. I worked for schools that didn't even have winning records and just kept grinding away. Then, as I was climbing the ladder of the profession, so to speak, I would take any job that I thought would advance my career, but after a decade of so, I looked at my worksheet and said to myself that I bet potential employers might think I couldn't hold a job very long," he chuckled. "Now, after 23 yeas, I realize I was blessed.I was able to learn from some great coaches and be around different personalities and steal ideas, develop my own ideas and learn. Now, I have a really good network of contacts and a lot of resources. I have friendships across the nation. In the long haul, moving around a lot when I was younger was a benefit for me based on the way my career got started. I have had so many more learning experiences."

But one thing not touched on is his bottom line philosophy - recruiting. He has no ego about his coaching ability. He knows what is important - securing top-notch talent.

"Being able to X & O and call a game is important, there is no doubt about it, but at the end of the day, the team with the better talent has a better shot of winning, so it is recruiting first - always," he stated. "There is nothing more important than getting top talent and in the SEC, you have to secure the best of the best to win.

"The least of my challenges will be running the system. The biggest challenge will be competing in the recruiting arena with the top programs in the country and I cannot wait to get started doing just that."

Longo expressed his excitement to be at Ole Miss once again, with an asterisk.

"I'm super excited, but I now have the job so I am already in business mode. I'm in a mindset of getting to work. Sure, I'm excited, but it's time to get to work to make the absolute most of the situation and be a major asset to the Ole Miss program," Longo closed. "I'm not taking this step to Division I to be anything but successful, and I believe Ole Miss is a great place to do that with Coach Freeze and the staff he has in place and is assembling."

 


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