Category Archives: Tony Franklin – Misunderstood Genius

The tao of spread

It sure didn’t take long for this shoe to drop.

The firing of Tony Franklin on Wednesday provided the exclamation point to two dramatically different approaches that Auburn and Alabama applied to their first-year offensive coordinators.

Nick Saban went with the pro-style, power-running game he often uses and has Alabama 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country. Tommy Tuberville changed his conservative style to adopt the popular spread offense, and now is out a coordinator before the leaves turn colors.

Even as the spread has evolved during the past decade from a gimmicky, pass-happy offense to a sophisticated scheme with running capabilities, it is unclear if the spread as we know it today is here to stay.

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Filed under Media Punditry/Foibles, Nick Saban Rules, Strategery And Mechanics, Tony Franklin - Misunderstood Genius

SEC roundup

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • Former Gator quarterback Shane Matthews thinks the Florida passing game sucks.  Gainesville Sun beat writer Robbie Andreu thinks Shane Matthews sucks.  Who knows?  Maybe they’re both right.
  • So, SEC defensive coordinators, you think you know what you’re doing?  Ha!  UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, architect of the 97th ranked offense in the nation, sees your silly schemes for what they are:  “Those are probably schematically as basic and simple as I’ve seen in eight years…” Please quit wasting his time and provide him with a challenge, stat.
  • On the other hand, this computer projection doesn’t seem too impressed with Clawson.
  • As you might surmise, the firing of Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is drawing a fair amount of comment.  Finebaum – big surprise! – actually got in on the action early with this timely pre mortem.  Franklin gave a succinct summary of what happened:  “They told me to get lost.” Stewart Mandel senses the smell of panic.  And Chris Low says of Tuberville’s decision to stick with the spread, even though there isn’t a coach currently on the Auburn staff with any experience coaching the spread, “It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But given the way things have gone for Auburn’s offense this season, it’s probably par for the course.” Think anybody in orange and blue will be looking at the coach on the other sideline this weekend?  Think that coach will be looking back?

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Easy come, easy go.

The Opelika Auburn News is reporting that Auburn offensive coordinator/DVD salesman Tony Franklin has been fired.

That keening sound you think you hear in the background is actually Al Borges laughing maniacally.

UPDATE/PASSING THOUGHT:  Does that make Franklin the first coach who’s been johnsoned?  If so, dibs on the verb, peeps.

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UPDATE:  It’s always scary when great minds think alike.

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Filed under Tommy Tuberville - Mythical National Champ, Tony Franklin - Misunderstood Genius

They bought the DVD, but they didn’t buy the “System”.

Over at Smart Football, Chris Brown takes a look at the mess that is the Auburn offense.  His conclusion is that Tony Franklin hasn’t done a good job of selling his offensive strategies to his fellow coaches on the Auburn staff and that Tuberville was never buying the entire package of what Franklin was offering in the first place.

… Every coach I speak to says the same thing: I don’t know what they are doing at Auburn, but it ain’t the Airraid. So what’s going on? I’m not an insider, but my best sense is that the other coaches on the staff (including Tuberville) never bought into the system – maybe because Franklin did a poor job selling it internally, or maybe he thought he didn’t have to – and now their offense is simpl (sic) a muddle, a grab-bag of pseudo-spread garbage. This seems to be general sentiment among the smart money in football. For example, as one high school coach, who is also a client of the Tony Franklin system, said:

I live in Alabama and I attended the game between [Auburn] and Tennessee. I also am an offensive coordinator for a high school football team that runs the [Tony Franklin System]. From what I have seen this year from AU, this is not the system.

It seems to me that Franklin is getting told what to run on offense. Tubs wants to run the ball to set up the pass and Franklin likes to set up the run with the pass. I never saw any hurry up offense from AU at this weeks game . . . . Franklin has said that to be sucessful in this offense you must be good at the screens, and get a lot of snaps (maybe like 80) on offense. I dont think I have seen but maybe four screens all year and I don’t think they are close to getting 80 snaps.

I’m not ready to blame Tommy Tuberville; he’s an extremely smart guy and coach. But I do wonder: why in the world would you bring a guy in who knows one system extremely well but one system only, and then not run what he knows? And even if the pressure was on from the AD or the boosters to go spread, why not pick a twig off the Rich Rodriguez or “running-spread” tree? Instead, they picked a guy whose background was in a pass-first spread, and then they shelve the passing concepts. It really boggles my mind.

Last night sure didn’t help.

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UPDATE: This can’t be good.

… When Tuberville apologized to his players for not giving them a chance to win in the second half, that was almost certainly pointed at Franklin. Tuberville doesn’t call offensive plays.

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Another good day for the genius

I heard two good smackdowns of Auburn in the last couple of days leading up to tonight’s game.

First, Thursday afternoon Jim Donnan took a shot at Tony Franklin on 680 The Fan – “he coached at Kentucky and I don’t exactly remember Kentucky tearing up the SEC East when he was there”.  Then, my oldest daughter, who goes to school at Vandy, texted her youngest sister this morning with:  “Auburn must be in town.  First mullet sighting at 11:15 AM.”

Nice, but neither holds a candle to Auburn stumbling to 208 yards of total offense against the lowest ranked defense in the SEC.  Tubby ought to send Ralph Friedgen a thank you card, though, for saving him from having the most embarrassing loss of the day.  Any port in a storm, and all that…

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Three yards and a cloud of dust don’t look too bad right now.

From today’s Department of Irony comes the SEC scoring stats:

SCORING OFFENSE G TD FG XPT 2XP DXP Saf Points Avg/G
1. Alabama 5 23 8 21 1 0 0 185 37.0
2. Florida 4 18 5 17 0 0 1 142 35.5
LSU 4 17 8 16 0 0 0 142 35.5
4. Georgia 5 22 6 20 1 0 0 172 34.4
5. Kentucky 4 15 7 15 0 0 0 126 31.5
6. Ole Miss 5 19 6 19 0 0 0 151 30.2
7. Vanderbilt 4 14 7 14 0 0 0 119 29.8
8. S. Carolina 5 11 10 11 0 0 0 107 21.4
9. Arkansas 4 11 1 9 1 0 0 80 20.0
10. Auburn 5 12 5 12 0 0 0 99 19.8
11. Tennessee 4 10 3 8 0 0 0 77 19.2
12. Miss. State 5 10 3 10 0 0 1 81 16.2

Yep, that’s Alabama, running a traditional power running/play action passing offense that’s currently leading the SEC in scoring at 37 point per game.

And that’s Auburn, which just ditched a traditional power running/play action passing offense in favor of the current flavor of the month spread option attack, showing up in tenth by scoring roughly half the amount of points per game that ‘Bama is currently racking up.

The offensive display put on in the second half of the Auburn-Tennessee game was one of the most putrid things I’ve seen since… well, since the Auburn-Mississippi State game.  I think you’d have to say at this point that the Tony Franklin experiment isn’t exactly going swimmingly so far.

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Tuesday tidbits

Mostly Georgia/South Carolina related stuff, but worth a peek:

  • Ah, the Bulldog Hotline.  Feel the Dawgnation’s angst.  Mark Richt sure is a patient man.
  • The Athens Banner-Herald has all the details on the Dawgs’ travel plans this week.
  • Paul Westerdawg speculates on Georgia’s options covering Jared Cook last Saturday and concludes none of them were that great.  (Personally, I’m still trying to get over Moe Frickin’ Brown’s career day.)
  • Gregg Doyel works his magic and pulls off a trick I didn’t think anyone could do:  he makes me sympathize with Steve Spurrier.  By the way, dude, when a quarterback’s career day involves leading his team to a loss in which it scores a total of seven points and he throws a game ending interception, that should clue you in to the fact that it hasn’t been much of a career.
  • I didn’t like feeling sympathy for Spurrier, so I watched his post-game presser.  That did the trick.
  • There’s a fine line between confidence and detachment from reality, and Tony Franklin sounds like a man determined to map the border.  His view of the offense after Auburn’s 3-2 blowout of Mississippi State?  “It’s scary how close we are.” Roger that, Houston.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Media Punditry/Foibles, SEC Football, The Evil Genius, Tony Franklin - Misunderstood Genius

Monday morning you sure look fine…

To get you started on the week, check this stuff out:

  • It’s the Monday before the season starts, and Auburn still hasn’t named a starting quarterback.  But Tony Franklin (you’ve heard he’s a genius, right?) isn’t worried.
  • Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban plans on as many as ten of his true freshmen – that’s about ten percent of his original incoming class, it seems like (that’s a joke, Tide fans) – playing “significant roles” in the season opener against Clemmins.
  • Remember Willie “Sign and Dine” Williams?  He’s now at Glenville State trying to make a go of it.  It sounds like he’s discovered that, like the crowds and the facilities, the food is a step down in Division 1-AA:  “If you would have told me two or three years earlier, ‘Willie, you’re going to be eating deer,’ I probably would have looked at you like, nah, never, ever.   It really wasn’t that bad. I’m not saying I’m going to get in there and cook some deer meat now, but I’ll eat it again.”
  • So a few kids, including the starting tailback, violate South Carolina’s class attendance policy.  Steve Spurrier doesn’t want to make a federal case out of it.  “It’s a middle-of-the-year game,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Saturday. “They’re all missing that same game.” Translation: they’ll sit against UAB or Swofford.  Tough love, baby.
  • It really is the end of an era up in Ann Arbor, for better or worse.  Brian Cook does a fine job of capturing the bittersweet with this eulogy of the Lloyd Carr times.

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Filed under College Football, Crime and Punishment, SEC Football, The Blogosphere, The Evil Genius, Tony Franklin - Misunderstood Genius

The Tonys and the spread: it’s grrrrreat!

Tony Barnhart talks to Auburn OC Tony Franklin (who’s a “little different” because he listens to classical music – geez, nice cliché there, TB) about the spread offense that Franklin is installing at Tuberville U.

I liked this quote from Franklin about one of the goals of the spread and how easy it will be to meet that goal in a conference known for its defensive depth.   It points to a key reason why I think Georgia’s defense will be up to the challenge of SEC spread attacks this season.

“In football the defensive linemen are better athletes than the offensive linemen. That’s just the way it is. But you turn it into an even match by running a lot of plays that force the defensive front to run a lot to get to the ball. Early in the game they are feeling frisky and they will chase after everything. Some plays look like they are not working but they are because the defense is running a long way just to make the tackle.

“Most of the big plays in this offense come in the second and fourth quarters after the defense has gotten tired. This works very well in high school and at the Division II and Division I-AA level of college football because at that level teams don’t have the numbers on defense. It’s more difficult at this level because the good teams are so deep in defensive linemen. But in games where I knew we were overmatched physically, I spent the first quarter and third quarter just running plays hoping to get their defense tired. Then if we could just keep it close we might have a chance in the fourth quarter.”

By the way, although Barnhart tries to hint at it (“Note: Troy rolled up 488 yards in a 44-34 loss to Georgia last November“), Georgia’s defense didn’t run out of gas against Franklin’s offense last year.  Troy took advantage of Martinez rolling out his third string defenders late in the game – Troy’s last score came off of a 91 yard drive with less than a minute left.

Then there’s this:

The biggest misconception about the spread? “It is that the players who run this offense, particularly the linemen, are not tough. Go look at film of West Virginia’s offensive line or Texas Tech’s. Those guys are tough. People think guys aren’t tough because we’re not lining up in the I-formation and blowing people off the ball. But I’ve seen a lot of tough coaches get fired because they couldn’t score any points. Toughness is an attitude that good coaches teach their players. We have one of the top offensive line coaches in the country (Hugh Nall). Our guys are going to be very tough.”

We’ll see.  I raised this very question when Tuberville announced the change.  The stats suggest that SEC teams running pro-style offenses tend to do a better job scoring in the red zone.  If that’s not an indication of power versus power, what is it?  The other “toughness” issue raised isn’t about Auburn’s offense.  It’s about Auburn’s defense.  Those guys will be practicing daily against the spread, which, Franklin’s representations to the contrary, is a finesse offense.  As the season winds on, how are those defenders going to fare against power running teams?

It’ll be an interesting experiment to watch, that’s for sure.  And one thing we know – Tubby ain’t exactly the most patient human being in the world when it comes to coordinators.

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UPDATE: More thoughts on Franklin’s spread from Will Collier at From The Bleachers.

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Spread ‘em.

So, it’s out with the old and in with the new at Auburn, at least with regard to offensive coordinators. Out is the genius of 2004, Al Borges, whose prowess with West Coast football and play action has been on the decline since kids like Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown set sail for fairer ports. In is former Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin who runs the current flavor of the month in college football. Dread the spread, baby!

HeismanPundit is impressed.

The transformation continues. By my count:

SEC schools using standard I-formation, pro-style offenses, 2004

Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina

SEC schools using elements of the spread, or a college-style passing offense, 2008

Auburn, LSU, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss

If anyone has corrections here, please comment. Point being, there has been a remarkable transformation in the SEC on the offensive side of the ball since 2004.

For Tommy Tuberville, the spread is sort of all things to all men.

“We’re going to have a lot of backs in the game. I think the backs are going to like it because we’re going to throw the ball to them more. You’re going to play running backs like Brad Lester at wide receiver. Mario Fannin will play the slot.”

Tuberville said the spread will help recruit wide receivers.

“We were having a little bit of problem recruiting receivers because we were only using two a game and not six or seven or eight a game like some of these teams. This will allow us to broaden our recruiting base.”

Many people see the spread as being a finesse offense, but not Mr. “You’ve got to run the ball in the SEC”:

The biggest difference, Tuberville said of Franklin, “is he’s going to set up the run by passing the ball. We’ve set up the pass by running the ball. I don’t doubt it’s going to work, but we’re still going to be a physical team. We’re going to run the ball more than we’re going to throw it.

Auburn will remain a physical offensive team.

“I’m a defensive coach and I know you have to be physical in practice to help your defense,” Tuberville said. “You can’t get better in games on defense. You have to practice hard and practice physical. We’ll have a lot of two-back in our offense next year.”

Clemson’s Tommy Bowden is skeptical that Tuberville will get everything he wants out of the spread.

But, warned Bowden, there could be a downside. He once ran the spread offense, but dumped it.

“Where we got hurt was running backs. I couldn’t recruit a running back with what I was doing,” Bowden said. “So if you marry it too much, you’re going to hurt yourself. . .but you’re going to attract the wideouts. But, as Tommy said, he still believes you’ve got to run the football. You’ve got to be able to run it, and that’s where I got away from the running back.”

I was curious about Tuberville’s assurance that his team would remain physical on offense. There are certainly plenty of spread offenses that are prolific scorers, but how tough are they?

One way I believe you can measure this is by looking at red zone conversion stats. Once you get inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, there’s less space to spread a defense out and the need to have a power element in the offense becomes greater. By that rationale, you’d think that teams that run the spread are generally less successful in the red zone than teams that don’t.

The first problem is defining the terminology. If I define spread attacks as those which employ a running quarterback at least five times a game, here’s how that would break down in the SEC in 2007:

“Pro-style” SEC offenses (less than 60 QB rushing attempts)

  • Tennessee
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina**
  • Mississippi State
  • Arkansas*

*Arky obviously presents a special case, because of the Wild Hog formation. Arkansas’ true QBs only ran the ball 12 times this season. McFadden obviously averaged more than five direct snaps a game.

**South Carolina doesn’t utilize a spread option attack, but it does use four and five WR packages and HP (correctly, in my opinion) sees it as a non-traditional offense.

“Spread elements” SEC offenses (more than 60 QB rushing attempts)

  • Vanderbilt
  • Mississippi
  • LSU
  • Kentucky
  • Florida
  • Auburn
  • Alabama

HP is wrong with his characterization of Vandy’s offense. Commodore QBs rushed the ball 145 times this season, second most in the SEC. And before you raise your eyebrows about Auburn being on this list, don’t forget that the Tigers ran the ball with Kodi Burns frequently this season.

I’d say based on the above that only three teams operated out of primarily pro style offense sets in the conference in 2007: Tennessee (19 QB rushing attempts), Georgia (37 QB rushing attempts) and Mississippi State (58 QB rushing attempts).

And courtesy of cfbstats.com, where you can find virtually any college football statistic under the sun, here’s how the SEC teams rank nationally in terms of red zone conversions against conference opponents (pro style offenses are in bold):

  • Georgia #2
  • LSU #6
  • Tennessee #13
  • Mississippi State #15
  • Arkansas #21
  • Alabama #53
  • Florida #65
  • South Carolina #65
  • Auburn #70
  • Kentucky #80
  • Vanderbilt #110
  • Mississippi #117

Keep in mind as you look at that list that Florida was #4 nationally in scoring offense and Mississippi State was #93.

As you see, three of the top four teams run pro-style offenses.

No, I can’t say it’s a hard and fast rule – not with LSU once again proving that it has enough talent to look good in any statistical ranking – but those stats are a pretty good indicator that Bowden’s experience is probably something that Tuberville should heed.

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