The Coach’s Corner: An Offensive “System”

Coach Morris Analysis mascot Abbie

A note from Today we have a unique treat, this article is from Coach Mike Morris, who coached at seven different high schools in Southern California for 30 years.

We encourage other coaches that are interested in possibly writing guest columns providing their unique insight to please contact us.



“It’s not WHAT you do; it’s HOW you do it.”  This axiom must always dominate a coach’s choosing and teaching of his offense.  Certain plays might be great in theory, but if the players execute them in a sloppy, confused manner, those plays have hurt the team’s all-important goal of being the best team possible.  While the offensive plays a coach selects are important, it’s much more critical how well he teaches those plays.  Not even the finest strategic concepts can overcome poor execution of the fundamentals.

As a starting point, I think an offense must be a “system.”  The football [and basketball] offenses I’ve most admired — as a coach and spectator — were SYSTEMS.     

Each play helped set up or complement another.  For every defensive reaction, there was an adjustment built into the system to take advantage of that reaction.  These teams practiced continually within their systems, and continually improved in their knowledge and techniques.

The football [and basketball] teams I didn’t/don’t admire just ran PLAYS.  These plays were unrelated, often/usually changed week to week, and those teams rarely improved as the season went on.

Offenses I don’t like hope their opponents’ unfamiliarity with their plays will lead to offensive success.  Offenses I admire say, “We don’t care if you know what we do; we’ll out-execute you.”

Offenses I don’t admire try to do too much.  Having a too complicated offensive system causes players to be imprecise, unagressive, and slow in their execution of necessary techniques.  A constant goal must be to make each of your players as good as he can be.  That’s impossible if a player is confused.  Even though creating defensive confusion is a worthy goal, it’s not nearly as important as avoiding offensive confusion.

I think it’s necessary to have as simple an offensive system as possible, realizing that system must maximize your players’ skills, and minimize their weaknesses.  I think there’s a great advantage to having a simple, flexible offensive system, and then working to be PRECISE within that system.  To execute your offense better than your opponents execute their defense, you must keep your offense as simple as possible [only plays you MUST HAVE], and then give your players as many thoroughly-taught repetitions as possible.

In setting up an offense, do you really know and believe in what you’re teaching?  The teaching intricacies?   How you’ll be defended?  How you’ll react to their defensive strategy?  The key to any offensive system is the coaching staff’s knowing [1] how to teach it, and [2] how to fix what’s wrong.  As a coaching staff, you need to have that understanding, that strength of knowledge and belief in what you’re doing.

I think too many football teams fail to continually take advantage of a defensive weakness.  There’s far too much diversity for the sake of diversity.

If there’s something the defense can’t stop, keep running it until they’re forced to weaken themselves somewhere else to stop it. Then have complimentary options and/or techniques to take advantage of all possible defensive adjustments.  An offensive axiom to strive for:  “For each defensive reaction, we have an appropriate and effective offensive reaction.”

I formulated those preceding thoughts during the early 1970s, in the early years of a four decade career as a high school football coach in Southern California.  All these years of coaching and watching others coach has definitely reinforced those stated beliefs.  Obviously, none of those ideas are uniquely mine.  By far my greatest philosophical influence as a football coach was the great basketball coach John Wooden.  He would enthusiastically agree with everything I wrote.

It’s now 2012. I’m retired and living in a suburb of Eugene, Oregon, AND I now have opportunities to see those principles I stated constantly exemplified by Coach Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks.  Coach Wooden would love Coach Kelly’s offense.  And Coach Kelly would have loved attending Coach Wooden’s practices.

Besides beautifully following those original concepts I stated, Coach Kelly has added significant improvements, while staying within the limits of his offensive system.

Coach Kelly borrowed the mesh-read optional handoff from wishbone and veer systems, and their current spin-offs at the military academies and Georgia Tech.  This allows an offensive adjustment during the play. A single called play can hurt the defense in several different areas, depending on their reaction to that play.  A [possibly very good] defensive player doesn’t even have to be blocked, and that extra blocker [who doesn’t have to block him], can give significant help somewhere else.

BUT Coach Kelly realizes that in order to get the necessary precision on a difficult mesh-read optional handoff, appropriate [a whole lot of] time must be spent practicing those gives or keeps.  Thus Coach Kelly greatly limits the amount of supplementary running plays, and never has more than 2 plays that require a mesh-read optional handoff.

Also by spreading the field, and playing at such an amazing speed, with no huddles, Coach Kelly has greatly limited the defensive schemes opponents can use against him.  Whatever limited scheme a defense uses, Coach Kelly and his staff know how best to attack it, and can instantly communicate that information.

Because of the uniqueness of the offense [its speed and read option handoffs], it’s pretty much impossible for an opponent’s scout team to simulate that offense.  Resulting in ineffective practices and confused defensive players.

On game days, Oregon’s defensive opponents must leave their cardio-vascular comfort zones and play at an unnatural [for them] tempo that Oregon practices at all the time.

But, it’s important to remember, as we appreciate the breath-taking speed and precision of the Oregon offense, that without the offensive simplicity and thorough learning, by players and coaches, they couldn’t do it.

Another appreciated axiom:  “We will become what we repeatedly do.  Excellence must become a habit.”

It’s not WHAT they do; but HOW they do it.

New 2024 FishDuck Publishing Schedule….

During the off-season the publishing schedule will consist of articles on Mondays and Tuesdays. Do keep checking as new articles could be published during the week when a writer has something to say.

In mid-August of 2024, we will go back to the seven-days-a-week of articles during the football season as we did in the football season of 2023.

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