A Legendary Coach Explains Cristobal to Fans: Win with STRATEGY, Not Scoring

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Advice for the Coaches 35 Comments

We have been very fortunate to have a legendary coach share some of his thoughts with us. Coach Tony DeMeo (who has won a ton of college football games) gives presentations to coaches and businesses in his retirement. Also, he has contributed a number of articles to this site, and his most recent article will form the background for this article as I write his feedback about the “Mario Cristobal” strategy from a couple of phone interviews we have had. We welcome Coach from his home in West Virginia!  Charles Fischer

What is the football coach’s objective? Is it to score points, or is it to win games?

This is the fundamental question that Coach Tony DeMeo hit me with to begin explaining his winning football strategies and the philosophies that accompany them. It is ironic that it is Mr. FishDuck doing this interview, since he is a proponent of scoring tons of points, yet he is attempting to give you a true perspective of what coaches like Tony DeMeo and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots are utilizing to win games at high percentages.

First, you must acknowledge the structure of the game you are involved in; in baseball, you have a specified outcome that goes nine innings regardless of the amount of time it takes. When it comes to a clock-oriented type of contest like football or basketball, remember the words of Coach DeMeo’s friend, Jim Valvano, the NCAA Basketball Championship winning coach (North Carolina State) that stunned the world in beating the University of Houston Phi Slamma Jamma team of future NBA All-Stars.

“The only lead you need is at the end of the game. He who controls the pace wins the race.”

Business Insider Singapore

One of the most incredible upset in sports was achieved by Jim Valvano.

The late Coach Valvano also stated, “you have to put your ego on a shelf in order to win.” This wisdom made an impression upon Coach DeMeo and became the foundation of how he was to coach and win at several stops in his coaching career.

Tony has been involved in four program turnarounds, and his last team was a preseason pick to be last-place in the conference, but ended up with an 8-3 record with less talent than the majority of the teams they played! Coach DeMeo outperformed because of strategy, not talent and was fiercely disciplined in the implementation of these winning strategies.

“If you do not have the best talent, then you have to change the rules. You have to shorten the game, because the longer the game goes, the more likely the more skilled team wins.

“The less talented team can win by simply being in front when the clock runs out, even if the less talented team trailed the majority of the game and would lose if the game went longer.”

Coach DeMeo’s perspective begins to alter your thoughts about how football games are to be played when you talk with him and ponder the wisdom acquired from experience, not book-learning or what appears to be logical. What matters to him and coaches like DeMeo is a game plan that focuses on winning, and not scoring or trying to be entertaining.


Coach Tony DeMeo knew how to WIN…

Opposing coaches knew that if a Coach DeMeo team took the lead in the fourth quarter….the game was as good as over as DeMeo teams won 92% of the time once they got ahead in the final quarter, and even if it was only by a point. As Coach told me, “the other team would never see the ball again.” He created an offense called the Triple Gun that is built for winning games, and not necessarily scoring points. There is a difference…

Coach DeMeo knows Mike Leach and reminded him this last fall (when at WSU) of how he should not have lost that insane shoot-out UCLA game when Leach had a massive 30+ point lead.

“Run the ball and kill the clock and they cannot score enough to over-take you as there will not be enough time. Leach trying to score more through the air helped the Bruins come back…”

Coach DeMeo believes in “run the rock to control the clock,” while the Air-Raid offense of Leach teams emphasizes passing of which results in many three-and-out offensive possessions that give the opponent more opportunities to score and catch up. He also cites the recent Super Bowl where the Atlanta Falcons had a 28-3 lead and yet lost to New England? The Falcons only ran the ball three times in the second half and gave plenty of clock to New England to make their Tom Brady-led come back.

From YouTube

Bill Walsh created a passing offense that was high-percentage.

The objective is to control the ball, and even the West Coast passing offense of his late-friend Bill Walsh was a ball control offense. Coach DeMeo explained how you can burn clock with safe passing plays to complement your running game, but you must have a team built to make the big first down, to be able to score points on even the most difficult opposing defense. He explains that it does not matter what your scoring averages are because you have to be able to build an offense that can score 25 points on your toughest opponent.

He uses as an example the Chip Kelly Oregon 2010 team (Coach Tony knows Chip) as the Ducks took the nation by storm with dazzling players and a fast tempo and thus averaged 50 points a game. But, in the national championship the Ducks could only score 19, while just 25 points would have won! Scoring tons of points on weaker foes mean nothing at crunch time in the big game, as DeMeo maintains that you must have an offense that can score 25 points against the best team on your schedule.

Coach DeMeo and Bill Belichick’s strategies were designed to win, plain and simple. They were not designed to entertain or to show how clever they were. This philosophy carries over to the defensive side of the ball as well (Belichick’s specialty), where substance takes precedence over sizzle as his defenses refuse to allow the big play and showcases outstanding discipline.

How familiar is this for Oregon fans who have watched the Development of Cristobal’s Offense?

For many of us–what you just read above sure appears to be what Coach Cristobal is targeting, and during the recent NFL Draft we heard the comment on ESPN that, “Oregon did not have a lot of talent around Justin Herbert.” Considering the offensive talent that Oregon did have … did Coach Mario Cristobal achieve the team’s highest potential in 2019 with a Pac-12 Championship, a Rose Bowl win, and a final ranking of No. 5 in the nation?

Eugene Johnson

Micah Pittman leads a new set of receivers that can elevate the Oregon offense?

This has given Mr. FishDuck quite a bit to chew on, because by his own admission, the talent and coaching at wide receiver did not create enough balance in the offense during the short Cristobal era, and coach was making-do with the roster he had. Perhaps with better talent the offense can open up more? It is not like Cristobal would publicly say that, “our talent level on offense is poor and that is why we are not scoring as much.”

Mr. FishDuck has noted how the college game has changed, and even teams with loads of future NFL players on their defensive rosters have a boatload of points scored on them. Jim Harbaugh implemented this type of tough defense, and control-the-clock game management while at Stanford and successfully rebuilt the Cardinal. Yet now at Michigan he had 56 points face-planted upon his Wolverine team last fall by the Ohio State Shotgun Spread offense. On the same day we saw Alabama scoring 45 points and lose to Auburn while Clemson could not stop the scoring juggernaut of LSU in the National Championship.

The point is … we have a fascinating dichotomy between the winning formula presented by Coach DeMeo that is proven over time, and yet current top teams have the highest-scoring offenses. Which is best for Oregon?

I am grateful to Coach Tony DeMeo for giving Oregon fans a ton to think about, and frankly … this information makes the next football season all the more interesting to watch the growth of the Oregon offense under Joe Moorhead. Building a tough defense and creating an offense to score at least 25 points on the toughest opponent sure appears to be the Cristobal Templateand I cannot wait to see more.

“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Eugene Johnson


Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.

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That from a school with a $27 Billion, with a B, endowment. You don’t get that kind of money by not keeping track of income and expenses. They are getting ready for a hit on income to the AD.


Hate to say it Charles, but this was all predictable and predicted back in early April, when it became clear that certain states and the current federal government would be unwilling and incapable of implementing science and evidence based public health policies.

No really sure there are many other choices out there for AD’s. Can a school really justify interstate travel to certain areas? If so, do players remain isolated? would there be quarantine requirements?


B1G cancelled non-conference games, I think it’s likely the PAC will follow suite soon. Maybe our best hope would be a truncated divisional season of five games and a PAC Championship game. If things are looking better by the new year, maybe a traditional Rose Bowl game between the PAC and B1G. Possibly getting our match up with Ohio St after all.


PAC just went to conference only schedule.

Jon Joseph

OK, you have the inferior roster but a good enough D to control the opposition from scoring 1 point less? Seems to me that you have an O that by talent or design, wants to take the air out of the ball and turn it over to the better side of the ball, the D? I get it.

But when you have a Superior Roster, IMO there is NO sense in playing small ball and keeping the other team in the game.

How many rosters did the Ducks go up against in 2019, that were deeper and more talented than the Oregon roster? On paper, 2 or 3 – Auburn, USC and UW. The Ducks went 2 for 3 and IMO and based on the Minnesota win over Auburn, would have gone 3 for 3 if Mario had kept the peddle to the metal instead of going for a ‘small ball’ W.

How many bad or at best mediocre teams in 2019, did the Ducks keep in the game? ASU – L; WSU – last drive victory; CAL – hung in playing its back up QB; OR ST- a 5-7 team that had no business being on the same field.

Mario has already opined that he held JH back. There is a reason why he opened the wallet for Joe Moorhead.

BTW, as a Pats fan, I can tell you that Billy B’s D last season could not overcome the lack of talent on O.

Personally, I believe it is far more important to show up ready to play the game than anything else. Football is about attitude and leverage. You are not ready to play, anyone can beat you.

My guess? Coach DeMeo had his teams, notwithstanding the talent on his or the other guy’s roster, ready to play 4Qs of football.

Thank you Coach and Charles.

Thanks Charles and again, kudos to you and the Coach both.

Man, you are so right, the Stanford cuts are not a good indicator when it comes to the season being played as scheduled.

Looking more + more like the opening game could be vs UW on 10/3? Maybe 8 conference games with the 4th cross over game eliminated?

I do know that if the season is deferred to 2021, the NFL will not push back the draft.

Darren Perkins

Ok, ok I’ll be the greedy party pooper. : )

I agree with the article, and it backs the idea that Mario did let the foot off the gas at least a half-quarter too early versus Auburn. Ducks were up 21-13 going into the fourth. One more TD most likely wins the game for the Ducks, as they’d have gone over 25 and would have killed more clock in the process, hence no last seconds heroics by Auburn.

Perhaps Mario learned from this early and applied it the rest of the 2019 season.

13-1!!!! I’ll dismiss the ASU game as just an awful all around performance. It happens.

Thanks for the info Charles.

Mike West


A little off topic, but maybe not. The team was physically capable of going undefeated last year. Do you believe the players were mentally able to go undefeated last year (forget about coaching for a minute)?

Looking at this year, do you believe that mental makeup is present to actually defeat Ohio State and go undefeated in the regular season?

Like you, I’m greedy. And I have this affinity for Kool-aid. I do actually believe the defense will give Ohio State fits. Physically and mentally. What are your thoughts on Oregon’s ability (physically and mentally) to defeat the Buckeyes?

Same to others out there…Are the Ducks capable of beating Ohio State in your opinion?

By the way, I’m still mortified by the way our beloved Ducks ruined my prediction we’d beat Auburn last year. But I was absolutely convinced the team was better than the Tigers. I put some small change in it, and I will take the now 9 points the Buckeyes are giving if we’re fortunate enough to witness that matchup this year.

As I said, Kool-aid tastes mighty fine to me.

I say it’s a game we can win. Who’s in?

Darren Perkins

Let’s pretend that Covid-19 is not happening, because that throws a wrench in everything. So, all things being normal, YES, I think the Ducks could very well go undeated this year. Heck, we almost did last year when most were predicting 8 or 9 wins.

The toughest opponents all come to Eugene: Ohio St, USC, UW, Stanford, etc. The way the Ducks have been recruiting we don’t need to rebuild when we, for example, lose a star quarterback, we reload, with the best of them.

Defense will be stout, I have faith in our new OC and new QB. Obviously the Ohio St game is the most dangerous because they are our toughest opponent, have good qb, and play us early in the season. But, that’s where we just have to step up and get it done. Let’s not think about the safety net if we lose to Ohio State. The “well if we lose and still win out we can still make the CFP.”

I’m tired of that, let’s just win!!!


I’m thinking the answer lies somewhere in the inbetween. Oregon is for all purposes more talented than at least 8 of the remaining pac 12 teams and on par with 3(USC, WASH, STAN). if the game was about control and management you would expect close and/or lower scoring affairs like we saw against WASH and STAN but that doesn’t explain USC(Which may possibly be explained by Helton being head coach). What doesn’t make sense is many of the other conference games we played. Cal, we should be able to run up the score on yet finished with 17 points, Washington state was way to close, ASU is still being excused as “the Desert”. and oregon state a team we beat recently by a record 59 points and we couldn’t achieve 25 points against.

If this was the concern of focus of cristobal/arroyo look at the play calling in the Auburn game. I have no problem conceding that Auburn is more talented, Yet we had a 21-6 lead after the first drive of the 2nd half. by the definition above we should have been killing clock(Especially in game lost with 9 seconds on the clock). so what was the play calling:
first Oregon drive, after taking a 21-6, lead was cut short by an intentional grounding. leading to a 3 and out. all in all 1:31 off the clock. about 69 seconds of time left on the field rather than snapping the play at the game clock.
2nd drive: 6 plays 1st down and a punt. All plays were passes. 2:32 off the clock just kneeling the ball for 3 plays would take 4:00 of the clock. In a game of time management They certainly could have done a lot better taking the clock down. If you aren’t going to manage the clock like this then you need to be putting up between 35-45 points a game.


Great ponder piece. As much as I hate military-to-football analogies, it sounds like Coach DeMeo is used to fighting asymmetrical warfare; coaching smaller, lighter, slower, less talented teams that are going up against superior forces. The strategies and tactics used by such teams are not necessarily those that are needed to win by teams featuring superior talent. It’s not that Coach DeMeo’s ideas are to be disregarded, but given Mario’s outstanding recruiting the Ducks may be in the position to dictate the terms of games based on superior talent and solid coaching.


I always like the idea that many of us understand the game at the level of checkers when the coaches are playing chess. I think FishDuck allows us to better understand the chess game coaches and players are involved in.This article is another in a long line of in-depth analysis of the game being played outside the lines of the field.

I agree Cristobal is playing a game many of us don’t understand, but we appreciate the outcome. I have to admit I often was a critic of Nic Aliotti and it was easy to do with some of the statistics that were put up.

As the years rolled by and FishDuck educated me on what he was doing, I gained a deeper appreciation for his coaching. He was an amazing recruiter, much like Cristobal. He also didn’t create the flash so many of wanted. He was a great coach and an integral part of the success Oregon had at the time.

Thanks again for giving us an in-depth look, at the long game being played, with the game we all love!


Thank you Mr. Fishduck! Your article reminds me of the frustrating 2nd half of the Alamo bowl after Vernon Adams got hurt. The ability to churn out a few runs would have taken off a few more seconds and therefore no overtime loss!

Game management is having the ability to counter an opponent who shows up with an unexpected plan and takes away what you do best.

Santa Rosa Duck

Thanks Charles, real fine article with perspective. I personally could not be happier with Mario Christobal. He seems to have brought game, spirit, integrity, smarts and fabulous recruiting. Regardless of what happens this year, we have a foundation that can last for many years. Now lets keep Mario for many years. GO DUCKS!


Thank you, Santa Rosa Duck. Yours are the same sentiments that I hold in Mario Cristobal. Some scoffed at the idea of making him the head coach because so many players wanted him; that in fact that should count against him getting the job. Fortunately, Mullens saw in Cristobal what is visible to everybody now.

Mike West


I saw it the first interview he gave in the Spring of 2017. I actually recorded this interview because his presence was so commanding I wanted to review it as the kind of leader I’d like to emulate. It’s not often someone like that makes such an impression. Guess who else leaves that impression. None other than Andy Avalos.


Hey Charles, that was a dandy! I remember when Cristobal first took over, the narrative was basically, “the Oregon way, with bigger, better players”. That was certainly a safe strategy for him to take as he started his tenure as head coach.

That it hasn’t played out that way is fine with me because, as Coach DeMeo illustrates in this article, Cristobal has a plan, his own vision, that he believes will result in the Ducks being champions. So far he’s right on track. One thought I take exception to in this article is the sense that Cristobal & Belichick’s template are lacking in entertainment.

I don’t find scoring a lot of points, in itself, entertaining. Chip’s teams did score a lot, When it was clicking, amazing! But when it wasn’t; sputter, stall.

I believe that Cristobal is working towards a plan where execution is also important. We won’t see many 2 minute scoring drives. But if the Ducks can chew up the yards and the clock, end up getting touchdowns and then turn it over to this defense? I’ll be very entertained!


Belichick may not be “entertaining”, but his players sure were. Gronk and the boys sure put up enough TMZ worthy stuff over the years. So the coach never had to do anything in that regard.


Interesting article Charles. It makes me ponder my own thinking of “complete domination” that I bring out in my conversations. This concept of Coach Tony DeMeo makes me think a little about my own criticizing of last years play calling methods so much, as I have done on several occasions.

Much to ponder before I speak. Hmmmmmmm.

Jon Sousa

It is always good to ponder before we speak. Advice that I don’t often take….