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.”
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.
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.
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?
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 Template, and I cannot wait to see more.
“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
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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