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Curry Kirkpatrick
August 26, 1991
Houston coach John Jenkins has no apologies for his wild offense with the wide-open throttle
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August 26, 1991

The Coach

Houston coach John Jenkins has no apologies for his wild offense with the wide-open throttle

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Last December, when Houston ended its 10-1 season by devastating Arizona State 62-45 in the Tokyo Dome, Cougar quarterback David Klingler (previous story) set an NCAA single-game record by passing for 716 yards. Only he didn't know he was nearing the record until somebody on the sideline mentioned it. "It was Jenkins," Klingler said later. "He kept trying to find out what [yardage] I had." In the postseason Blue-Gray game, Jenkins installed the run-and-shoot for the Gray team and then used a megaphone to shout out the plays. "That wasn't right," said an opposing coach. "In games like that you should run offenses...that both teams will understand."

It is the numbers—especially the outrageously lopsided scores that his offense has engendered—that have bathed Jenkins in so much scalding acid. Scores like 60-0, 82-28, 66-15, 69-0, 65-7, 66-10 and 64-0 have become commonplace in the Houston record book since 1987, when Jenkins became the offensive coordinator under coach Jack Pardee. That year, Jenkins introduced his personal version of the run-and-shoot to the Cougars, who promptly misunderstood it to the tune of one win in their first seven games.

Jenkins does not claim to have invented the offense, by the way, only to have expanded it. The Cougars' run-and-shoot is vastly different from Mouse Davis's Silver Stretch, which was designed for the Detroit Lions of a few years ago, or from Jerry Glanville's Red Gun on the Atlanta Falcons or from Warren Moon's aerial festivities on behalf of the Houston Oilers. The offense is not even the same as it was when Jenkins was the offensive coordinator for the Jim Kelly-led Houston Gamblers of the USFL, a team that set 20 pro football yardage records in 1985.

"Everything's similar, but different," Jenkins says. "We're more advanced, more complex. Tinkering with this deal, messing with it in my head, the possibilities through the avenues in the air are so unlimited it's scary."

Jenkins actually converses in this hip-poetic, mad-scientist fashion, and he really does believe he has come upon the secret of the football universe—"like NASA discovering some new solar system," he says. "Other teams are crawling, we're flying."

Paranoid—isn't every coach?—about revealing the intimate details of his offense, Jenkins lectures at clinics only on fundamentals, prohibits other college coaches from watching his practices and keeps a shredder over his office wastebasket, the better to keep the eyes of spies from the 350-page workbooks he issues to Houston's skill-position players every week. "Do IBM and Xerox share their policies so some competitor can come in later and kick their butts?" says Jenkins.

Tony Fitzpatrick, a Houston assistant coach who played for the Gamblers when both Davis and Jenkins were assistant coaches there, says, "Jenks is so far ahead of everybody else, it's a joke. Mouse comes in here now, looks at our films and even he doesn't understand them. Spreading the field? Mouse had [the Gamblers'] slot guys split arm's length from the tackles. Jenks would have them start their routes over by the Gatorade carts if he could."

Davis is usually given credit for bringing the run-and-shoot to prominence with the Gamblers. "But there were times in Houston when I'd ask John, 'Is this going to work?' " Davis says. "He understands things before they start. My imagination and John's are not the same size. I'm an executor. He's an innovator."

Inevitably, Jenkins has grown weary of the run-and-shoot's mundane moniker, which usually defines a four-receiver formation with one running back and no tight end. "Now we call ours a Multiple Adjusting Passing Offense," says Jenkins. But can anyone imagine the good ol' boys from Houston actually riding into town under the flag of MAPO, which they surely didn't touch even when it was a popular breakfast cereal?

By whatever name, the offense is based on speed, spreading out the defense and attacking the resulting chaos from all angles. Runnin' and shootin' is option football through the air, wherein the quarterback decides which receiver to throw to after the play has begun. It's an offense in which the receivers change their routes depending on what the defense does.

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