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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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Actually, witnesses to the Houston-TCU game on Nov. 3 saw Klingler throw for 563 yards and TCU's Matt Vogler throw for 690, which broke an NCAA record for total combined yardage by almost 300 yards. Of the 13 touchdowns in Houston's 56-35 victory, the longest scoring drive lasted one minute, 39 seconds. In other words, Houston—now off probation—may drive TV ratings off the charts.

"Hey, Hoss, the main reason people play football is for fun, and this offense is fun," Jenkins says. "All it is, is throwing and catching. Our guys are out there all summer practicing throwing and catching. Can you imagine players in the wishbone wanting to go out and practice in 100-degree heat? What do they say, 'Hey, Hoss, let's go out and block each other. You hurt me, then I'll bust you!' "

"The term running up the score is back in the Stone Age as far as any coach's having any clue about our system," says Jenkins, who surely takes solace from a half-time speech given way back in semi-Stone 1916. At the time, Georgia Tech led Cumberland 126-0, on the way to a 222-0 squeaker. "Hit 'em hard. Don't let up," said the Tech coach, who was not on the Christmas card list of most of his com-padres. But old John (Run It Up) Heisman is only one of many marquee names Jenkins has borrowed from.

When he was growing up in Pampa, Jenkins, his father having left home when he was 14, took as a role model Robert E. (Swede) Lee, a regionally famous high school coach. Today, Lee remembers Jenkins as a long-haired rebel "sort of dancing to his own drummer." Jenkins remembers wanting to be a football coach since he was in the 10th grade. But did Jenks really wear red bell-bottoms back then? "Hey, Hoss," he says. "Didn't everybody?"

Frank Broyles recruited him to Arkansas, where Jenkins played occasional backup quarterback to Joe Ferguson. He not only grew up there, but he also turned "hot" there: He sported muscle outfits and drove a souped-up green Dodge with mag wheels. Jenkins also played baseball at Arkansas where, always sleeveless, Big Klu-style, he was a designated hitter who crowded the plate, asking to be knocked down, which he often was. "I used to trot down to first," says Jenkins, "smile at the pitcher, flex a little and shout, 'That all you got?' "

During Christmas break his senior year, Jenkins put on a suit and tie and rumbled across Texas distributing his résumé to bewildered high school coaches. After short stretches at high schools in Nacogdoches and Texarkana, he returned to Arkansas as a graduate assistant under Lou Holtz in 1977. In the 1978 Orange Bowl, Jenkins, as the Hogs' secondary coach, helped Arkansas upset Oklahoma, denying the Sooners the national championship. The Arkansas quarterback then, Ron Calcagni, is now one of Jenkins's receiver coaches. In 1980, as linebacker coach at Mississippi State, Jenkins helped the Bulldogs upset No. 1 Alabama, 6-3, snapping a 28-game Tide winning streak.

In '84 and '85, finally coaching on the offensive side of the ball, Jenkins joined the Gamblers, collaborating with Davis to introduce to pro football the radical run-and-shoot idea both men had gotten from a book written by an Ohio high school coach named Tiger Ellison. About to lose his job in the mid-'60s, Ellison had drawn up a formation with the quarterback and center on one side of the field and their nine teammates on the other; somebody called it the Lonesome Polecat.

The Gamblers' version was more conventional. Kelly, now with the Buffalo Bills, recalls "just airing it out all the time, every down."

After Donald Trump merged the Gamblers with the New Jersey Generals, Jenkins was contemplating an offense with Kelly at quarterback, Herschel Walker at tailback and Doug Flutie as an inside receiver. "We'd be going up and down the field," he says, "until we got leg cramps." But the USFL went out of business, and Jenkins scampered to the University of Pittsburgh for a year as an offensive assistant while he waited for his old friend Pardee to bring him back to Houston.

At present, Jenkins is ensconced in a plain tract home in suburban Friends-wood with his tall, blonde wife, Kayla, their two children, Jade, 6, and Raefe, 3, and Bill, the dog. There are two cars and a van parked outside the garage. Only it isn't a garage; it's a football research library filled with game plans, scouting tapes, workbooks, films, programs, play files, pictures and the like, all organized in such a way that John can, according to Kayla, "find anything in three minutes."

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