HE IS THE
progenitor, the Kevin Bacon, the fountainhead of the spread. While Davis
popularized the run-and-shoot, it was Rodriguez who begat its most influential
offspring. Sitting at his desk in Schembechler Hall in April, he looked more
than a little careworn (and this was the day before his offense could barely
get out of its own way in the spring game).
If past is
prologue, the Wolverines will grind their offensive gears in RichRod's first
season. After that, stand back. In 1990, as a 27-year-old coach at Glenville
(W.Va.) State, Rodriguez decided it might be fun to run a two-minute offense
for the entire game. "I figured, Why not?" he says. "There were 500
people in the stands, and half of 'em were my relatives."
To make life
easier on his quarterback, who stood all of 5'11", Rodriguez put him in the
shotgun and commenced throwing the ball all over the field. That, in turn,
"emptied the box, [opening] running seams all over the place."
four straight West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles,
Rodriguez rolled out his nascent spread-option as the offensive coordinator at
Tulane; so atrocious was the offense at the start, he recalls, "I don't
think we got a first down in our spring game. One of our coaches let one of the
female trainers call some defenses, and we still couldn't get a first
Michigan fans! In his second year the Green Wave went 12--0. In 1999 Rodriguez
followed coach Tommy Bowden to Clemson, where they inherited quarterback Woody
Dantzler, a Pat White precursor who rushed for 1,028 yards and threw for 1,871
in leading the Tigers to a 9--3 record in 2000.
coaching colleagues were taking notice. One of his first visitors to Death
Valley was an assistant from the staff of Northwestern coach Randy Walker, who
was a buddy of Rodriguez's. "They took everything verbatim," Rodriguez
recalls. "I thought they'd at least change the signals."
Northwestern in November 2000, piling up 654 yards of total offense in a 54--51
upset of Michigan. "After that," says Rodriguez of his offense, "it
was out there."
hired by West Virginia in late 2000, but he continued to be a generous host.
Bowling Green's new coach, none other than Meyer, was concerned that other MAC
teams had better talent than his squad and was looking for an equalizer.
Another visitor to Morgantown was Chip Kelly, the youthful offensive
coordinator at I-AA New Hampshire. "We were a down-and-dirty, I-formation,
smash-mouth team," he recalls. Finding his offense short on natural
fullbacks, Kelly had to try something. But swapping out the fullback for a
third receiver made him wonder, How would the Wildcats run the ball?
"Everything back then was a one-back draw," says Kelly. "So we did
some investigating, and [ Rodriguez's] zone-read play gave us some
The rise of the
spread has resulted in a faster and—unless one is a fan of the fullback
isolation play—more entertaining game. The most successful spreads feature
ridiculously talented, multiple-threat athletes who may well siphon Heisman
votes from their quarterbacks.
At Texas Tech
that guy is sophomore Michael Crabtree, who broke every significant freshman
Division I-A receiving record last season, then won the Biletnikoff Award,
given to the nation's top pass catcher. At 6'3", 214 pounds, with a 34-inch
vertical, he has the size to bully smaller corners and the hops to outleap all