Author: Eric Strutz
Originally Published: October 25, 2004
After three years of running the single wing successfully, I succumbed to pressure from the local high school coach and some of the officers in our youth football association and agreed to run a quarterback based Wing-T. The high school had committed to running the inside belly series (a.k.a. double dive option) as the basis of their offense and had convinced many in our organization that it was our duty to our community to develop quarterbacks to feed the coming dynasty.
The pressure had been fairly intense. When the high school coach was re-hired before the 2001 season, I was really happy about it. He had won a state championship here in 1992. He was one of the top 50 winningest high school football coaches in the state’s history. He had been coaching at another school just across the state line and had taken them to within one point of the state championship game running a single wing offense.
I had made the decision to run the single wing beginning with the 2001 season. The prospect of having the local high school running the single wing also was very exciting. When I met with him to discuss my plans for the season, he told me that the single wing was the wrong thing to do. He said the single wing was a good offense but he had no plans to run it because if it failed you got fired. I told him that I had the perfect team to run the single wing that season and that I had already made a final decision. He wasn’t happy.
Our 2000 team went 10-0, won the league championship and established a new league scoring record, averaging a point-a-minute. Funny thing, the high school ran the single wing about 25% of the time that season. Nevertheless, the high school coach saw fit to publicly bitch at me about failing to develop quarterbacks for the high school. In 2002, our team went 9-1, won the league championship and broke our own league scoring record, averaging 38 points per game. The high school increased their single wing usage to about 50% that season. Nevertheless, after one of our most impressive victories, the high school coach saw fit to dress me down about failing to develop quarterbacks and failing to keep enough 8th graders in our program. In 2003, we had a very slow team, but we averaged 25 points per game and made it to the semi-finals, finishing with a 6-3 record. Like Chico Escuela, the single wing “bin berry, berry good to me”.
I helped a lot of other coaches install it and for the most part they were successful as well. I had the great honor and privilege of giving the youth league presentation at the 2004 Single Wing Symposium. The high school quit using the single wing at all in 2003 and committed totally to the inside belly for 2004 and beyond. In a preseason meeting for our coaches, the high school coach sent his defensive coordinator to appeal to us to run inside belly and develop quarterbacks. The guys running our organization told him that sounded reasonable so I reluctantly agreed.
- I will admit to some selfish motives in agreeing:
The group of 13 year olds I was inheriting had never won at any level. I was concerned that they were bad enough to even make the single wing look bad.
- I had seen a small high school from downstate that ran buck sweep and what appeared to be a pre-determined inside belly. This school holds many of the state’s all-time rushing and scoring records. I thought it would be neat to try to imitate them.
- Our schedule was going to be brutal.
I discovered after a short while in preseason practices that we were going to have some problems. Our team was absolutely puny and not very athletic. We had 28 players, but most of them were really B-teamers. Our pulling guards didn’t have great speed and apparently I wasn’t very good at coaching quarterbacks. Our backs didn’t run with authority and were always coming out of the game with little owies. We put together some drives early in the season, but they invariably self-destructed deep in enemy territory. We got throttled badly by superior teams in our first 2 games. Before the 3rd game, I arranged for a B-team exhibition game for our backups. We won 20-13. In our third A-team game we lost a game we should’ve won because our quarterback got injured in the first half and our backups weren’t really ready to take over. We committed 3 second half turnovers and lost 25-16. The following week, we got crushed again by a superior team, but we won another B-team game with our backups 13-12. We blew another game against a mediocre team the following week on turnovers 30-18.
Then came a turning point. We had another backup game scheduled for a Saturday, but our second string quarterback was out of town, our third string quarterback broke his collarbone and our fourth string quarterback had oral surgery that Friday. I couldn’t think of another option, so we put in a really basic 5-play single wing offense in 15 minutes before the start of the game. This was the best B-team opponent of the 3, but we crushed them 30-0. Our 74 LB. tailback rushed for about 180 yards and threw a touchdown pass and our 85 LB. fullback added about 70 yards rushing.
I started to get the feelings that I’d had in the games of 2001 and 2002. My mind always seemed to be one or two steps ahead of the opposing defensive coordinator. They could not stop us. We would never punt. We’d pound the strong side, wedge the middle, counter the weak side and throw play action over the top. Whenever they adjusted, we had the appropriate counterstroke. The next day it was back to the Wing-T, as our A-team got absolutely crushed by a mediocre team 37-14. At one point in the game I heard the opposing defensive coordinator warn his players to watch out for the exact play I had called. Then it kept happening for 3 plays in a row.
That was it. I couldn’t take any more of this humiliation. Our A-team was 0-6. We were going to run the single wing in the final regular season game and that was that. So we worked on it in practice and put in about 6 plays. Then, in Thursday night’s practice, our “star” running back broke his finger. By Saturday, I’d been informed that he wasn’t playing because he was a baseball pitcher and he needed to have pins put in the finger. So I moved our 85 LB. B-team fullback to starting halfback/single wing fullback. Result: We overcame 3 turnovers and an 18-13 halftime deficit to win 25-18. You could see the players start to feel the single wing mojo.
I was much more confident in what we were doing and so were the players. The backs that looked like deer in headlights in the Wing-T were starting to run hard. The line actually started executing every so often. We finished our drives in the end zone, instead of getting stopped on downs at the 10. The following week we traveled for the opening game of the consolation playoffs. It was a bit embarrassing for a coach who had won 2 Super Bowls to be competing for the right to play in the “Toilet Bowl”, but that’s the way things worked out. For this game we actually had a semi-polished single wing. After all we’d had 2 whole weeks to practice it. Our tailback (formerly our prima donna quarterback) started the game with a 40-yard sweep for a touchdown. After that, the game was about our little fullback running wedge plays for a total of 100 yards. The scrubs went in early and the clock wound fast in the slaughter rule as we won 44-6. The next week we won 12-0, though we could easily have scored much more. We took a knee on their 1-yard line after a 94-yard drive, which ate up the entire 4th quarter. Earlier in the game we drove to their 2-yard line before penalties stopped us and on another drive we fumbled at their 15-yard line. We racked up over 250 yards rushing with 6 different backs (including 2 blocking backs) gaining over 30 yards each in the game.
As I write this, the local high school team is 1-7 and my team is preparing to play in the league’s “Consolation Bowl” finals. Win or lose, we’ll accept a huge trophy and gaudy medals for our 4-6 or 3-7 record. My players and their parents will be delirious with joy. I’ll be happy for them, but in a way I’ll be happier for me. Because this season has taught me perhaps the most valuable lesson of my coaching career, as Shakespeare put it, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man”. In my case, being true to myself as a football coach will always be running the single wing.
Note: I have to give some credit to John Carbon for our team’s turnaround this season. After our 5th loss, I gave our defensive coordinator a copy of John’s “Jaws of Death Defense”, a hybrid of the split 6 and wide tackle 6. We started using this defense the same week we started running the single wing (week 7). We gave up about 30 points a game through the first 6 games, but only 8 points a game over the last 3 games.