Author: John Minteer
Originally Published: August 16, 2004
This article originally ran in the 2002 Pennsylvania Football Coaches Journal
My experience with the single wing began about 9 years ago when I was the head coach of the middle school program in Waynesboro, PA. I was running the I-formation and always looking for something that would allow our running backs to attack the flank as quickly as possible and with as much blocking support as we could muster. As luck would have it, I was working as a substitute at the time, and a friend and I were talking about football in general and he said, “If I was coaching football, I would use the single wing.” I had no clue what he was talking about and he proceeded to explain how every year he would go back home and watch the local high school team play. He talked about the spinning game, the buck lateral, and various traps and counters; I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted more information! And so, with a little help from my mother-in-law (she was an assistant librarian at the time), she managed to find a copy of John Aldrich’s book: The Single Wing With the Spinning Fullback at a high school in York, PA of all places. With the help of my friend, we got in contact with coach Steve Isaacs of Bath County HS who just happened to be from his hometown in Virginia. He was more than willing to part with some of his playbook materials and a couple hours of game tape. At the time they had been using the single wing for about 7 or 8 years and had only one losing season, the first! They had never lost more than three games in any one season and every school they played was bigger (population) than they were.
I couldn’t wait to get home and watch the tape and was hooked 10 minutes into the film. The book and tape had everything I was looking for. Power, finesse, and simplicity were now at my fingertips. When I began researching the single wing more in depth, I tried to incorporate the three basic sets, Power, Spinners, and Buck Lateral series (according to Aldrich) into a flexible series of plays that could be used in nearly any down and distance situation. The head coach of the varsity program told me that he wanted the basics of his I-formation system installed, but I was free to experiment with anything I wanted. I started building my offense from two very simple formations and 6 plays based on the terminology of the I-formation. I called the formations “pro” and “slot” and everything was lined up from the right side. We ran sweep and off-tackle to the strong and quick sides, buck dive and the lateral, and spins that trapped the strong and quick sides. I realized that I could get as many as four men to the point-of-attack on any power sweep and no less than a double team on any inside power. We could trap just about any lineman or blitzing backer that showed between the tackles with as many as three different people (guard, tackle, or blocking back). Our spins and traps created the misdirection we needed to offset our powers. The great thing about this was that with the exception of two player’s alignments, there was very little difference in how our formation looked to the defense. I made a constant effort to give the defense the same look on nearly every play. In that first year, we played a six game schedule and managed to rack up 1,325 yards rushing and scored 19 touchdowns. By the end of the season we had incorporated motion into the mix and a short rotating no-huddle sequence that was so successful, that officials often asked us to slow things down. As a special note, we never started a game in the single wing; we never used it until at least our second or third series of downs. It was my thinking that we could surprise teams when we switched offense.
I have since developed my own playbook with several different formations and numerous variations. I have changed my base formation names from “pro” and “slot” to NOTRE DAME, which is my power series (named after the famed Knute Rockne and his Single Wing Box), SYRACUSE which simple denotes FB spin plays from the Notre Dame set, TULSA is my triple spin series, and WYOMING which is a spread style look. Each of these sets can be changed to gain a desired look by incorporating a handful of key terms that allow various position players to be moved. I have spoken with coaches and borrowed from others and absolutely love tinkering with the intricacies.
Over the years, changes have taken place and it has been extremely difficult to maintain support for the offense. I have had coaches laugh and smirk at my suggestions, while some have told me “That offense will never work in our league”, “Why don’t you like the I-formation or Wing T; they’re more versatile?” and “Why are you trying something that is so easy to defend, you line up the same way every time?” My answer has always been the same. “This offense has so much power is it ridiculous and the possibilities are endless. In the I-formation, you need a stud tailback or big line to make things happen. The Wing-T is nice, but there is nothing new for defenses that hasn’t been seen year in and year out. It has always been my position that if we can’t outrun or out muscle you, we will have to out-smart you, and I’ll take my chances with an offense that dominated the game for more than 50 years. That’s why I am fully convinced that I can beat you or any other team with the Single Wing.”
In the past 7 seasons, I have been through 3 varsity head coaches and their philosophies. We did use the offense exclusively during the 2001 season and doubled our previous year’s offensive production in both rushing and points scored. We used it at the J.V. level and had some exciting experiences including winning 3 games which hadn’t been done in 5 years and hasn’t happened since. Our record never reflected our improvements and some members of the staff were never sold on the Single Wing. After struggling in the beginning of the 2002 season, arguments and staff problems caused the Single Wing to disappear from our program and others vocabularies. The bottom line is that we never came close to testing its full merits.
The single most important message I would like to spread is that the Single Wing produces a level of unselfishness and fun for its players that simple can’t be overlooked. It has been my experience that the players I have coaches, have enjoyed “using” the offense because there are no privileged players; everyone must fake and everyone must block, or the team is unsuccessful. Finally, in all of my research, I have not found a single program that has adopted the Single Wing and not experienced some form of success, while several programs continue to have quite remarkable results. I have yet to speak with a coach who actually enjoys playing against this offense on a regular basis and because it is so unique, I promise that trying to prepare any team to defend it, is not a job they will enjoy.