Monday, February 25, 2008

Spread Offense Q&A with Herb Hand - University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane Football

I'm proud to offer the first of hopefully many Q&A sessions with big time college coaches on the spread offense. - Q&A with Herb Hand, Co-Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach at University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

1. Coach, thanks for taking the time to speak with us at and congratulations on a great GMAC bowl victory?

No problem. The GMAC Bowl was a great experience for our football program, our university and our alumni and fans. Our goal at Tulsa is to be a championship level program and winning a bowl championship certainly falls into that objective.

2. Tell us a little bit about the spread offense you run at Tulsa? (Run first philosophy? balanced attack philosophy (run/pass)? Tempo? Gun vs. under the center, Etc…).

We are a spread – no huddle team. We operate primarily out of the shotgun and strive to have a very balanced attack. In fact, our run/pass ratio was basically 50/50 this year (562 runs/564 passes). We want to control the tempo in every game with our no huddle. We operate at a ‘two-minute’ drill pace as our base tempo. Our goal is to snap the football with 17-20 seconds left on the play clock. We want to press the tempo, but we also want to use the advantage of being no-huddle to eliminate ‘oh-crap!!’ plays (plays where you say ‘oh crap’ before the snap because you know that the play is not going to work). We also have the ability within our system to slow down the tempo to control the clock or to force the defense to show us their hand with our ‘check-with-me’ procedure. We were very fortunate to have players that bought in to our philosophy and executed the system with fairly good success.

3. Based on this philosophy, what do you and your fellow offensive coaches look for when preparing for an opponent every week?

The first thing we look at is formations and how our formations affect the opposing defense. What kind of fronts are we going to see versus our formations? What kind of coverage’s? What are their adjustments to motion? What are their adjustments to unbalanced sets and formations that are set to the boundary? Then we look at situations. What kind of changes can we anticipate within field zones (particularly ‘coming-out’ situations, red zone and goal line)? What kind of changes can we anticipate with down and distance (particularly 3rd downs, 4th downs and 2nd down and 10). We like to look at 2nd down and 10, so that we can have an attacking mentality on 1st down – we want to throw the ball on 1st down and so we need a good 2nd and 10 plan to offset incompletions on those attempts. The last thing we look for is match-ups and how we can create favorable match-ups in our passing game thru formations, motions, shifts, play actions, screens, etc.

4. What type of student-athlete do you guys target at Tulsa offensively when recruiting?

The University of Tulsa is an outstanding school academically. We are ranked in the top 100 academic institutions in the country. We are also the smallest Division IA school in the country, with only 2700 undergraduate students and 4000 total students. We have some very interesting demographics at Tulsa – 1 in every 11 students is an athlete….also, 1 in every 11 students is a National Merit Scholar (which ranks 12th in the country, right behind Stanford and Vanderbilt). We recruit players that are ready to compete everyday, not only on the field but in the classroom as well. We need to recruit student-athletes that are up to that challenge. With that being said, we put a high premium on speed for offensive skill players. We also want to recruit athletic and physical offensive linemen – we will sacrifice some size for athleticism – with the idea that we can build up our players’ size in our strength and conditioning program. Lastly, we want to recruit guys with a tough disposition that play with a ‘hard-edge’ mentality.

5. You’ve been involved with the spread offense for about 10 years now (6 years prior at West Virginia, then at Clemson), how has the spread offense evolved over that period in college football?

Probably the biggest change in spread offenses over the last decade is complexity and diversity of the run game out of traditional spread formations. The incorporation of the option and the zone read concepts that have developed during that time have really revolutionized spread offenses. I also think that general perceptions of the spread being a ‘finesse-style’ offense have drastically changed during this evolution. People now realize that you can have a very physical run game out of spread shotgun formations.

6. Based on this evolution you’ve seen, is it still safe to say that defenses are still playing ‘catch-up’ in trying to figure out this offense (scheme wise)? Especially when defending an offense that has a gifted ‘dual threat’ type quarterback?

I don’t think that they are necessarily playing catch-up. I think that what you are seeing now from a defensive standpoint is schematic answers to the zone read by giving quarterbacks a variety of looks on the backside of the zone. I think the defenses are putting a priority on athletic defensive ends that have the ability to quickly change direction which allows them to square-shoulder read the backside of the zone. I also think there is a big need for ‘space-players’ – guys that can make tackles in the open field. The defenses that have really given us problems in the past have had very solid safety play, as a lot of spread run game concepts are based on getting the runner in a one-on-one situation with safeties in the open field. Of course, there are answers to run-stopping safeties in play action passes, which are becoming increasingly more effective when you factor in the spacing conflicts that spread formations present to defenses.

7. Play a little devil’s advocate, what are the biggest weaknesses you see in the run oriented spread offense in college football?

I think that balance is the key to having great success in any offense….not just spread offenses. You need to be able to throw the ball…and not only when you have to throw it, but also when you want to throw it. That is why we concentrate on being a good 2nd and 10 team, so that we can have a lot of confidence in throwing the football on 1st down.

8. When this run oriented spread offense first arrived on the national spotlight, a lot of critics called it a fade or ‘gimmick’ offense, what made you and your past staffs keep your conviction in your beliefs through the years?

Success and personnel. The beauty of the spread is how easily you can adapt your offense to match the strengths of your personnel. We knew that with the personnel that we had…in particular the tremendously athletic quarterbacks on our roster…that we could present match-up problems against the defenses we were facing. When you couple the personnel advantages with the influx of option concepts, the run-oriented spread offense has become increasingly successful.

9. Look into your crystal ball and tell us what the state of the shot-gun, run orientated spread offense will be in high school, college, and professional football in five years?

I think the popularity of the zone-read concepts will continue to grow on all levels of football. However, I don’t think you will see a huge influx of zone-read concepts in the NFL. The trouble with running the zone-read on the professional level is the premium that is put on keeping your quarterback healthy. The quarterback in any option based offense is going to take a lot more hits than quarterbacks in a more traditional style offense. On the collegiate and high school level, the athletic-style quarterback also creates a much greater mismatch than he would on the professional level.

10. Coach, what would be your advice to a high school or pop warner coach looking to install and implement the shot-gun, spread offense for the first time?

Keep things simple and do things that help to highlight the strengths and skills of your specific personnel. The spread that we run at Tulsa is very different from the offenses that we ran at West Virginia and Clemson. But we still built our scheme around our personnel, in particular our quarterback.

11. How can high school coaches get in touch with the staff at Tulsa? What’s your clinic schedule this spring for a little X’s and O’s chalk talk? When’s your spring game?

Tulsa Spring Football Coaches Clinic - April 4th (F) and April 5th (Sat). HS Talk every Tuesday afternoon during spring ball. For more details, contact: Teresa Moyer at 918-631-2393 - Spring Practice begins March 11th, with the Golden Hurricane spring game on Saturday, April 19th at 7:00pm.

12. Coach, final question. You have one game to play to save planet earth vs. the University of Mars and the President of The United States has chosen you to run the offense. You need to pick a dual threat quarterback to lead your spread offense to victory. You have 4 weeks to prepare for this game in the coliseum in LA, and the only rule is you can’t choose a quarterback that you currently coach… who’s in the gun for you for this game?

Wow….that is a tough question. I have been fortunate to be around some tremendously successful QB’s….Woody Dantzler, Rasheed Marshall, Patrick White, Paul Smith….I also have been able to watch some great spread quarterbacks in recent years….Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Chase Daniel….I also think that a guy that was ahead of his time, like a 1989 Major Harris would be unbelievable in the spread. I guess if I had to pick one, I would have to go with Vince Young….his combination of size, speed and throwing ability would be hard to beat.

About Herb Hand:

Herb Hand is in his second season at the University of Tulsa. Hand joined the Tulsa coaching staff as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in January 2007. In 2007, Tulsa led the nation in offense, averaging over 542 yards a game. The Golden Hurricane were the first team in college football history to have a 5,000 yard passer, three 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,000 yard rusher on the same team. Tulsa won the 2008 GMAC Bowl by a score of 63 – 7 over Bowling Green. It was the largest margin of victory in NCAA bowl history.

In his 17-year coaching career, Hand has coached 14 all-conference players, four All-Americans and two Academic All-Americans.

Before coming to Tulsa, Hand spent the past six seasons as the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at West Virginia. He helped the Mountaineers reach five straight Bowl Games and win three Big East Conference Championships.

He was a member of the WVU coaching staff that won 11 games in consecutive seasons (2005-06), winning more than 10 games back-to-back for the first time in school history. While at West Virginia, Hand coached in three Gator Bowls, one Continental Tire Bowl and one Sugar Bowl.

In 2006, West Virginia finished with an 11-2 record and was among the nation's top-10 teams for most of the season. He helped lead an offense that ranked second nationally in rushing (303.0 ypg), third in scoring (38.8 ppg) and fourth in total offense (461.3). A year earlier, WVU posted an 11-1 record and was ranked fifth nationally.

Prior to moving to West Virginia, Hand served as an offensive graduate assistant at Clemson in 1999-2000, as the Tigers participated in the 1999 Peach Bowl and 2001 Gator Bowl. Before that, he was defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator at Concord College for two seasons (1997-98).

From 1994-96, Hand served as defensive coordinator at Glenville State for three years where he helped coach the team to three WVIAC Championships. Previously, Hand was a graduate assistant coach for three seasons (1991-93) at West Virginia Wesleyan, where he coached the linebackers.

Hand began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Framingham South (Mass.) High School in 1990, before moving onto the collegiate level.

A 1990 Hamilton College graduate, Hand received his bachelor's degree in history, and a master's degree in 1993 from West Virginia Wesleyan in business administration.

Hand, 39, and his wife, Debbie, have three children: sons, Trey and Cade, and daughter Bailey.

Bowl Games as a Coach

1999 Peach Bowl (Clemson)
2001 Gator Bowl (Clemson)
2002 Continental Tire Bowl (West Virginia)
2004 Gator Bowl (West Virginia)
2005 Gator Bowl (West Virginia)
2006 Sugar Bowl (West Virginia)
2007 Gator Bowl (West Virginia)
2008 GMAC Bowl (Tulsa)

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