Links of a chain

A Riggo Drill and Air Coryell multiple receiver sets are among the more than 1,200 formations, but the roots of the Maryland Terrapins’ offense lie in a system created for Ohio State in 1934 by a former Army bayonet instructor.

Before the West Coast offense spread through the NFL, before Don Coryell disciples Joe Gibbs and Ernie Zampese taught Norv Turner and Mike Martz, Francis Schmidt created more wing formations than Col. Sanders. The ideas have been adopted by so many NFL and college coaches that the family tree of Schmidt’s offense stretches nationwide and for generations.

“When I saw the St. Louis Rams when Martz became coach, they ran so many plays like ours that I thought, ‘Where was this guy in the chain?’” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said.

Here’s the first link: Martz was a high school player in San Diego who watched Coryell’s practices at San Diego State. Martz later spent two years as the Washington Redskins’ quarterbacks coach under Turner. Turner learned the system from Zampese, who got it from Coryell, who took it from San Diego Chargers coach Sid Gillman, who coached and played under Schmidt.

It’s the NFL’s version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Not only is Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien running plays that worked for the Chargers before he was born, the Terps are using formations Friedgen’s father ran in high school. No wonder Maryland’s playbook has more than 600 double-sided pages. There are so many twists of the same basic plays that football fields have been turned into obstacle courses.

“I’d like to do more,” Friedgen said.

More? Maryland enters Georgia Tech tomorrow with more than 125 possible formations on offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe’s playcard, a colored, laminated board even the CIA couldn’t decipher. There are boots and scats and heats, more numbers than an Enron spreadsheet and enough options to test a Wall Street trader’s sanity. Taaffe calls it a chess game.

And that’s only the start. The playbook resembles a telephone directory. From Manhattan. Not only are there are three-, five- and seven-step dropbacks, but a half-dozen versions of each. Then there are play-action plays, boots, screens, gadgets, protections and runs. Don’t even get into the situations involving down and distance or the red zone. McBrien will need a memory reboot before learning another system.

“I’ve talked to people who played under Coach Friedgen at Georgia Tech, and they still know what we’re doing years later,” he said. “I’m sure it will take time to get out of my head.”

He has no idea.

The family tree

Schmidt spent World War I teaching Army recruits how to kill with a bayonet. So much for the direct approach. Two decades later, the “Scarlet Scourge” was created when Schmidt brought the I-formation to Ohio State in 1934. The Buckeyes averaged 31.5 points over the first two years when Schmidt unveiled the single wing, double wing and triple reverses.

Ohio State went 39-16-1 with 25 shutouts in Schmidt’s seven years as coach, earning him the nickname “Close the Gates of Mercy.” Schmidt was such a diagram freak he once stayed in his car to scribble new plays while it was on a lift during an oil change. Of course, Schmidt absent-mindly got out and fell eight feet into the grease pit.

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