Warning: This “Quick Reads” entry is not a quick read, it’s pretty long. Our three-day inspection of the run-and-shoot starts in today’s Star-Advertiser, and in researching it, I found an incredible amount of interesting stuff that we couldn’t fit into the print stories. Here’s more background about Mouse Davis’ role in changing football — in Hawaii and everywhere else — from Mouse himself, and one of his high school players in Oregon 50 years ago who without the run-and-shoot would not have had a professional career in football that continues to this day.
They scoffed. Many still do.
But, for more than 50 years, Darrel “Mouse” Davis has chuckled right along with his critics, as the run-and-shoot continues to pile up yards and points while changing the way football is played. Proponents of his offense “get the chalk last,” meaning they have the opportunity to make the last adjustment — after a play has started. And that often means they get the last laugh, too.
Now, University of Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich is reaching back into its history hoping the run-and-shoot is an anecdote for a total of zero winning seasons since 2011 — when Rolovich was offensive coordinator of the run-and-shoot attack at the end of its 13-year run at Manoa, 10 years after he quarterbacked it to a 9-3 record including a 72-45 season-ending win over BYU.
It’s important to note that Davis did not dream up all by himself the offense for which he is known. He was inspired by concepts put forth in Glenn “Tiger” Ellison’s 1965 book, “Run And Shoot Football: Offense of the Future.”
Today, the run-and-shoot is the future and the past for the University of Hawaii. Warriors fans fondly remember the four-receiver offense for a string of mostly successes from 1999 to 2011 that peaked in 2006 and 2007 when UH went a combined 23-4 under head coach June Jones.
Jones, along with another future NFL quarterback, Neil Lomax, was a star pupil of Davis, operating the run-and-shoot when Davis was their coach at Portland State.
“Something in that book sparked Mouse,” said Nick Rolovich, who has also read it. “It’s about having a fluid mind-set and understanding space. And concepts, like, if they play man, we run away. If they play zone, we find holes.”
With the very first sentence of the introduction to his book, Ellison makes a bold statement:
“This is the story of a revolution.”
Many are still disbelievers, although the run-and-shoot has generated huge offensive numbers at the high school, college and professional levels of football.
Naysayers claim the run-and-shoot ignores longstanding concepts of solid, winning football such as ball control, clock management, and short-yardage proficiency. They also point out that no team has ever won a college national championship or Super Bowl (or even an NFL playoff game) with the run-and-shoot as its primary offensive scheme.
Even a staunch proponent of the passing game such as Bill Walsh, architect of the San Francisco 49ers West Coast offense, was a vocal critic.
And when Buddy Ryan was defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers, he disparagingly referred to his own team’s run-and-shoot offense as the chuck-and-duck. Ryan’s frustration boiled over on the sideline of the final game of the 1993 regular season when he threw a punch at offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride — as the first half of Houston’s 11th win in a row ended with the Oilers up 14-0.
The Oilers sputtered and lost their first playoff game, signaling the beginning of the end for the run-and-shoot as an NFL offense — although several of its key concepts are in vogue like never before, 25 years later.
In some ways, Ellison, Davis, Jones and other run-and-shoot advocates turned out to be visionaries. NFL teams regularly use its basics like stretching the field vertically and horizontally, and adjusting pass routes based on what defenders do after the ball is snapped.
Until recent years, only a few college and pro teams would regularly use four- or five-receiver formations.
It’s a revolution, a half-century in the making. And what is a revolution if it does not eschew tradition?
“It was a long time ago,” Davis said. “But it’s true, that’s where it all started, that book.”
Back then, Davis was searching for “the equalizer.” It’s a common thread for coaches who choose to go with the run-and-shoot as their weapon of choice.
As the new head coach of the slumping Hillsboro High School team in 1971, Davis brought the evolving offense with him after running it at two other Oregon high schools, Sunset, and before that Milwaukie.
Davis’ enthusiasm and innovative offense jump-started Hillsboro football. It would happen again later at Portland State and UH — and even in the NFL.
Audibles at the line of scrimmage, before the snap, were nothing new. But altering the play after it had started? Yes, that was certainly revolutionary.
“We always had the problem: A lot of athletes but always little guys,” Davis said. “This gave us the ability to try to spread them out and use them that way.”
Hillsboro High previously thrived under Oregon coaching legend Ad Rutschman, but had fallen on hard times. Davis’ upbeat personality and new ideas rejuvenated the struggling program.
And if not for Davis and his run-and-shoot, one Hillsboro player may have never made it to the NFL.
After standing out at Stanford, Bill Kellar played a season with the Kansas City Chiefs (where he was a teammate of Hawaii products Kale Ane, Arnold Morgado and Jim Nicholson).
But following his freshman year at Hillsboro, Kellar had considered quitting the game. He changed his mind after dragging himself to the school gym to hear the diminutive but feisty new varsity coach talk about his wild offense, and how it would bring back winning and be fun.
“We’d seen it because he ran it at Sunset and we were in the same league,” Kellar said. “We were familiar with what it looked like, and they scored a lot of points and went to the playoffs. At that time, no one else was throwing the ball. The offense was actually balanced, but it was designed for throwing first. It was inspiring, and it seemed like he’d be a fun guy to play for.”
Hillsboro improved each of the next three years, winning the 3A (largest classification) state championship Kellar’s senior season. “We beat Sunset 40-0 that year,” said Kellar, who starred at slotback — a position most teams didn’t even have in those days.
Davis also installed an offseason program that was ahead of its time, Kellar said.
“You hear a lot about seven-on-seven now. We were doing that in the summer of ’71,” Kellar said. “No one else was doing it. He also had a stretching program, and a speed and quickness program. The goal was for everyone to do the splits, including the linemen.”
Kellar said sight-adjusted routes weren’t used much yet in Davis’ offense at Hillsboro. But that would soon become a defining feature: If the defender zigged, the receiver zagged — and the quarterback knew the receiver would zag by watching the defender zig, or another key.
(Today, Kellar still works in football, as a long-time employee of Nike. He is director of football marketing, and was among those responsible of securing an endorsement contract with Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, who cut his teeth quarterbacking the run-and-shoot at Saint Louis School.)
By the late 1980s, a decade after Davis, Jones and Lomax had exploded the scoreboard at Portland State and the full-blown run-and-shoot had found a place, albeit temporary, in the NFL (and, eventually, in a total of five pro leagues). Davis ran the offense and Jones coached the quarterbacks of the Detroit Lions. The Houston Oilers, coached by Jack Pardee, ran it, as did Jones later as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Andre Ware even won a Heisman Trophy, quarterbacking a version of the run-and-shoot for the University of Houston in 1989. Colt Brennan of Hawaii was third in the 2007 Heisman voting after the Warriors went 12-0 in the regular season running and shooting.
Ware appeared in just 14 games in four seasons with the Lions, and threw five touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Brennan never made it into an NFL regular-season game.
Hall-of-Famer Warren Moon, however, played 17 NFL seasons after dominating in the Canadian Football League for six years. Prior to last year’s Super Bowl, Moon observed similarities in current NFL offenses to what he did as a run-and-shoot quarterback early in his career with the Oilers.
“I see it in New England’s offense. I see it throughout the league,” Moon said. “A lot of our pass concepts, especially from four wideouts, all the different switches and reads and different things like that.”
Whatever the run-and-shoot’s flaws, dullness is never among them. Ellison noted that in other sports, the ball is often seen. But the way football was played in the 1950s and ’60s, it was rarely in sight, usually covered up tightly in a running back’s hands.
So, Ellison pondered in his writings: Where’s the fun in that? Isn’t a game more interesting — for players and spectators — if the ball is flying around?
“For many years we hid the football. We hid it from our opponents. We hid it from our fans. We almost hid it from ourselves. The ball was only incidental, a necessary evil that had to be held onto and delivered across yon goal line.”
That began to change after Ellison taught his team the run-and-shoot.
“Then … we put the ball on display. Though we still tried to hide it from our opponents, we proudly showed it to the fans: they saw it coming through the line; they perceived it sweeping the ends; they got a good look at it traveling the airways. They liked what they saw, and the turnstiles began to click.”
But are the changes relevant? Did the revolution succeed?
“I think so, I think it did,” said Timmy Chang, who, as a run-and-shoot quarterback, won three Prep Bowls, and a national high school player of the year award at Saint Louis School, prior to setting NCAA passing records at Hawaii. “A lot of NFL teams have adopted the key concepts. It’s a lot of adjusting and reading routes and reading coverages and putting your guys in the best positions possible to make plays.
“Everybody kind of teaches it a little bit differently,” said Chang, who is now an assistant coach at Nevada where a similar pass-first attack, the air raid, is used.
Davis, now a spry 85-year-old who golfs three or four times a week, laughs when asked if he finds gratification from making such an impact. And he just as easily dismisses the criticism, the claims that the run-and-shoot is merely a gimmick. If it is a fad, it’s one that has survived and sometimes thrived for 50 years.
“It’s football, that’s what it is,” said Davis, who also served as an assistant at UH for Jones and then Greg McMackin, when Rolovich was quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. “The base premise is still so solid, so good, and it’s a way to take advantage of the defense.”
Billy Ray Stutzmann is an intern on the Hawaii staff who played for Davis in 2010 and 2011 when Davis finished his career coaching the Warriors receivers. Stutzmann said he’s had some great coaches, but Davis was the best “hands down.” And part of that is because Davis always remembers it’s serious competition, but it’s also a game and should be entertaining.
“His knowledge, his energy, the love, the passion,” Stutzmann said. “He loves every player out there. He’s the full-package coach you want to be around, as a player or a coach.”
Nearly 15 years before it got to UH with June Jones, the run-and-shoot’s entertaining style hit Hawaii’s shores via the prep ranks, charting the course of high school football in the state. Later, Jones predicted it would elevate UH to national prominence. And it did, although briefly.
Now, Warriors fans hope it can happen again.
“We had the good fortune and the pleasure, I think, in Hawaii, to be at the front end of it,” Chang said. “It was awesome to see how some of the guys took it and ran with it from Saint Louis to UH, and even when Mouse came back and was coaching with Rolo. It’s exciting stuff.”