The Man with The Plan
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Imagine, for a moment, it’s 3rd-and-7 in the fourth quarter of a tie game early in the year. You’re the offensive coordinator of the heavily-favored home team. You were hand-picked by one of the most high-profile head coaches in the game of football to implement an entirely new – and in many ways foreign – offense at one of the most prestigious programs in the country.
The pressure is on.
Everyone is watching to see if you’re ready for this moment. They’re waiting for you to fall short. The clock is ticking and the opposing defense is swarming your one bona fide playmaker, forcing you to come up with another way to win the game.
In many ways, it’s already going to be looked at as a letdown. Style matters. It’s not important how good the opponent might be or how well they have prepared for this game; failure is not an option. Just the fact the game is still tied means people are likely going to question your abilities.
You could always play it safe, let your special teams and defense try to win the game – or at least get you to overtime. But then you might be out of a job.
“I probably wouldn’t be sitting here if I had suggested that to coach Meyer, knowing his personality,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said.
“We’re going to go get the first down and we’re going to win the game on that drive. We have plenty of confidence in Braxton (Miller) and his ability to do that. There was no hesitation on our part whatsoever on what we were going to do.”
Hesitation is not part of Herman’s vocabulary, at least not since he was hand-selected by Urban Meyer to run the offense in Columbus. Not many people had heard the name when Meyer announced he had hired Herman to coach his quarterbacks and run the offense.
Everyone was expecting a big name, a splash for Meyer, who had developed Dan Mullen into a household name during his time at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. Meyer even said a number of big names contacted him about the job, but he wanted someone he felt comfortable with.
“The key for me was no ego,” Meyer said.
“Whoever I brought in couldn’t have an ego. He had to be aligned with what we were doing and Tom has done that better than I could have hoped.”
Plan of Attack
Meyer also wanted someone who could enhance what he was already doing without trying to change the fundamental truths of his offense. The Gators were nearly unstoppable offensively for the bulk of Meyer’s time in Gainesville, but everything slowed down after Mullen took the head coaching job at Mississippi State in 2009.
In Herman, Meyer saw someone who shared his values, but also someone who could bring something to the table Meyer had always wanted to do at Florida.
“Our offense was very successful down there in Gainesville, but when you do that up tempo and at a higher pace, it can be more dynamic,” said first-year wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
“That’s one thing we tried to do at Florida a couple times, but we really didn’t know it. Coach Herman is kind of an expert at it. It’s something we always talked about doing but never really did, and he’s brought that.”
Expert is an interesting word to use for Herman, considering he is only 37 years old and this is his first coordinator job at a major college football powerhouse. He served as a graduate assistant under Mack Brown at Texas, and then coached the offenses at Texas State, Rice and Iowa State before joining Meyer in Columbus.
But he’s only been running the no-huddle since he started at Rice five years ago.
“It’s certainly a skill that’s learned. I’ve only been running no huddle since 2007, so five years,” Herman said.
“Prior to that I was a huddle up, put all the plays on your wristband. I would look and see it’s first and 10, what do we like on first and 10? I got it on my call-sheet, Ok wristband No. 24.”
Ohio State fans remember a similar method of getting plays into the skill position guys on offense during the previous administration, but things have changed dramatically since Herman became the offensive coordinator back in January.
“When we’re just in regular tempo, basically our whole offense is sign-langauged in to all six skill guys,” Herman said this week.
“As soon as the whistle blows the previous play dead, they snap their eyes to the sideline. I’m getting a call into the signal guys and they’re sign-languaging it to the skill guys; then Braxton goes up and tells the O-line through code numbers and code words what play we’re running”
Flying to Jet
Things are simplified when the Buckeyes go to their Jet tempo – which is simply a faster version of their no-huddle, but not as quick as their two-minute offense. The calls get shortened down, the terms are simplified and sign language is kept to a minimum.
“When we’re trying to go as fast as we can,” Herman said.
“Some of those calls get shortened down and we have a tightened menu of 8-10 plays that we’re going to ‘jet’ to.”
Of course that means Braxton Miller had better have an understanding of the plays that are coming at him, because he still has to scream out the code words to the offensive line.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I think you always, as a play caller and quarterbacks coach, you want to be able to understand the decisions and the things that young man sees at 19 years in a span of 2.1 seconds,” Meyer said.
“The decisions that have to be made in those 2.1 seconds are off the charts complex. As you go through the week, you say what can he handle and what can’t he handle. Regardless of who’s playing there, whether it’s Peyton Manning or Braxton Miller, you have to decide what’s too much to put on his plate and what kinds of decision can he make.”
Mind over Matter
In order to do that, Herman has to be ready in all situations.
“I think the skill that’s learned from my vantage point is here’s the game plan, here’s what we want to do in these situations, now I have to commit that to memory,” he said.
“Throughout the course of a series as a play-caller in this up-tempo system, there’s no time to look down and find a play. It has to come naturally from memorizing it throughout the week.”
The former Cal Lutheran University wideout doesn’t get a finalized copy of the game plan each week until after practice on Thursday. He spends all night, and much of the next day, committing it to memory, but by then, Herman has already gone over just about every scenario in his mind.
“There’s a lot of playing the game, throughout the course of the week, in your mind, and through film study and in practice,” he said.
“You just have a feel for what the situation is. As a staff, we’ve said this is when we call such and such. Each play in practice is scripted, so you have it written down. You go over it again and again, trying to play the game in your mind a couple times.”
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