THE ELIXIR: How a little faith and creativity in the Baylor-style offense have turned programs around

first_imgTo read Part 1 of the Babers Offense Series, click here. To read Part 2, click here. To read part 3, click here. Dino Babers asks for faith. From fans, from players, from alumni. Everywhere he’s gone as a head coach, he’s wanted them to believe without tangible evidence that he is going to be the one to turn their program around.But there is evidence.The Baylor offense has been run at Houston, Baylor, Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green and Tulsa. Each stop the offense has made has elevated the program that runs it. And with the exception of Bowling Green, which had been successful before Babers arrived, the offense has helped turn around each program. In the year prior to running the Baylor-style offense, teams won an average of 36 percent of their games. After, they won an average of 61 percent.“It’s gotta be bought in from the top down, so I think the way we implement it, the way we coach it,” Tulsa head coach and former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery said of why the offense is so successful at turning around programs, “And it’s our philosophy of making sure how we’re going to fit the players that we have into what we do so many different times and that’s why everybody’s got their own unique way of spinning it.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThere was a time when Babers was the one who needed to have faith, when he was as new to the offense as his players are now — when Art Briles brought him to Baylor in Briles’ first year. Babers picked up the system from Briles at Baylor when he coached wide receivers there from 2008 until 2011. Briles’ staff turned around the program in three seasons.Briles, however, was recently fired at Baylor after allegedly covering up several players sexually assaulting students. According to a review by Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton that presented findings of fact to Baylor’s board of regents, “Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership.”,The offense is a vehicle to turn around the on-field product at traditionally poor programs in a tangible form. Most coaches talk about changing the attitude of a program, but the way that’s done is typically much less clear. Through the strength and conditioning program, the players realize what the system requires.Once the prep work is instilled with the strength and conditioning program, Babers has jostled players to get the right fit for the team and player. Although the offense is a defined system, it’s one that allows for creativity with putting players in the right spots.The Baylor-style offense’s total approach is also something that can’t be replicated without getting a full dose of it. That’s one reason why only two other teams — Tulsa and Baylor — are going to truly be running that specific spread this season.“There aren’t many of us out there,” Montgomery said. “… And that’s the way we like it.”When the system started in 1990 at Stephenville, it developed out of the necessity to improve an undersized, less athletic high school team. Players worked out up to three times each day to make up for the physical gap, former Stephenville and Houston lineman Sterling Doty said.Coaches would lift weights with the players and used the weight room to instill confidence in a team that lacked it on the field.When Briles transitioned to Baylor, the weightlifting program turned into a nutrition and strength program. With a strength and conditioning coach, the staff required players to weigh specific pounds when they left the cafeteria, former Baylor wide receiver Andrew Sumpter said.And if you stepped on the scale and didn’t weigh in up to expectations: “Son, that’s not enough, you need to be at 193.”“It seems trivial,” Sumpter said. “But for us to play, to cover, to hydrate correctly, we had to eat right. So everything that (Babers is) bringing in, from the strength and conditioning coaches to the nutritionist, even like, they talked to us about sleep.”,The architecture of the offense was such that it could fit varying skill sets. While it’s developed from the time it won four state championships in 11 years at Stephenville, that principle has remained the same, Montgomery said.From the time Babers was a teenager, he learned the importance of putting players in the right spot. In his sophomore year at Morse (California) High School, Babers’ high school coach John Shacklett wanted Babers to play running back and linebacker.Babers pitched himself as the next quarterback. He and Shacklett had an impassioned talk in the bowels of Morse. Players typically received a trial period under Shacklett for a new position. It almost never worked out. Shacklett saved Babers the trouble and told him where he’d play. Eventually Hawaii recruited Babers at defensive back and running back.At Arizona, as a position coach and offensive coordinator in the late 1990s, Babers showed his own eye for placing players.After Trung Canidate accrued no stats as a freshman wide receiver in 1996, Babers flipped him to running back. Canidate left as the all-time leading rusher in Arizona history and the St. Louis Rams drafted him in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft.Early in his career, Dennis Northcutt toyed around at running back and defensive back. Babers moved him to wide receiver. Northcutt graduated as the all-time leading receiver in 1999 and played in the NFL for 10 seasons.Bobby Wade played running back for part of Arizona’s training camp, but Babers moved him to wide receiver after injuries at the position. The wide receiver topped Northcutt’s receiving yards records in 2002 and played receiver in the NFL for eight seasons.“You know how when you’re growing up and you’re picking teams and you had to know the kids on your street … I always wanted to be a coach,” Babers said. “… You evaluate ‘em, you know what they’re good at, what they’re not good at and to me it didn’t matter who was on the team, you could always put the right guys in the right spots to give yourself the best chance to win.”Several former players from Arizona attribute their NFL careers to position switches Babers made in the late 1990s. As the offensive coordinator at U of A, Babers even created the H-back position within the offense because it was a look teams in the then-Pac-10 didn’t see often.To fill the H-back slot, Babers convinced basketball player Kelvin Eafon to commit to playing just football at Arizona despite the Wildcats’ basketball team being on the verge of a national championship. The young coach told Eafon he could make it to the NFL, so Eafon left the basketball team. Babers also pulled then-defensive end Brandon Manumaleuna to play the H-back role. Manumaleuna went on to have a 10-year NFL career.Babers’ eye for skills fits in with the Baylor-style offense. When teams are rebuilding, they need change. The system provides that.Just this training camp, Babers moved six Syracuse players to different sides of the ball or added a position for them.When Babers first met with his players after he was hired at SU, he told them they would win sooner or later. How soon, he said, depends on whether they buy in.“You know what I will say about all those guys that moved?” Babers said of the players whose positions he switched at Arizona.

“Faith,” he answered, without missing a beat. “Belief without evidence in me that this move would work.”It’s not quite that divine, though. The system was built this way. The system was built to reward faith.Banner illustration by Jessica Sheldon | Photo Editor Comments Published on September 1, 2016 at 12:36 am Contact Chris: [email protected] | @ChrisLibonati,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.last_img

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