Drawing on lots of personal interviews and contemporary first-hand accounts, Wright recounts the coaching trees, team personnel changes, and key seasons and games that had a part in the gradual dominance of the spread offense. As he writes, "The game has changed so much is barely comparable to college football of the 1960s, 1970s, and for most of the nation's teams, on into the 1980s." Teams that were slow to make this shift frequently ended up at a serious, unexpected disadvantage. As a Baylor fan, I was particularly interested that he identifies Baylor's loss to San Jose State in 1980.
The 1980 Baylor Bears were perhaps the best Baylor team ever to take the field. Walter Abercrombie was busy setting all of Baylor's rushing records, and linebacker Mike Singletary was putting the hurt on the oppositions' offensive efforts. The Bears were 7-0, ranked 10th in the nation, and picked to beat visiting San Jose State by 20 1/2. SJSU's head coach Jack Elway (John's father) and offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson were pioneers of the spread offense, which effectively took Singletary, who was used to defending the wishbone and option offenses in the Southwest Conference, out of the game.
Years later Singletary reflected, "I guess it's kind of cool to think back on it as the first time people realized what the spread could do. I didn't think it was very cool at the time; it was just so weird. . . . It was just to different to play against that kind of football." Baylor coach Grant Teaff called their spread offense "extremely tough to stop." Elway called that Baylor win "the greatest win in my 28 years of coaching."
There had been passing in college football for years before Jack Neumeier, a high school football coach in Southern California, had an epiphany at a high school basketball game. He began to think of spacing and timing in the passing game, beginning to think about football as basketball on grass. His star quarterback was John Elway, whose father Jack took the spread to the college game.
Wright weaves this story together with lots of college football history, interesting personal stories about the coaches and programs, and brings the game right up to this season. Naturally, the threads get pretty tangled at times, but Wright does a nice job of drawing along the narrative. What is the spread offense, and why did it come to dominate the college game (and make some serious inroads in the NFL)? Wright sets the story straight. An interesting read for the football fan.