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Friday, November 14, 2008
Northwestern offense has roots with Rodriguez

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Rich Rodriguez is the Kevin Bacon of spread offenses. A few degrees of separation link Michigan's head coach to most adaptations of the wildly popular system. 

But Rodriguez had a direct hand in shaping the version of the spread he'll see from Northwestern on Saturday at Michigan Stadium (ESPN2, noon ET).

When former Northwestern coach Randy Walker and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson decided to overhaul their offensive scheme in the spring of 2000, they took a scouting trip to Clemson, where Rodriguez was serving as offensive coordinator. Walker and Wilson became sponges for several days, absorbing practically every detail of Rodriguez's system.

"Not only did they come down, they spent a whole week [with us]," Rodriguez recalled Tuesday. "And they almost put it in verbatim, even the same signals and terminology and everything. I remember watching them on TV in some Big Ten games and saying, 'Geez, they took it exactly.' And they had great success. 

"We had a great visit, and we obviously kept in touch throughout the years."

Walker died suddenly in 2006, but Rodriguez reminisced about the visit with Walker's widow, Tammy, earlier this year. Rodriguez also has remained close friends with Wilson, now Oklahoma's offensive coordinator. 

The spread was a huge hit at Northwestern, which ranked third nationally in yards (475.6 ypg) and ninth in scoring (38.6 ppg) in 2000, and won a share of the Big Ten championship that year. The system has been in place ever since, though it's no longer a carbon copy of what Rodriguez uses. 

"Coach Rodriguez is kind of the godfather of the spread offense," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He's got such a great plan, such a great vision. When coach Walk went down there in 2000, I've heard Rich tell some funny stories about, they didn't just come down and studied the offense. They took everything, the hand signals, how he called it. Obviously we've evolved from Kevin to Mike Dunbar to Garrick McGee and now to Mick McCall. 

"That's what makes the spread offense so much fun. It's everybody's version of it."