Pac-12: Donny Dykes
Franklin, who's been an offensive coordinator for Kentucky, Troy, Auburn and Middle Tennessee, was with Dykes at Louisiana Tech the past three years. This past season, the Bulldogs led the nation with 51.5 points per game. He was a 2012 nominee for the Broyles Award given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach and one of four finalists for the FootballScoop.com Offensive Coordinator of the Year.
“Tony Franklin is an innovative and creative mind who is one of the top offensive coaches in the nation,” Dykes said in a statement. “He’s had a tremendous amount of success producing some of the most prolific offenses in college football. I’m excited that he is joining our staff at Cal and look forward to much more success in the years ahead.”
Said Franklin in the same statement, "I’ve been recruiting California for a long time and this is where my wife and I wanted to live. It’s funny how dreams sometimes do come true. ... This is our last stop, this is where we want to finish. I have no desire to be a head coach. I wanted to be here to make this thing work for Sonny and give the Cal alumni something they can be proud of. As much pride as they have in their academics, we want it to be the same for their football program. That’s our goal.”
Likens served as an assistant head coach and wide receivers coach for Dykes at Louisiana Tech the past three seasons. He coached 2012 second-team AP All-American and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Quinton Patton, who was a major contributor to the team’s prolific scoring offense.
Quarterback Colby Cameron was named the WAC Offensive Player of the Year and earned the Sammy Baugh Award, presented to college football’s top passer by The Touchdown Club of Columbus. Cameron completed 359 of 522 passes for 4,147 yards and 31 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He ranked fourth nationally in total offense (360.33 ypg) and 24th in passing efficiency (153.19) at the end of the regular season.
Likens directed one of the most potent wide receiver corps in the country in 2012 led by Patton, who paced the WAC in both per-game receiving yards (116.00 ypg) and receptions (8.67 rpg), while ranking fourth in the nation in both categories while compiling totals of 104 catches and 1,392 receiving yards. Patton was also tied for fifth in the nation among wide receivers with 13 touchdowns receptions. Overall, Tech’s receivers recorded 4,209 receiving yards and had more receiving yards than 28 FBS teams had yards of total offense.
Prior to his three-year stint at Louisiana Tech, Likens served for four seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Central Connecticut State (2006-09) and led the Blue Devils to more wins than in any other four-year period in school history.
In addition to his coaching career, Franklin is the owner of The Tony Franklin Systems that conducts a series of football seminars for coaches emphasizing winning solutions. Franklin also has written two books, including "Victor's Victory," which chronicled the tragic death and spectacular life of 15-year-old Hoover High football player Victor Dionte Hill.
Hill died from sudden cardiac arrest on the football practice field during one of Franklin's consulting sessions. The book has helped to continue the mission of Cheryl Hill, Victor's mother, to make teachers, coaches, and parents aware of the need for automatic external defibrillators (AED's) in every school and youth organization in Alabama.
Read Part I here.
We know the established guys: Give me some names of youngsters or former reserves who impressed you.
Seth Littrell: A guy who not a lot people have heard about who had a pretty solid spring was two guys at receiver. Gino Crump, who transferred here last year from West Virginia, has really done some good things and is developing his skills. His deal when he got here was he was inconsistent catching the football, but he did a better job hanging onto the football this spring. He didn't drop as many balls. Also a guy in the same category is Travis Cobb, who is always impressive because he's extremely fast. He can really stretch the field. The biggest thing with him was getting comfortable in the offense. He did a lot better this spring than he did last fall when I don't know how comfortable he was. He was pretty impressive in practices just going to get the football. Nick would drop back and throw a fade route and it would look like it was going to be overthrown by 10 yards and Cobb just runs and gets it. Pure speed, he's probably the fastest guy on our team. Then there's Taimi Tutogi. He played a few games last year and didn't redshirt and played as Chris Gronkowski's backup. But this spring he's really come along. We've done a lot of things with him, from the fullback position to putting him on the line as a tight end, or lining him up at tailback, which we've done in a few practices. He's a guy who, if he develops and gets that confidence as a running back, or fullback, H-back, the more we can expand his role even to tailback also. There's a lot of guys who stepped up and had good springs. Some young O-linemen. It's hard to say one guy. There's a lot of young guys who did some good things this spring.
What will be different about the offense next fall compared to what we saw in 2009?
SL: Hopefully, we'll be better. Without giving away too much, we're going to do some different things, things we were even talking about before Coach Dykes got the head job at Louisiana Tech. We're always looking to expand and looking to get better. I feel like this spring we've done some evaluations of what we feel like we need to do to be a top offense in the country. Even with Coach Scelfo coming in, bringing a new set of eyes and being able to evaluate some of the things we were doing. Sometimes it's good to have something from the outside looking in to give you a different perspective. We've been looking at some of the stuff he did at La-Tech. They were very successful there.
Tell me about how Coach Stoops decided that you would call plays?
SL: The biggest thing with this offense is we are all part of this offense. Obviously, one guy has to be designated to call the plays. In the course of the game, we're all having input. Even though I may be calling the offense, we've called it all week, we have a script, we pretty much know what we're going to do situationally throughout a game. When you're calling it, obviously you've got to get some type of game-time rhythm, know the situations and how to set stuff up. But also at the same time, Frank is going to be in the box with me. Coach Bedenbaugh will be on the field with [receivers coaches Garret Chachere and Dave Nichol]. Really, honestly, it's a matter that coach Bedenbaugh has to be on the field with the O-linemen. That's a huge role for him, being around the linemen the whole game, making adjustments. It would be pretty difficult for him to call plays from down there. Not to say he couldn't because he could but it's really just a matter of me being in the box.
Football coaches, by nature, are fiery guys, as you know from working with the Stoops brothers. Sometimes the collaborative process can get pretty animated: Think everybody will be able to get along?
SL: I don't think there's any doubt. We're all pretty passionate. I've been around coach Stoops for a long time. I played offense [at Oklahoma], but I played under Bob Stoops at OU and Mike Stoops was the D-coordinator. And I've been under [Mark] Mangino and Mike Leach and a lot of different guys. Everybody has their own fire and passion. Obviously, I've only coached with them [at Arizona] for one season but we've been around each other. One thing about Mike is he's passionate about the game but nothing is ever personal. It's about business and winning football games. He knows I'm the same way. We've always gotten along and always had a great relationship. It's going to be no different.
In 2004, he was a graduate assistant at Kansas.
In 2010, he became the Arizona Wildcats' co-offensive coordinator. And, at 31, will be the youngest play-caller in the Pac-10 and one of the youngest in the nation.
It's been a quick climb through the coaching ranks for Littrell. And there's pressure, sure. Wildcats coach Mike Stoops tapped him to fill the job capably manned last fall by Sonny Dykes, who's now Louisiana Tech's head coach, over two more veteran assistants, line coach and co-coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh and quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo.
While Littrell goes to great lengths to play down the distinction of calling plays, it's clear that Stoops believes he's got a talented young coach who's up to the job.
The good news is Littrell has a lot to work with. Seven starters return from an offense that averaged nearly 32 points per game in Pac-10 play, including quarterback Nick Foles.
With the Wildcats concluding spring practices last weekend, it seemed like a good time to check in with Littrell.
So give me the rundown of the offense this spring: What are you happy with? What didn't go as well as you wanted it to?
Seth Littrell: Overall, we were pleased. The biggest thing was the effort. We did some different things offensively that we haven't done in the past, trying some new things out to maybe fit us a little bit better personnel-wise with some guys. I think our players really enjoyed it. So overall they were pretty focused and intense. There was good competition. We had a lot of guys with a lot of returning experience so the hardest thing with that a lot of times is they get bored. We tried to find different ways to keep it exciting and keep it enthusiastic. They were willing to come out and work to become the No. 1 offense in the Pac-10, which is always what our goal is. Probably the most disappointing thing was we came out flat in the spring game. I thought we had good work for the most part leading up to that. We were pretty basic and vanilla in the game, but I was a little disappointed in how flat we were. We didn't make plays we'd made all spring. We dropped too many balls, which hadn't been a problem. Way too many turnovers. Things we didn't have issues with during the spring just kind of popped up in a game-type atmosphere. But that's really the only disappointment I had.
Nick Foles, I wouldn't say faded a bit late in the season, but he didn't have a good Holiday Bowl: Where did he get better this spring?
SL: Overall grasp of the offense. In Nick's defense, he played pretty well early in the season but each and every game we put more on him. I don't know if he faded out but looking back on it maybe we had a little too much offense. Maybe he wasn't ready for all that. That's not an excuse for him. He'd only played a few games -- he redshirted and played a few games at Michigan State [from where he transferred] -- so he's still pretty young. We probably could have kept it a little safer for him, not put so much on him. I think the thing he's really improved in is understanding the offense. Understanding that not every play has to be a touchdown. It's about moving the chains and being productive and getting the ball into other guys' hands. He doesn't have to be the superstar. There's 11 guys on the field and everybody has a role to play. He's just one part of that 11.
Where does backup quarterback Matt Scott stand?
SL: I thought Matt Scott had an unbelievable spring. He's probably been one of the guys I've been most impressed with -- he's probably had the biggest jump of anybody. Coach Scelfo does an unbelievable job with those quarterbacks. [No. 3 QB] Bryson Beirne even had a good spring. Things [Scott] needed to work on, he worked on them and bought into it and worked each and every day. He's way more accurate than he was because of the things he's worked on with Coach Scelfo. Another thing is he really took it upon himself to study the offense. He wants to get involved and learn and it showed on the field.
You oversee the running backs: Are there concerns that Nic Grigsby might not be able to stay healthy?
SL: It may appear that way, huh? It wasn't only him, though. I was down to my fifth running back last year. We played five different guys. We had to get [fullback Taimi Tutogi] ready to take some snaps at tailback. It's always a concern for running backs. I've been around offenses that have been two or three years without one injury and they've been some of the smallest guys on the field. It's always a concern, as a running backs coach, keeping your guys healthy. But as long as we're doing what we need to do in the offseason with [strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond] and the weight room. As long as we are taking care of our bodies, I don't think that should be too big of an issue. I don't know how well we did that last year. Hopefully we learned a big lesson and are trying to protect ourselves better by taking care of our bodies and doing what is necessary in the offseason to prevent some of that.
Seems like you guys are fairly strong on the offensive line: How did they do this spring?
SL: They are a very solid group. Coach Bedenbaugh does an unbelievable job with O-linemen. Just how physical and tough those guys are. They are obviously the leaders on our offense. Everybody kind of looks to those guys and they set the tone. One thing we still have to develop is depth across the board. But when you talk about our first five -- and really up to seven or eight, we've got pretty solid guys -- we're pretty comfortable. As always, and it's the same across the country, everybody is looking for depth across the offensive line.
In Part II on Thursday, Littrell talks about youngsters who stood out this spring, changes in the offensive scheme and why he was tapped the play-caller.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
How about some love for the West Coast's contributions to the rise of the spread offense?
Longtime sportswriter Bart Wright, currently the sports editor of the Greenville (S.C.) News, is working on a book about the spread offense, and he thinks one coach got left out of ESPN.com's recent exploration of the roots of the spread: Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson.
|Stephen Dunn/Getty Images|
|Dennis Erickson incorporated spread principles into his offenses at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami and Oregon State.|
"I don't think there's any question he's a father -- not the originator -- but he carried it on," Wright said.
Of course, it's sometimes hard to nail down exactly what the spread is. The spread-option is a lot like the old single-wing. And the run-and-shoot certainly spreads the field with lots of passing.
But Erickson's version of the spread, Wright said, was devised by Jack Neumeier in the 1970s at Granada Hills (Calf.) High School.
Neumeier? He coached this guy you may have heard of: John Elway.
Neumeier was looking for a way to force defenses into favorable one-on-one matchups. So he started using empty backfields and four- and even five-receiver sets.
That's one of the reasons Jack Elway moved into the Granada Hills school district when he became coach at Cal State Northridge in 1976.
When the elder Elway took over at San Jose State in 1979, his first offensive coordinator -- yep, Dennis Erickson -- adopted some of the Neumeier principles.
The big breakout game for Erickson's spread, according to Wright, was San Jose State's 30-22 upset of then-7-0 and ninth-ranked Baylor in 1980.
What was Erickson's plan? "He wanted to attack Mike Singletary," said Wright, who's done many interviews with Erickson for his book.
Yes, that Mike Singletary.
"You don't normally try to pick on the best player in the country, but that's what he did," Wright said.
The idea was to force Singletary to chase receivers in space. Over and over again.
By the way, the guy hurling the rock for Erickson that afternoon was Steve Clarkson, now a well-known quarterback guru.
Those spread principles, refined over time, became the bedrock of Erickson's offenses at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami and Oregon State.
One of the reasons Erickson may get overlooked in spread discussions is few recall that Miami's dominant offenses from 1989 to 1994 were pure spreads. Because the Hurricanes had so many future NFL greats on their roster, the assumption is they were running a pro-style scheme.
Just last week Arizona's offensive coordinator, Sonny Dykes, pointed this out in an interview with the Pac-10 blog. He was trying to defend the spread offense against accusations it doesn't prepare players, particularly quarterbacks, for the NFL.
Said Dykes, "It's weird. Remember [the University of] Miami was one of the first teams running the one-back and running a spread offense with three receivers on the field?"
Obviously, lots of coaches -- high school and college -- from lots of different states have discernible fingerprints on the development of the spread offense.
And Wright wants to make sure folks don't forget Erickson is one of them.