By DAVID JONES
ARKANSAS WELCOME: TU Assistant Head Coach Gus Malzahn, speaking, was a feature during the Tulsa Football Caravan in Springdale, Ark., in early August. Approximately 300 Malzahn fans attended the event to hear how the former Springdale resident and coach plans to implement his offense at TU. Also featured are, from left, Head Coach Todd Graham, Co-Offensive Coordinator Herb Hand, Co-Defensive Coordinator Keith Patterson and Associate Head Coach Paul Randolph.
GTR Newspapers photo
University of Tulsa coach Gus Malzahn doesn’t plan to spend the 2007 football season in the press box sending plays down to the sidelines. He plans to be on those sidelines sending in his own plays and he intends to send in lots of plays. His hurry-up no huddle offense has a disciple in head coach Todd Graham, and Malzahn is anxious to try it.
The question on everybody’s mind: Does Tulsa have the personnel for such a grindingly exhausting battle plan?
“Being a former high school coach,” says Malzahn, “I learned that every year you had to adapt your strategy to your personnel. My philosophy will never change and I’m trying to build a base offense around the strengths of the players.
“We’re pleased with the guys we’ve got, I’ll tell you that.”
That Malzahn is going to be prowling the sidelines at Skelly Stadium rather than calling out plays in Arkansas is the result of a number of incidents seemingly unrelated.
Malzahn first heard of Graham when Graham called him about a book Malzahn had written about taking the two-minute drill and extending it to a full game. Malzahn had used the strategy during an Arkansas high school coaching career that resulted in a number of state championships. He was invited to join the 2006 Arkansas Razorback football team as offensive coordinator, presumably to bring his revolutionary offensive scheme to the college level.
He also brought several of his all-state players with him.
Exactly what happened is not widely discussed by any involved party, but the upshot was that the Arkansas offense never embraced Malzahn’s philosophy and several of the players that joined the Razorbacks with their old head coach left for presumably more inviting pastures. All Malzahn will say is “their philosophy was different from what I was used to.”
That is the past. Malzahn is concentrating on the future.
“I know I’m known as a passing coach but there were times we ran the ball.
“I am very impressed with (Hurricane quarterback) Paul Smith. He’s like a second coach on the field. He did a lot of our style offense when he was in high school so he has the concept down pat.
“He is also extraordinary in that he has the capacity to make the other players in the offense better. That’s what you want a leader to do.”
A passing game requires receivers that can get down the field in a hurry. One of the criticisms of the Golden Hurricane last year was that they tended to dump the ball off in short passes and that the offense became predictable.
“Our challenge,” says Malzahn, “is to find those guys who can go long and get open. To be as good as we can be we have to stretch the field and make the plays that do it.”
Finding those receivers for future teams will depend a lot on Malzahn. With his background in Arkansas high school football he is depended upon to recruit in his former home state, an area where Tulsa has had limited success in the past. Malzahn says that pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
“The new Case complex alone is going to allow us to be more attractive to potential recruits. Add to that the renovation of Skelly Stadium and you’re going to have an attractive package to offer a young man.”
When it comes to coaching, Malzahn says he has one goal.
“It’s all about winning. Conference USA is getting better and better and its members are getting more national respect.
“If you’re going to be good at a national level you have to be able to both pass and run. Our strengths right now are at quarterback and running back.”
This is Paul Smith’s last year at quarterback. Who is in the wings?
“Dave Johnson is a junior and Clark Harell is a redshirt freshman and they are Smith’s backups. It’s important we see that they can get some game experience during the season.”
Graham and Malzahn say they are on the same page when it comes to how to run the offense.
The no-huddle offense idea has Hurricane fans excited. Maybe this year Malzahn can actually see how his brainchild fares at the college level.