Championship level no-huddle coaches share their trials and errors while utilizing the no-huddle system in creating offensive systems that turn around programs and win games.
By Sam Nichols
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Throughout this interview process, I was fortunate enough to talk to some great coaches from all over the country. Some of those coaches were willing to give us an even closer look at how they run the no huddle. Each coach in this section has a unique perspective that I felt would help coaches better understand how the no huddle can change the way a team operates. Below you will find the following coaches / topics:
- Joe Osovet – Veteran no huddle coach explains how his system helped increase their plays per game by 15 plays per game over the course of the 2012 season.
- Brian Tabatabai – Southern California coach outlines how the no huddle changed the culture of his football team and helped them break countless records in the process.
- Pac 12 Offensive Coach – This no huddle veteran explains how his teams culture is built around their no huddle philosophy. (Insiders Only - Click Here to log in).
- Phil Longo – Championship college coach explains the no huddle concepts that have made his teams successful at multiple stops (Insiders Only - Click Here to log in).
By Joe Osovet, Offensive Coordinator - Nassau Community College (NY)
Editor’s Note: Coach Osovet is serving his second stint as offensive coordinator at Nassau Community College in New York. Prior to coming back to Nassau, he served as the wide receiver coach at LIU-Post from 2010-2011. This past season, Coach Osovet’s offense ranked 11th nationally averaging 40.8 points per game. His team also boasted two 1,000 yard rushers and a rushing offense that ranked 6th in the nation. X&O Labs Managing Editor Sam Nichols had the opportunity to talk with Coach Osovet about his no-huddle system.
SN: Hey coach, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. I know you have been successful with the no huddle for years now and we look forward to hearing some of the keys that you have found to making that happen year to year. So let’s start with this…why do you stick with the no huddle?
JO: I think the biggest thing as I have been at different levels, be it D2, Junior College, whatever, is that the no huddle forces the defense so show their hand. Very rarely in a game are you going to be stuck in a bad play because you have so much time at the line to make the changes. The quarterback has more time to scan the field and get you in the right play and over time those 7 and 8-yard runs add up and you bust those into 50 yard explosive plays in the second half. I think that those factors combine are dangerous for an offense.
SN: I agree coach. It can be hard to stop if you aren’t prepared. Tempo is an important part of making that happen. Tell us how you guys use tempo to control the game offensively?
JO: First of all, just so you understand where we are coming from, you need to know that we are all hand signals. That said, anything that is a lot of verbiage we put it on the wrist card. We will take the card with those 10-12 plays and use it to keep us moving fast even if we want to run a more complicated play.
We keep it really simple with tempo. We use a snap variance cadence so predominantly have one snap count. From there, we will use a freeze cadence that gives us a chance to get out of something that we have called. That is sent in with the play as a code word. If we just want to get the defense on their heels, the center will signal to the QB he is ready by flashing his hand between his legs, the QB then says "Hut, Hut," throw his hands up, and then look back at me.
What a lot of teams have started doing is they look back to their sideline and change the play as well during that time. To counter this, we have another code word that tells our guys to fake the look to the sideline and catch them looking over for a new play. We aren’t necessarily snapping the ball on one, two, or three. It is all based on the center and quarterback. The other thing we can do is use a few words to speed things up. The first word, "Copy," tells the players to get lined up in the same personnel and run the exact same play. If the defense adjust to that we have code words, like "Oregon" that mean flip it too the other side. The opposite play can be made in the prior to the previous play as well. When we do this, we can get in snapped in about 7 seconds, as long as refs cooperate.
In the end, we think the combination of the same play quickly, the false cadence, and the freeze or look cadence is all we really need to adjust the tempo. We don’t have like a "indy" or "nascar" like some teams.
SN: Talk to me more about the speed. How fast are you guys trying to go?
JO: Well you have to understand that this was my first year back at Nassau so in the beginning we were slow. We even huddled some early in the season as the kids were trying to get the grasp of the concept. During those first 3 games, we were averaging around 67 snaps per game. By the end of the year we were completely no huddle and running 87 snaps in a game. Overall we averaged 73 snaps and that includes those first few games where we were low.
So to answer your question, we are trying to snap the ball in 17 seconds. I know this is slower than Oregon who claims to be at 13, but we are fine with 17 as long as we can execute. It is good to say you are no huddle and fast, but it you can’t execute than it is worthless. This past year we had two 1,000 yard rusher and we were second in the nation in rushing averaging over 300 yards rushing a game.
SN: Good stuff coach. I am with you on the execution piece. That has to be your goal regardless of offensive system. How do you teach your no huddle concept and put your players in a position to snap the ball by 17 seconds and execute?
JO: Everything that we do is based on concepts. So we can come out in a multitude of formations. We will use 3x1, trips closed, trips open, and so on out of nine different personnel groupings. To make all that happen, we break it all down into concepts and teach those concepts in camp. For example, if we are running the inside zone we are running that regardless of the formation. Now that is simple, but we also run some sort of razor or bubble type screen coming off that play and the kids need to know how that fits with the formation and personnel. For example, if we are in pro slot right and running inside zone to the right (diagram 1). In that situation, the kids know that we are going to read the 9 or 7 technique and that the TE is the "cruiser" in the formation. The bubble on the backside will be with the back. This goes for whichever way we run it and the TE knows that he is cruising to the 2nd level linebacker to the run side.
Now lets apply the same play to a different formation. In this example we are running the inside zone to the right out of our 2 back 3 receiver personnel group (diagram 2). Now that fullback has to know that he is now the cruiser because there isn’t a tight end in the game so he has to replace the tight end in that concept. The receiver on the front side now has the bubble. So the kids know that we have can make this stuff all work no matter what personnel we are in.
The nice thing about this approach is that it is easier to call and easier to teach. The kids are able to go faster because they know that we need a cruiser on the front side and a bubble screen on the backside and make it happen. We also have then built in plays on both sides here for the QB so if he sees something he likes he can change it up and throw the bubble or whatever.
So the kids learn these concepts and apply them in the different situations. We think that by doing this we are really letting our players play fast. It also helps you if you call something wrong and you get caught with your pants down the chances are the kids are going to be able to make it work. That’s huge. Having various options for secondary outlets allows us the capability to run the ball either strong or weak. We want to give our QB a run/pass outlet if we get a true bender or gap exchange. This gives us the ability to dictate where and when we want to run the ball!
SN: That is so hard to defend coach. Good stuff. What do you do in practice to stress the tempo?
JO: Great question, Coach. What we do is we try to use our pre-practice very intentionally. If we install anything we do it in the first 5 minutes of pre-practice and we make sure everyone understands the concept. The next 10 minutes of pre-practice are then used for our roadrunner drill. This is all of our no huddle stuff. We put four bags down for the offensive line based on the front we are going to see that week and then we rep plays. This drill is all about finding the coaches, getting the signals, lining up, and running the play and executing the assignments. In 10 minutes we will get 30 to 40 plays in and it is all about repetition.
When we get into practice, we are on the ball in inside run and team periods. We also have periods where we will slow it down so we can teach more. We aren’t like the D1 guys who have time to teach on film every single day so we have found that slowing it down is needed at times. Other than those times, we are on the ball and moving fast. And I tell you it is a huge change. You can go from getting 15 to 20 plays in a 10 minute period to 30 if you do it right. If we go through things faster than expected and exhaust the script, we will just go back to play one and flip it over.
SN: What are you doing in the offseason to prepare your guys for the speed that you play at?
JO: I will be honest with you we do it much like everyone else. We run five days a week of off-season conditioning. In regards to what we do specific to no huddle, we spend a bunch of time with speed and quickness and agility and of course we spend time on the strength piece. What we preach more than anything is that our kids need to make conditioning a factor. We want our kids to want to be a better conditioned team than our opponent. Really we don’t do anything that is unique from a training perspective.
SN: A lot of coaches that I have talked to have mentioned that they are trying to eliminate personnel groupings. You mentioned earlier that you guys are kind of going the other direction and really try to maximize your groupings. Can you explain your rationale behind that decision?
JO: There are a number of factors that go into our use of personnel groupings. We pay close attention to the momentum of the group on the field and the situation. If we get the defense on their heels and their hands are on their hips, then we go out of our way to keep the tempo going with the group that is on the field. That said, we want to still be able to take advantage of opportunities for mismatches that we can find against a particular team and many times these are done on a down and distance basis. We are just careful to not lose momentum to change our grouping on the field.
We have three guys signaling and of course someone is dummy. The third guy is also giving the personnel groupings so the guys on the field see very quickly from his signal what the grouping is. The guys that are subbing in stand right behind him so they all know where to look to see the change and get on and off the field seamlessly. So we don’t really have problems making this happen.
SN: OK Great coach thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
JO: No problem coach. It is my pleasure. I will get have some additional diagrams and resources that I will send over to help explain some of what we talked about. Thanks for the chance to work with you guys again.
Brian Tabatabai, Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback Coach - El Monte High School
Editor’s Note: Brian Tabatabai has been the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach at El Monte High School for the past five years. During the past three seasons the Lions have exclusively operated a No Huddle Spread scheme, which has helped lead El Monte to its first league championship in 32 years. In 2012 El Monte set numerous school records including points scored (454), total offense (6214), passing yards (4286), and passing TD (44). X&O Labs Managing Editor Sam Nichols had the opportunity to speak with Coach Tabatabai about his no-huddle system.
SN: Tell us what brought you to install the no huddle? What were you hoping to accomplish by adding this to your offense?
BT: After the 2009 season (1-9), I entered the offseason with a different mindset. Our program had hit bottom and I knew that our next decision would be both program defining and career defining. As we reflected on what had gone wrong, our questions kept leading me back to the No Huddle. What could we do about our lack of offense? What could we do about how stagnant our program had become? What could we do to bring excitement and more athletes to our program? What could we do to make our program a destination? During January and February, I attended many clinics, and purchased many resources on installing a No Huddle System. I realized that I needed to become an expert and that I had to be able to have answers for every argument against changing so we could move forward. As I found a system that made sense for our coaches and athletes, I immediately met with our head coach and got his go ahead for installing the No Huddle System. We had multiple discussions as a staff, we presented all issues that we felt would arise, and did not move forward until we got 100% buy-in. That 2010 season was unbelievably satisfying. While we finished 4-6, our RB broke the school record in rushing, we scored over 200 points for the 1st time in 20 years and missed the playoffs on the final play of the season. In 2011, we finished the season 7-4 (losing out on the league title on the final game), breaking the school record in points (335), school records in total yards (4136), as well as, scoring 40+ in 4 games. This past year saw us win our first league title in 32 years, defeating our league rival for the first time in 21 years, break the school record in total yards (6214, points (454). Our QB broke the area record for passing yards (4286), total yards (5009), total TD (52), and most significantly Pat Haden's 40+ year record for TD passes (44). We had two members of our offense named All CIF, as well as, CIF Player of the Year. Our QB was featured on NBC Thanksgiving Night special on top High School football players in Southern California. All of this from a program that has only two league titles in the last 60+ years.
SN: Did switching to the no huddle have the effect on your team that you had expected? Any surprises either positively or negatively?
BT: That summer we had immediate feedback. We had Coaches all over the (our area) complaining, skeptics wondering if we would actually play this style. Our kids loved it! We had an edge, we had gotten in our opponents heads and it was June. We no longer were a bottom feeder, but we are now the smartest program, the one on the cutting edge, playing 21st century football. The culture has changed.
As we installed the system, I was surprised at how simple and seamless our transition to a no huddle system was for our players. "Buy in" was total and they're ability to learn the communication system was extremely efficient.
This of course was a process. We were able to clarify what running a no huddle actually entails for our players. I presented our old system and showed how moving to the no huddle would simplify what they needed to know. Our receivers, backs, line no longer had to remember individual responsibilities related to a play, but instead just follow the card and play. Card says Post, run a post! Card says 50, block 50! Card says Trap, block trap! No longer mattered what the entire play actually was they only needed to know what they had to do! No need to memorize. We also taught our signaling system well before spring, so we had ample time to quiz kids in the weight room, in the hallways, etc. By the time we got to spring we minimized the shock of the no huddle.
SN: How much has / does your no huddle system change from year to year? What has driven some of those decisions?
BT: As we moved forward, our system has changed little. We have actually simplified our formations, lessened the amount of movement, gone away from motion, and installed our wrist coaches in spring without change through our final game in order to increase our tempo. We have realized that even if teams through formation feel our offense is predictable our tempo takes away any advantages their film study may give them.
SN: How does being a no huddle team change the way that your team practices?
BT: We practice at a hyper tempo pace. Most time is spent in individual sessions. During a 9-7 (Inside Run Session) we average 40+ plays in 10 minutes. Since we run so many plays during team sessions we have identified that we can afford to spend more time teaching the skills of each component of the offense. We also play music through the practice to mimic noise, as well as, provide the up tempo atmosphere that our program is all about. Our practices have become an event.
We do several daily drills associated with our bubble/screen package. During individual sessions we do a Rapid Fire Bubble drill with our QBs. The drill requires a minimum of three footballs, we usually use five balls. One QB is aligned in the shotgun. The other QB is lined up outside the hash by the numbers, two yards behind the LOS (this is the area we throw our bubble). On the QB cadence, the coach will snap the ball. As the QB throws the first football, the coach snaps the next one to force the QB to get his body back in position to get the next snap. This drill will enhance our QB ability to receive the snap, get a proper grip quickly, and make a quick/accurate throw in our bubble screen package. During the drill we emphasize several points:
- Proper position when receiving the snap.
- Proper grip on the laces
- Positioning hips and feet so QB is throwing through "18 inch Hallway" (Darin Slack)
- Proper throwing mechanics (Cocked Wrist/Elbow leading the throw/Wrist Snap)
The next drill in the progression is our Half Line Bubble/Slip Screen Drill. This drill incorporates our QBs, slot receivers (Z/H) and our flankers (X/Y). Two QBs will align in the shotgun. Our receivers will align in our base 2X2 formation. On our #1 QB’s cadence, managers will snap the ball to each QB and our flankers will run the slip screen. The QBs will reset, and on the subsequent cadence our slots will run the bubble. After each rep, our receivers will alternate sides. Halfway through the drill, our QBs will switch sides. This is a high tempo drill. During a 5 minute session our QBs throw between 20 and 30 bubble/slip screens.
SN: If you could give one piece of advice to coaches considering moving to the no huddle, what would it be?
BT: The one mistake I made the first year was my paranoia that teams would figure out our communication system. This led me to constantly play with our wrist coaches and slowed us down as an offense. Here is a sad example for you that we had to live before we learned this lesson.
In our first year, during our week 5 game (prior to league play) versus Chino we had great success running our zone read in the 1st half. As the half drew to a close, our offensive line communicated to me that Chino had begun to recognize our signal sequence for the zone play. Since league was to open the following week, I made the decision to not change our cards at the half, believing that teams in our league who were scouting us would believe they broke our code, and we could use that to our advantage. During league play, I made the decision to use two sets of cards so teams could not identify our codes, switching at the half. As we got to our final game, we had a 3-1 league record and were playing for a spot in the CIF playoffs. With under two minutes left, down 34-29 we had the ball at our opponents 35 yard line. It was 2nd & 10 and we knew form scouting that our opponent liked to bring pressure through the A Gap, with zero coverage. As I looked to my sheet to relay our play, a RB Screen, I could not find it on my sheet. Due to my paranoia, and constant changing of the sheets/cards at half, I had mistakenly left the play off of my second half script. Needless to say the play we called was unable to exploit the pressure as I wished, they blitzed A Gap, and we went on to lose. That moment made me realize that I had forgotten the fundamental principles of going No Huddle: efficiency and tempo.
Opposing coaches have told me that they knew what play was about to be run and that they tried to communicate to their players, but due to fatigue (we average nearly 80 offensive snaps a game), misalignment, and our pace, any decoding (which is more through our formations than any knowledge of our signals) it just adds to the mental frustration of giving up points to someone when you knew the play. It’s extremely demoralizing.
SN: How have you seen defenses change over the years to account for your no huddle tempo? Has it worked?
BT: We constantly face teams that suffer from cramping, including first quarter cramps. Most of the change has come from offenses. Rarely do we play a team that does not sit on the ball.
Since we run so many plays during a contest, many coaches have shared how fatigued their teams are just watching our film. One coach told me it takes them twice as long to go through a cut-up of our games because of the sheer quantity of plays we run in a given game. In our visiting locker room, we post signs reminding teams that they must be conditioned for two games. We constantly refer to play 100%. We let our athletes know when we have reached that landmark in a game, and you can see the energy level on our sideline rise. It's the end of the 2nd quarter and the 4th quarter where we really saw the advantages. We averaged 12 points in the 2nd quarter and 10 in the 4th, a whole touchdown more than the 1st and 3rd. Opposing teams just did not have any gas left to keep up with our pace. This is what other coaches have shared is the real fear when playing us. Will they have a big enough lead to withstand the storm that is inevitable coming?
SN: Do you believe that there are any factors that would keep a team from being successful at the no huddle? Some coaches point to things like weather, practice time, team depth and scheme as a detractor.
BT: I do not believe there are any physical factors that would keep a team from being successful, it is all mental. If you are unwilling to give up control and if you are unwilling to allow players to make mistakes during team sessions, if you feel the need to correct every play in practice, then no huddle will not work. It takes having complete trust in coaches and players for the no huddle to be successful.
SN: What is the biggest misconception about the no huddle?
BT: I believe most coaches may feel it is too complicated, but if you invest the time prior to installing the no huddle to preparing your staff, the no huddle is extremely player friendly.
Individually, I made sure that I had explored every reason why we should abandon the notion of moving forward with the No huddle before I ever presented it. I asked all the critical questions: depth, impact on defense, impact on coaching, etc... Once I felt confident that I could answer all those pertinent questions, did I decide to present to the staff. The last thing I did prior to my presentation was I wanted to be sure that my signaling system made sense so I had a test run. My wife is a kindergarten teacher, and I felt that if I could teach a class of 5 year olds a set of signals, then I had no worries about moving forward. Not only did I have a great day with a group of Kindergartners, but I had the confidence that this system was going to work for our program.
SN: How does your team communicate the formations and plays (without giving too much away of course)? Why does this system work best for you?
BT: We use hand signals for formations. As for communicating plays we use a combination of hand signals, picture posters (ala Oregon), and word association similar to those explained by Gus Malzahn in his No Huddle book. With this system, I feel we can move at a hyper tempo with few mistakes in communication.
When we signal we have one system which is live and one that is a dummy. The signals communicate to our players formation, the play on the card, and direction. Our QB communicates both the hand signals and posters to our Offensive line. When our posters are live they will refer to that, when our hand signals are live they will refer to the numbers that the hand signal represents. Each play the defense is hearing/seeing pictures and numbers. The words/picture association is specifically for our QB, and gives him a visual stimulus to the play call. Example: Picture of a coffin= Pass Play "50 FUNERAL" (Progression: Fade to Cross/Dig to Smoke): Story Funeral starts with F hence Fade, you see Crosses and people Digging, ending with the Smoke from the Priest.
SN: Thanks for your time coach. It has been great to work with you and to hear about your turn around.
BT: The pleasure is all mine coach. I look forward to working with you in the future and love what X&O Labs is doing.
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- Phil Longo Interview – The offensive coordinator as Slippery Rock University (PA) explains the no huddle concepts that have made his teams successful at multiple stops.
- A Pac 12 Offensive Coach Interview– This ten-year no-huddle veteran explains how his program’s culture is built around their no huddle philosophy.
- No Huddle Special Report: Case 1 - No-Huddle System Philosophy and Organizational Systems
- No Huddle Special Report: Case 2 - Tempos Defined
- No Huddle Special Report: Case 3 - Practice Planning
- No Huddle Special Report: Case 4 - Communication Systems Analysis