Making The Call

While some coaches give up play-calling duties, others hold on to responsibility

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is only of several coaches around the country to have given up play-calling duties.

May 2, 2008

By Adam Caparell

Caparell is's football editor and national football writer.


By nature, head coaches are control freaks. And while that characteristic doesn't figure to change anytime soon, just how much control some of the nation's more notable coaches have over their teams is starting to change.


And it's by choice.


The latest trend to hit college football has seen several big name head coaches - from Maryland's Ralph Friedgen to Notre Dame's Charlie Weis to Cal's Jeff Teford - relinquish play-calling duties. That's no easy task for three coaches who made their names in the business calling the plays, but sometimes you have to take one for the team.


"To be honest with you I was getting worn out," Friedgen said. "I felt like I was being stretched too thin, if you could believe that."


Friedgen will never be confused for a male model, but he is one of the hardest working coaches around and the hours that he was spending game-planning for the offense combined with his other head coaching responsibilities were too much for him to juggle.


"When I was a coordinator, I worked very, very hard at it and what I found was that is was very difficult to meet all the obligations that I'm responsible for as a head coach and coordinator," Friedgen said. "I felt I wasn't with my players as much as I had been in the past and I feel like it's very important that I'm available to them."


So Friedgen brought in James Franklin to be the Terps new offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Franklin, who returns to Maryland after spending three years elsewhere, will be calling the plays this fall, the first time Friedgen won't have that responsibility in a couple of seasons.


"There were times I would miss things as a coordinator that I wouldn't normally miss because I couldn't do both as effectively as I think they needed to be done," Friedgen said. "Maybe some people are a lot more gifted than I am that they don't have to work as hard to be as prepared as I think you have to be. I didn't think that was the best thing for our football team so that's why I changed." 


It's the same reason why Weis decided to let Irish offensive coordinator Mike Haywood take over the play-calling this fall.


"I think that when you're play-calling on offense, you might not necessarily be the best head coach. So what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to be a better head coach," Weis said back in February.


Weis, like Freidgen, wants to spend more time with his players, spend more time helping out with the defense and avoiding, if at all possible, those nights spent sleeping a few hours on the office couch.


"When I was doing it at Ole Miss there was just no time for sleep," new Duke coach David Cutcliffe said about his dual roles. "Literally, two hours a night on three nights. And trying to be thorough with both is very difficult. It's very hard to maintain for any length of time."


But Cutcliffe, unlike Freidgen and Weis, isn't about to change his ways.


"Calling my own plays is kind of what got you the head coaching job, your ability to run an offense," Cutcliffe said. "It just comes naturally to me. I see well, have a feel for it. I've just done it so many years. It's not easy to do, but I've just done it so many years."


To Cutcliffe, the advantages of calling the plays seem to out-weigh the disadvantages, but not by a whole lot. With dual roles, he can provide his defense with an offensive perspective and play-calling is one of his greatest strengths as a coach. But at the same time, Cutcliffe knows that he's a better coordinator working from the press box.


"I liked to see from up there. I don't think I'm as good from the sideline as I am from the press box," Cutcliffe said.


Cutcliffe is one of 18 new coaches hired since last season and he isn't the only one who will hold dual responsibilities this fall. 


New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt will take over play-calling duties in Oxford, giving him a chance to become much closer to his new players. And in Fayetteville, new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino won't be delegating any offensive responsibilities to his assistants.


"It's something I've always enjoyed doing," Petrino said. "It's something that I think is one of my strengths as a coach and it allows you to develop closer relationships with the quarterbacks and other offensive players and stay really involved."


And while South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier will, for the most part, be calling the Gamecocks' plays this fall, he did finally come to the realization that he can't do it all.


"Last year, I'm sitting there writing down third and ones, red zones, two-point plays, putting them on the wristbands and everybody is sitting there looking at me, and I said, `I'm doing everything around here, right?'" Spurrier said.


That's how Spurrier has always operated, but he decided it was time to give his assistants more responsibilities this season. So Steve Spurrier, Jr., who has been working alongside his father for over a decade, will be handling the majority of the play-calling duties this fall. Just how much of a majority remains to be seen.


"I'm still going to be the offensive coordinator and I'm still going to have my input into the play-calling," the Ol' Ball Coach said. "Hopefully it will not be much different and hopefully the person who does the play-calling will better prepared to do it."


And after 30 years of coaching, Spurrier will be the first to tell you that play-calling is not what it used to be.


"It's changed a lot in the last 20 years," Spurrier said. "When I was first a play caller with Duke and Florida and the Tampa Bay Bandits, sometimes I didn't even need a sheet, I probably had thrown it down after an interception already, and just called them off the top of my head. Nowadays, there are so many formations and plays and shifts, this, that and the other, you almost always have to have a sheet with you."


Nowadays, with all the responsibilities that come with being a head coach, with all the different ways your being pulled every day, why wear yourself thin pulling double duty? A number of coaches asked themselves that question this off-season and decided the headaches weren't worth it.


Then you have the other set of coaches who just love the control too much to give it up, no matter how little sleep they get.

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