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  • Football Revolution: The Rise of the Spread Offense and How It Transformed College Football by Wright, Bart
  • Robert Stephenitch
Wright, Bart. Football Revolution: The Rise of the Spread Offense and How It Transformed College Football. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. Pp. xiv+242. Contents and notes. $19.95 pb.

Football Revolution acquaints the readers to the history of the “Spread” offense from its rise within high school to college offenses. Given the popularity of the term “Spread,” few know how the offense that sprung from the mind of Jack Swarthout in the old T-formation could evolve into what it is today. Wright contends that if not for the radical thinking (and timely arrivals) of a few coaches, the spread would still be a Northwest gimmick offense.

The author charts the history of the spread from the 1940s until present across fifteen chapters which are broken down by decade. But, the entwining of the back stories is what really shows how the idea of the “Spread” offense dispersed. In the history, the author presents three major themes including conflicting ideologies about strategy early in the “Spread’s” inception, the “right place/right time” concept of coaches and vacancies, and the collegiate football identities that are born through the use of the “Spread.” With no pictures or diagrams present in the book, one could be susceptible to getting baffled about different formations the author talks about such as: the “Single Wing,” “Wishbone,” and [End Page 537] “Pro” with no prior knowledge of the sport. With that said, the writing is acceptable for both undergraduate and general readers looking to gain further knowledge on the history and philosophy of the “Spread.”

In the beginning of the book, Wright plots the early beginnings of the “Spread” to Hoquiam, Washington, and how Jack Swarthout’s ideas about the passing game evolved, and endured until now, with the addition of a quarterback named Jack Elway. Football during this time was seen as a complement to World War II in the ways of strategy, fitness, and discipline, and was seen by the American public as a way to mold the young men of the future. Swarthout’s background in the military, as well as his imagination, set the table for what the “Spread” was to become. As football began to become more popular, coaches were “concerned with being a part of the wave of success rather than trying something new and different,” thus staying with the status quo and not trying out new ideas abated the “Spread” early on (p. 19).

Wright argues that a turning point came in 1969, when Jack Neumeier (the head coach at Granada Hills High School) came up with the ideology of “basketball on grass,” and the “Spread” concept made its way to Dennis Erickson (who is one of the main focal points of the text). The theme of “right place/right time” presents itself again in that if it had not been for Howard Schnellenberger reviving the University of Miami football program, Jimmy Johnson leaving for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, and the interjection of Erickson and the “Spread” into the athletic and intense culture of the “U,” which is the street name of Miami. It was not until Miami beat the more traditional option team of Nebraska for the national championship in 1991, that the “Spread” caught the attention of a number of coaches and fans.

One of the common thoughts is that “Spread” offenses make the opposition defend the field horizontally, as well as, vertically. Wright suggests that “Spread” coaches are “stitched together by a common bond of reasoning,” while adding their own personal wrinkles (p. ix). These concepts are examined in the later stages of the book, when Wright begins dissecting the reasoning as to why Kansas State’s Bill Snyder sought an offense that could enhance his average offense to go along with his stingy defense. Snyder’s version (the “Zone Read,” which is an option style of the “Spread”) wanted to take advantage of the mobile quarterbacks that Kansas State had to offer. Other coaches such as Hal Mumme and Mike Leach carved out the niche of the “Spread” in using the...


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pp. 537-538
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