Wing T era over? Sphire thinks maybe; Herron says no

Teams with Wing T offenses have won Georgia’s highest classification seven of the past 10 years.

North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said this week that you might not see another one.

Prince Avenue Christian coach Jeff Herron disagreed. Herron won three state titles at Camden County using a Wing T offense. (Grayson and Lowndes won the other four with Wing T offenses since 2003.)

I spoke with both coaches this week on the subject. I’ll just let the quotes speak for themselves -

From Sphire –

“A simplistic offense like the Graysons or Camdens or Lowndes is predicated on being a defensive-dominated football team with an offense that compliments that with physicality and controlling the clock. Think about those teams that have had success. It’s really been defensive-first. That’s why they won.’’

”It’s evolved to where moving forward it’s going to be hard to win a state championship with that approach unless you are just absolutely more talented. If it’s fairly close in talent, that approach in today’s time is going to be difficult. They can still win a big individualized game, but to win for five weeks, it’s going to be difficult in today’s time.’’

‘’Having been Wing T and option guy in the past, the only way we could win (a state championship) was to be the most talented team. Today’s spread offenses give you a chance to win a game against a team more talented. Most of the time we’re not the most talented team overall. We’re not going to win many combine competitions if that’s what is going to be evaluated. As far as the ability to attack, our system has given us a chance.’’

OK, before we to Herron, let’s make sure everyone knows what we’re talking about.

A Wing T offense employs three running backs and often runs the ball 80 percent of the time or more. Lowndes, for example, had 2,530 yards rushing this season and 812 passing with 554 rushing attempts and 105 passing attempts. Camden County scored 642 points – a state record in the highest class – using the Wing T in 2009.

The spread offense uses three or four wide receivers and typically, but not always, gets more yardage from passing. North Gwinnett, for example, has 3,250 yards passing, 2,036 rushing, and has 369 passing attempts, 371 rushing attempts. North Gwinnett is averaging 39.5 points per game.

OK, now for Herron’s rebuttal –

‘’While I think Bob is a great coach and has done a tremendous job, I just can’t agree with him. I think I have history on my side of the argument. My first point would be that I have always said that defense wins championships. It seems we agree on that point. However, I also feel that the more physical teams usually win championships and I don’t believe that being a pass-first team leads to physicality on defense. Sort of like being really good at 7 on 7. The reason we run the Wing-T and many teams run the option is that we feel those offenses are equalizers in talent; a further example would be the military academies. If you are a spread team that likes to throw and you don’t have a QB what do you do? And, even more importantly would be the fact that I believe being a run first team on offense makes your entire team have a more physical approach to the game.”

‘’I have watched North Gwinnett play twice this year and I think they have one of their best teams. But, I believe the running back they have (C.J. Leggett) and his physicality is the reason. I would also argue that come playoff time when the weather and field conditions get worse the running and defensive minded teams have an advantage. I will admit that playing the championships in the dome, which I personally don’t agree with, does help spread teams though.’’

‘’Look at the SEC and look at Georgia’s highest classifications. With few exceptions the most championships have been won by teams that can physically run the ball and play great defense. Norcross won it last year because they played great defense and Alvin Kamara was a special running back. Until I see a pass happy teams consistently win championships I will continue to believe in running the football, controlling the clock, and playing great defense and special teams.’’

What do you think?

And where does Norcross fit in all this? Guess I should mention that North Gwinnett plays Norcross for the AAAAAA title on Saturday.

Sphire views Norcross’ schemes and philosophy as more modern and sophisticated. It is a team that wants to establish the run first, but Norcross can and will spread the field at times, usually in a two-back formation. Norcross also has superior talent on defense, another quality of many state championship teams.

So, is the spread the future? Is the writing on the wall for Wing T teams in the highest classification?

66 comments Add your comment

Stu Ho

December 11th, 2013
7:38 pm

Agree with Sphire. Ask Norcross about Booker T Washington from Miami ( a 4a school with less than 1000 total students) that spread the field like a filet. BTW 55 Norcross 0. Look at college ball, when was the last time a Wing T won a national championship. Wing T is one step forward from the option (which is basically dead). Having more than two backs is the past.

Dboy

December 11th, 2013
7:43 pm

It still works on the high school level. He will see it from Tucker next yr!! Watch we whoop that butt…it’s more dynamic when u can run that and spread the field if u want to like Tucker does.

Max Sizemore

December 11th, 2013
7:56 pm

Not to nitpick, but I don’t believe Grayson is (was — haven’t seen them this season) a true wing-T team. Oh, they line up in a wing but they don’t run the true misdirection wing-T plays like, for instance, Camden does: the traps and counters with angle blocking.

Im a Cavs' Uncle too

December 11th, 2013
8:00 pm

Herron’s son is the QB for Prince Ave and the kid has some wheels on him. A naked bootleg every now and then will open up big plays if the receivers and QBs are on the same page. Thankfully, he only ran a couple of times against Calvary because when he did, he was all alone with plenty of space in front of him. Sure way to gain 15 yards unless you have DBs or LBs who can catch the QB.

I think the spread will come into play more just because of the advantages it creates. Rushing is 1 vs 11 while throwing to a receiver down field is 1 vs 2 or 3 at the most. An RB can motion out of the backfield and create a mismatch in the spread. You create more opportunities for penalties throwing too. All levels of football tend to mimic the NFL. The 5,000 yd QB in the pros will breed 3-4,000 yd QBs on the lower levels.

mk52

December 11th, 2013
8:05 pm

The Option is dead? That’s all that these spread teams are running! The Zone Read is Option football at its core. Leave someone unblocked, read him and give or keep. The option is not dead, it just looks different

57Cat

December 11th, 2013
8:17 pm

I like the West Coast offense. I think that blends the pass and run game to best advantage – given you have the QB to run it. I don’t like offenses that stress the run or the pass. Of course, I’m just a fan. But I know what kind of football I like to watch.

Kevin

December 11th, 2013
8:43 pm

Interesting comments. Watched Carrollton run an excellent wing T offense, and honestly would say that after watching SEC championship game and Gus Malzahn “new” offense would have to say it sure looks a lot like the Wing T to me.

GwinnettDad

December 11th, 2013
9:12 pm

Either offense has to have the horses to win. I think NG gets defeated when the QB gets rattled, while the Wing-T has less demands upon the QB, which leads to more reliance upon the rest of the team. I love it when I cannot predict what the offense will do next. Sphire is a master at designing plays.

Either way, however, both offenses are far more unpredictable to the point of being refreshing than the Oklahoma style of Brookwood. If somebody has a better description for the Broncos style, I’m all ears. Please note nobody is recommending it here.

Indian alum

December 11th, 2013
9:36 pm

Can’t agree with Sphire. There are two great wing t teams playing this weekend for championships. Tucker and Carrolton. And everyone knows that defense wins championships. Your offense just needs to manage the game.

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
9:45 pm

@Todd… You took Sphire’s comment and asked Herron what he thought, and Herron sounded like a moron LOL Not saying that either coach is right, but it’s funny how Herron restates Sphire’s comments without realizing it.

I was mostly agreeing with Herron until this comment….

“I will admit that playing the championships in the dome, which I personally don’t agree with, does help spread teams though.’’

Talk about not thinking before you speak. He doesn’t even realize that his “rebutle” is actually just restating a lot of what Sphire said LOL.

1)
Sphire: ‘’Having been Wing T and option guy in the past, the only way we could win (a state championship) was to be the most talented team.”

Herron: “I think I have history on my side of the argument.”

- So does Sphire.

2)
Sphire: “A simplistic offense like the Graysons or Camdens or Lowndes is predicated on being a defensive-dominated football team with an offense that compliments that with physicality and controlling the clock.”

Herron: “However, I also feel that the more physical teams usually win championships and I don’t believe that being a pass-first team leads to physicality on defense.”

- Sphire said the exact same thing, but in different words…He never said anything about a “pass-first offense”. You said that Todd :)

3)
Herron: “Until I see a pass happy teams consistently win championships I will continue to believe in running the football, controlling the clock, and playing great defense and special teams.’’

- Again, Sphire never said anything about a “pass-happy” offense LOL. You did Todd :) Sphire said, “We’re not going to win many combine competitions if that’s what is going to be evaluated. As far as the ability to attack, our system has given us a chance.’’

4)
Herron:
“I will admit that playing the championships in the dome, which I personally don’t agree with, does help spread teams though.’’

- So Herron wants the title games outdoors so that “run-first” teams have the advantage (like it’s always been until 2008). I guess all of the spread teams (even the ones that run the ball a lot) shouldn’t be given any “fairness”. I also think this statement is moronic because a dry field helps EVERY team. I think he was really hinting towards the long distance travel that South Ga teams have to make to ATL. As I’ve said before on the blogs…Those schools should hold the GHSA accountable for travel expenses because the Dome is a premier venue that is nearest to the overall majority of high schools in this state.

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
9:50 pm

Coach Sphire is a highly intelligent mind that usually gets misunderstood by others when he speaks and loses their comprehension. Highly intelligent people are always misinterpreted everyday.

I’m not trying to defend Sphire whatsoever, because he doesn’t need to be, but Herron is just not saying what saying what he really thinks and I also don’t think that he gave Sphire’s comments enough thought.

yo

December 11th, 2013
9:54 pm

@NGHS 09 you say ” I think he was really hinting towards the long distance travel that South Ga teams have to make to ATL”. I think this is the biggest obstacle 1AAAAAA now faces in winning another state championship. Even more than the quality of teams that they face.

The only way a Region 1AAAAAA team doesn’t have to make 4 and 5 hour trips in the playoffs every week is if they win their region and even then they could have to take as many as 2-3 long trips (talking top seed here).

Something needs to be done to level out this very distinct advantage the teams around Atlanta now have. I don’t know what it could be but something.

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
10:05 pm

I agree with both Sphire and Herron because they are both right in a number of ways, but they are both agreeing in more ways than one.

Herron:

“But, I believe the running back they have (C.J. Leggett) and his physicality is the reason.”

- He hit the nail on the head. However, he’s failing to realize that the running game IS a vital part in the spread offense LOL. He’s literally proving Sphire’s point, Today’s spread offenses give you a chance to win a game against a team more talented . . . As far as the ability to attack, our system has given us a chance.” ….

Herron also proved your stats about NG this season Todd. “369 passing attempts, 371 rushing attempts”

So NG runs the spread offense, and according to you and coach Herron, that makes NG a “pass-first” team. The numbers don’t lie unless you lie about the numbers :) . I recognize that NG has predominately passed more than running in years past, but when the spread has a great RB, it just shows how the spread offers what Sphire stated above about a more balanced attack. This does NOT mean that just because NG has mostly passed the ball until C.J. Leggett arrived on the scene, that the Wing-T automatically provides a better running offense.

The only true “pass-first” offense is called the Air-Raid offense.

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
10:07 pm

@Yo….I agree with you 100%, and that’s why I said it.

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
10:09 pm

@mk52…. Couldn’t agree more.

blue 101

December 11th, 2013
10:11 pm

I think what we see from college teams(such as Auburn/other high schools) is teams in some spread formations, but using wing-t philosophies and tendencies to maximize their talent. I have seen some high school and college teams at all level use spread formations to run the ball, if they are not very good passing team. I think we will see more teams use wing-t philosophies out of the spread. Both coaches support their point of view with factual information.

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
10:14 pm

Did not mean to type moron; a better word would be confused.

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
10:14 pm

blue 101…exactly my point

RobFromNorcross

December 11th, 2013
10:18 pm

Sphire is lucky he doesn’t coach for Lovejoy- they would’ve kicked his losin’ @ss to the curb two or three years ago :-)

NGHS 09

December 11th, 2013
10:28 pm

@Rob… I can always count on you to provide comic relief LOL.

I think LJ is getting ahead of themselves by firing a proven coach. His record speaks for itself and he’s been to the last two state title games until this season. Some people get caught up in the shininess of winning the title. They think it’s the only thing that really matters. Yes, it is the ultimate goal/prize, but it’s not the instrument that teaches life lessons to young men.

Some people can’t resist shiny things LOL You know what I mean by that. Can’t wait for Saturday.

yo

December 11th, 2013
11:02 pm

NGHS 09 the only way I can figure is if they go back to the top 16 teams in the North play for the Dome and the top most southern teams in the south play for the Dome. Not my preferred way because it removes the possibility of 2 teams from the same region playing in the Dome if they are the 2 best teams in the state, but only way I can figure. It would at least limit the driving time to around 3-4 hours (even to the final in the Dome). Instead of the 3 to possibly 6 hour drives for some teams.

old school

December 11th, 2013
11:03 pm

NGHS 09. YOU HAVE WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR HANDS.

yo

December 11th, 2013
11:05 pm

In fact I would prefer the Dome be used for both Semis and Finals as opposed to the present way it is done. It would be a much fairer playing field. IMO

RobFromNorcross

December 11th, 2013
11:09 pm

@yo =

That sounds fair– NOT.

Who are the top most 16 teams in south GA anyway? You can include Lovejoy… :-) They are outside the perimeter on the south-side so it is just as close for them to drive to Kingsland as it is to Norcross when you factor in traffic.

Sportsnut

December 11th, 2013
11:28 pm

@NGHS09 == I know what you mean too. We broke that code long ago. Intellect is such an equalizer.

NC Dawg Fan

December 11th, 2013
11:59 pm

Do not forget that Gus Malzahn is running his “tweaked” version of the Delaware Wing T. The wing T in its purest form may not be what we see going forward, but a hybrid of the wing T / spread, like what Malzahn is running, is what is most likely on the horizon.

just lookin

December 12th, 2013
12:22 am

Wow! I was just discussing this topic and noted that Tucker may probably struggle in 6A with the wing T. Watching Tucker’s offense during the playoffs really got me thinking about the transition to 6A. Watching them constantly try to put a square peg (running up the middle) into a round hole (8 or 9 in the box) had me thinking about how that would work against 6A competition. That concept made Gainesville’s defense look like world beaters. Tucker’s defense and special teams has kept them in the last 7 games.

With the athletes that Tucker has, it would be nice to see them play in space more. Look at them on special teams when receiving the ball. They are electric when working in space. Being a huge Tucker fan, I would just like to see more spacing on the offensive side of the ball.

In regards to Sphire and Herron’s point, I like both offenses but not exclusive to one or the other. I prefer a multiple set offense to create mismatches. Just my two cents on that topic.

GO TUCKER TIGERS

bosshog

December 12th, 2013
1:24 am

lovejoy fired there coach how dumb the guy did a great job north gwinnett will win sat.

Suwanee 0wns

December 12th, 2013
5:57 am

Excellent topic for discussion, Mr. Holcomb.

A team with clearly superior talent could win with either strategy. However, the Wing-T has more consistency and is likely to result in more sustained drives.

Woody Hayes said something along the lines of “only 3 things can happen when you pass, and 2 of them are bad”. While a passing team can score points quickly, they are also more likely to have turnovers and stalled drives.

With a more talented team, it would be more likely to win 5 games in a row than with a passing team.

Among roughly equal teams it is a very good idea to have both a passing and rushing attack. Some teams have a strong defense against the run, and some teams have a stronger defense against the pass. A team with good LBs that stacks the box may be able to stuff a pure running Wing-T even if they are not a better team. A team with a strong pass rush and good DBs might be able to stuff the pass.

The actual Delaware Wing-T has many passing options. So a Wing-T team can create a balanced attack to take advantage of an opponent’s defensive weaknesses. Similarly, the spread offers a number of rushing options and ways to protect the QB.

Both of these coaches are right. For that matter, it would be foolish to disagree with Jeff Herron about anything involving football strategy. The Wing-T is not dead. It is a successful offensive strategy that can be adapted to High School fairly easily. Many of the strongest teams will continue to win with a Wing-T and there will continue to be State Champions through the next decade running the Wing-T.

But Sphire is also correct that a weaker team can still have success with a passing attack. In addition, the spread is more interesting for the players and fans. Teams with little chance of winning a State Championship can still have a fun, interesting, successful (more wins than losses) season using a passing attack.

We will see both. And I think we will start to see more teams having playoff success employing a passing attack. Some coaches will develop both a running and passing attack from their base formation that could be a Wing-T, a spread, or a hybrid or another formation like a bunch or pistol. Colquitt is a good example of a team with a balanced attack that takes advantage of opponent’s weaknesses as they find them. Sphire has moved to more of a balanced attack with some formations that are more closed than the pure spread. I believe this adjustment is part of why North Gwinnett is having more playoff success in 2013. In the past NG posted some ugly losses when the pure spread did not work well against a particular opponent – including Jeff Herron’s Camden Wildcats. Building more options from the spread, including a real rushing attack, has allowed NG to exploit more opportunities presented by their opponents.

The real “best” answer is not “Either, Or”.

Another good example of journalistic excellence by AJC and Todd Holcomb. Well done!

Catdoc

December 12th, 2013
6:58 am

I prefer the rushing game. 3 things happen when you start tossing the ball around. 2 are bad. What if Herron’s comments were wrote first in this article? Would Sphires be saying the same thing?

tommy

December 12th, 2013
8:20 am

Like basketball, there is more than one way to play and win. I prefer the Herron-style, but that’s me.

CA Native

December 12th, 2013
8:28 am

Regardless of what offense you run, the game is often won or lost in the trenches. The team with the most dominant OL/DL wins. The spread can help a less talented team by reducing the number of defenders in the box which can help a team RUN the ball. Likewise it helps the passing game because most teams will not have enough quality skilled receivers. You can find mismatches.

I think the Wing T will always have a place because it’s simplicity allows a team to get really good at executing. It can wear a team down and you can eliminate mistakes.

My2Cents

December 12th, 2013
9:31 am

I think most everybody on this blog missed the biggest point. NG might be considered a spread team, but it is their balance that has brought them to the championship game. They ran the ball as much as they threw it. The wing T has no balance and if the team running the wing T gets behind they really have no chance of coming back.

Sportsnut

December 12th, 2013
9:36 am

@CA Native == You are correct. That is where everything takes place. Without the big ugly’s doing their job, nothing else is going to work. I think the fan in me likes the wide open game but the coach in me understands the value of ball control and it’s advantages. No blocking, no passing. No blocking, no running. Either way, you need it in the trenches.

RexDogma

December 12th, 2013
9:40 am

If a good defense can stop that spead in shot gun a 3rd and 1 becomes a 4th and 3. nough said.

Metro Fan

December 12th, 2013
9:43 am

I’ll tell you what era has come to an end: Saouwfth Jaowjuh’s relevance in football. Y’all might as well go ahead and jump on the Savannah school’s basketball bandwagon now, because 285 has taken over the football fields of this state. We won’t miss you this weekend downtown with your jalopies and pickup trucks meandering about from lane to lane jaws, agape at all the concrete and electric lights. Metro area teams could run whatever they want to run and drag y’all up and down the field come playoff time because our multi-sport athletes are just that much better even though our school communities don’t care about the game as much as yours do. We beat you all with principals that don’t even know our players’ names and more band parents than football parents in our stands. Our coaches always did a better job graduating our kids and getting them in school, but now that we have stepped our level of preparation up you have no chance to compete outside of class A (where you rubes only hang on due to the public/private split). Go ahead and petition for a north/south sectional split like California if you want some hardware next December, because we don’t plan to make it any easier for y’all to further congest our streets on championship weekend. I am officially putting out an APB for Highway 84… Put up or shut up next year if you all still play varsity football down there!

Bill

December 12th, 2013
10:05 am

Irwin County rushed for over 4,500 yards in the Wing T and was a blocked extra point away from possibly being in Atlanta. They were 5-0 against true spread teams. I would say the Wing T is alive and well.

R31768 Pack

December 12th, 2013
10:25 am

Wow! This article has woke up the dead. I agree with both coaches but I favor the spread. The most important point made in the entire article was, if you run the spread, you better have a good QB who is mobile. That says it all.

Cool_Coach1

December 12th, 2013
10:25 am

@Yo correct me if I am wrong….where did the Hillgrove Camden game take place this year….Kingsland right? The last time Hillgrove went there they beat them in…..wait for it …..Kingsland! Last year on our way to the Dome Norcross played Camden in……wait for it….wait for it …..Kingsland! So basically the only 2 teams in AAAAAA that can win anywhere south of Macon are Norcross and Hillgrove? My point is win your region and then you won’t have to worry about the travel as much….Norcross went 15-0 and still had to travel to ……Kingsland… to play a 1 loss Camden team….after LOSING A FREAKING $20,000 COIN-FLIP….(Are you kidding me…LOL)

I’m sure there are other examples…. those 2 came to mind (apologies to Camden74 ….no disrespect intended …just trying to prove a point.) Point is if you’re a better team it shouldn’t matter where you play…the results will bear the evidence.

Cool_Coach1

December 12th, 2013
10:30 am

By the way the WING(ED) T ain’t dead …but it’s dang sure on life support! (By the way up here in Norcross WE LOVE IT….(except that time we played Camden(better team) in the Dome….ouch! and Warner Robbins that one year ouch!) The last two times we’ve seen it …it was fantastic (to coach against) ;)

Cool_Coach1

December 12th, 2013
10:35 am

Any offense that does not threaten a defense @ all points of the field is problematic….ask yourself a question if @ some point in a game…your behind….by more than one score (say 14 pts.) in the second half…for some strange reason….which one gives you the best opportunity to win?

the truth

December 12th, 2013
2:21 pm

The wing T is still a viable offense and will be more effective in lower classes than the higher classes due to the limit of athletes available to the schools. The wing T is even more effective if you can pass from it. That is what makes helps make the wing T at Tucker successful and the inability to throw is what has cost a team like Camden the last two years.
The spread will be used more as younger coaches become head coaches. This is what they are learning at the coaching clinics they attend that are run by colleges. It is also going to expand because that is what is going to earn more kids scholarships. The ability for a freshman in college to be familiar an offense he has seen parts of in high school is very important.
Sphire is correct in his assessment. Herron brings up Kamara and Norcross ability to run the football but I guess he forgot that it was 2 TD passes that helped Norcross take the lead. If a wing T team such as Camden was put the position of being down 14-3 in the 4th quarter, I don’t know if they make that comeback. They were not able to comeback from being down by double digits to Norcross last year and Hillgrove this year. I also found it funny that Herron also brings up the importance of running the ball during the playoffs to help with bad field conditions when every game he coached Camden on last year was on field turf.

grayram

December 12th, 2013
6:09 pm

Coach Sphire has done a great job at North Gwinnett. They have not yet finished and won with his offense. His offense is fun to watch but doesn’t do much for keeping the defense off the field. The teams running the Wing-T that have won quite a few championships are quite comfortable with their Defense on the field, those time consuming grind it out drives certainly help keep the D rested.

old school

December 12th, 2013
6:12 pm

Enter your comments here

Camden74

December 12th, 2013
10:36 pm

The Wing-T is effective now and will continue to be in the future. Just watch! :-)

Eli from Auburn

December 12th, 2013
10:38 pm

As Kevin stated Auburn is running an option offense which looks very much like a wing-t at times. They are going for their second national championship with that offense. And Metro Fan, the size of the schools and student migration has made a temporary change in the football landscape.

the truth

December 12th, 2013
11:04 pm

Thing is the wing T is not really a read option offense. Not to say it could not be run out of the wing T but the wing T uses more counter and misdirection plays.

Jimb

December 13th, 2013
6:13 am

Sphire is a very good coach who thrived in kentucky and has had success in Georgia just not state championships. He isn’t a defensive minded guy, and that will undue him this year also. It’s not which offense you play but how you stop the other side. Norcross is boring but they tend to win, Kevin Maloof has been hammered for his conservative play but this should be trophy number two.

57Cat

December 13th, 2013
7:35 am

@Jimb – “undue him”? Huh?

Coach Moore TucNation

December 13th, 2013
9:45 am

Anyone who knows football knows the Wing-T is not dead. Clemson runs a version of the Wing-T and Auburn just flat out runs the wing-T.
Don’t look at the QB. Look at the blocking schemes.
Auburn is in the National Championship and Clemson is in a BCS bowl. Nuff said