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The Delaware Wing-T, Part 1: More than Just a Playbook

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SEC Championship - Missouri v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Gus Malzahn’s rise from high school football coach in the middle of nowhere Arkansas to coach of championship teams in the SEC has been written about many times through many different lenses.

The Wing-T offense has been used for over half a century and plenty of high school teams (and some smaller college teams) run it to this day.

The two came together after Malzahn got his first head coaching job in Hughes, Arkansas. He bought The Delware Wing-T: An Order of Football by Harold “Tubby” Raymond and according to Malzahn himself, “went by it word-for-word.” Now considered to the be the Bible of the Wing-T, it was then just a six-year-old book about a 40-year-old offense.

But what made the book so useful to a brand new coach like Malzahn was the “order of football.” The book has plenty of formations, plays, practice drills, etc., but what makes this book unique is that it includes guidelines for constructing any playbook and teaching it to any kind of players.

Now I’m not going to teach you anything new about Malzahn’s “origin story” or the Wing-T’s for that matter. In fact, lots of you out there probably know more about the Wing-T that I’ll ever know.

But with Malzahn’s refocus on being a football coach and not a CEO this season, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the source material for when he first became a football coach.

The book, published in 1986, is out of print and largely unavailable. Therefore, with similar justifications to what Bill Connelly used in his Split-T review, I’ll include large excerpts and diagrams, much more than would be normally acceptable.

The Preface

Raymond starts out by declaring his book a debt to be paid. He considers the “order of football” to be the most influential factor in his coaching. Raymond played at Michigan in the late 40s under head coach Fritz Crisler, who Raymond points out coached under Amos Alonzo Stagg and gives credit to both of them for forming this “order of football” and teaching it to him and many others.

Then comes the paragraph that really sets up the whole book.

This “order of football” supersedes a formation, because it is a complete approach to the game. It begins with a numbering system that clearly communicates our offensive play and its assignments. It includes a design of offense that relates series and plays creating defensive conflicts. It spreads skill requirements of players so they can realize their greatest potential and gives your team the best chance of winning. In short, this book passes on to you a total system of offensive football. Its foundation enables you to check the soundness of your own ideas. I hope that this book will give you more than the numbers of a system, for the legacy to which I refer extends beyond Xs and Os.

If I was going to start coaching offense tomorrow, I would definitely want a manual that could do all that for me. How to communicate plays, create conflicts for the defense, and put players in position to succeed. No wonder Malzahn followed this book verbatim.

Finally, Raymond specifically mentions that this “legacy” he’s passing on shows “great regard for the game itself,” and “the safety of your players,” two things Malzahn’s style has been accused of ignoring. Interesting.

What This Book Will Show You

The next section lays out what makes this book different than a book of formations and plays.

In order to be successful, an offensive system must be versatile and, therefore, multiple. It must also be executed to near perfection so that success is directly related to how well the players learn details and understand the subtle intricacies within the system.

A major emphasis, therefore, has been placed on teaching the system.

Raymond does mean that the book will teach the reader a way to think about plays and defenses, but he also means that the book will teach the reader how to teach the players, complete with a fall camp installation example and a weekly practice plan. There’s even a chapter on how to generate motivation and nurture morale. Again, perfect for a first time head coach.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll review these chapters with a focus on how they relate to Malzahn’s coaching style.

To you more experienced football fans out there, be patient with me. I’m going to miss some obvious connections and see connections that just aren’t there. After all, Malzahn’s offense is the only one I’ve studied in depth and this book is the only football “manual” I’ve ever read, so I’m sure there will be lots of “universal football things” that I’ll think are unique to their pairing. So set me straight in the comments. Or if you have questions about some part I skim over, let me know.

As I read it this spring, I thought it was neat to see where some of Malzahn’s “genius” came from. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting, too.