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The Delaware Wing-T, Part 2: Molding Players and Plays

H.R. “Tubby” Raymond

The first real chapter of the book is a bit of a history lesson. I don’t have the time to really dig into the history of the formations and plays in the book or the coaches and players that used them, so I’m glad Tubby Raymond devoted this chapter to just that.

The second chapter is basically how to be a coach. Motivation, leadership, self esteem and avoiding cliches are all discussed. This chapter could easily translate to help coaches of other sports or leaders in other fields altogether, I’m sure.

Chapter 1: Delaware Football — A Rich Tradition

You want to talk about dynasties? From the early 1950s to 1965 under Dave Nelson (a player under Fritz Crisler at Michigan just like Raymond) and from 1966 through 1984 under Raymond, the Delaware Blue Hens won six Middle Atlantic Championships, 13 Lambert Cups, 12 Eastern Championships, three National Championships, one Refrigerator Bowl (!), and three Boardwalk Bowls. All Division II and Division I-AA competition, but still!

Raymond also adds that Iowa, Notre Dame, and LSU all won National Championships using the Wing-T.

As far as origins go, I’ll let Raymond explain.

Much of the success enjoyed at Delaware is attributable to the Wing-T offense, which was invented by Dave Nelson at Maine in 1950 and perfected at Delaware in the early 1950s. The original offense evolved from the Michigan Single Wing of Fritz Crisler and the Army Trap Series of Earl "Red" Blaik. Although the Wing formation was used by others prior to this, it was not developed into a complete offense. By combining the Single Wing and Trap series and adding a QB Bootleg, Nelson developed the Wing-T into a complete offense, which has endured defensive change for over three decades.

Translation: Nelson was able to mesh the scrums and sweeps of the Single Wing offense with newer OL blocking techniques (pulls, traps, kickouts, etc) while adding a viable passing option that didn’t stray too far from the look of the run plays.

But an offense can’t stay static for too long and expect to remain relevant.

Because of this defensive change, which significantly increased in sophistication, many offenses became nearly obsolete. Examples of this are the Single Wing and the Split T. In order to avoid obsolescence, the Delaware Wing-T has naturally had to change and grow to remain a successful offensive force in modern football.

Raymond goes on to explain some wrinkles, adjustments, and even new plays that were added over the next few decades. Everything from changing the aiming point of a series or who carries the ball (adding counters and the belly series) to the addition of option concepts and legitimate drop-back passing (rather than the traditional roll outs).

In the image below, Raymond shows how the blocking scheme of a single play (basically the buck sweep), was adjusted due to defensive changes.

“Changes in defensive support angles forced an adjustment in the sweep blocking with both the wingback and tight end blocking the first man to the inside and the playside guard pulling and blocking out the support.”
H.R. “Tubby” Raymond

In 2013, the question everyone was asking was, “How do you stop Gus Malzahn’s offense?” Two years later, after the 2015 season, the question was, “Have defenses figured out Gus Malzahn’s offense?”

There’s probably some truth the idea that teams have “figured it out,” but that doesn’t mean Malzahn is doomed. He was once a pure Wing-T guy, but over the course of a decade in Arkansas, his team became “predominantly a passing team.” He had never used much zone blocking in the run game before teaming up with Herb Hand at Tulsa, but now he uses it so much that some think his offense can’t work without a quarterback running the zone read. Malzahn has adapted before and I think he can do it again.

Chapter 2: A Psychology of Coaching

Next, Raymond writes about how to be a good leader. How to motivate your players without them feeling like you are manipulating them. How to get players to follow your rules. How to give some ownership of the program to the players.

Without much (if any) knowledge on how Malzahn motivates his players, I won’t dive too far into this section. I’ll just give you Raymond’s 11-point summary found at the end of the chapter.

Here is a review of the psychological principles for football coaches:

1. The ability to communicate with the players is the most important attribute a coach can have. Be honest and be yourself!

2. Two things motivate: Fear of failure and anticipation of reward.

3. View motivation from the players' standpoint — be subtle, no one wants to be manipulated.

4. Be sensitive to individual needs even though football is a team sport. The most successful motivating technique may be to help each player get what he wants!

5. Answer questions before they are asked. A well-informed team doesn't ask why.

6. Create an atmosphere of "ownership". The team belongs to the players, not the coaches.

7. Self-esteem begins with a sense of autonomy. Make the players responsible.

8. Successful pep talks are the result of certain circumstances and are not staged.

9. Save your team's emotional energy. Create stability.

10. Avoid the use of trite phrases.

11. Help your players develop a plan.

Those are some useful tips, I’d say. Remember, Malzahn was reading this book when he first became a head coach.

So after two chapters of the book, the reader has seen how the playbook can be adjusted to react to certain defenses and how the players can be motivated to reach their full potential.

Chapter three, which will get its own review, is where we really start to see the Wing-T offense take shape. And, most interesting to Auburn fans, it’s pretty obvious how the philosophy presented there influenced Malzahn.