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Ask Coach Willingham
Courtesy: Stanford Athletics  
Release: 09/26/2000

Sept. 26, 2000

Shawn Dahlem (San Francisco, CA)
Coach, Chris Lewis displayed good mobility in the win over Texas. He was able to avoid a strong pass rush on several occasions. In future passing situations where the receivers are covered, will he be encouraged to run?

Our quarterbacks, and Chris will be no different, will always have the option to pass or run. We list it in that manner, pass or run, because in our basic pass system the majority of the options deal with passing first and then running as a second option. There will be some of our out-of-pocket pass schemes that will be designed to take a quick look at the pass and then the second option will be the run. So, you'll have two varieties. One, where your options will be ... 1) one particular route, 2) a second route and maybe 3) a third route. Those do not offer as much of an opportunity to run. Whereas, the other ones will be where you move your quarterback out-of-pocket that your first option may be to pass and your second option may be to run. But, you always encourage your quarterbacks to make something happen. So, if they can't do it with their arms, you expect them to do it with their feet. Where you have to tutor them is being wise enough to understand when you should cut your losses and not scramble and create a deeper problem than we already have.

Johnny Hagan (Riverdale, GA)
I am an alumni of Jacksonville Senior High School and played football there (1977). In my younger days, I used to watch you play football and that along with Coach Gideon Johnson inspired me to play. I learned a lot from him and was wondering if you remember him and what things you may have learned from him that you still use? I have tracked you since you left high school and am proud of the results. I wish you all the luck. Wish I were young enough to play for you!

I do remember Coach Johnson and will always remember Coach Johnson because he was the real impetus for me to pick up football and have a desire to play football. What I learned from him was almost everything. There's probably no area in terms of people relations, football, basic lifestyle that I didn't learn something from Coach Johnson about. Probably the biggest thing (I learned from Coach Johnson) was to dream big, to believe that you can accomplish anything is what I picked up most from Gideon Johnson. I still apply that today as I coach young men at Stanford and hope that they understand that if you do dream big and think big, it is amazing how you are almost attracted or driven to that goal. So, that is something that I practice daily within myself and also with our team.

De Wayne Dantzler (Federal Way, WA)
In regards to the running game, the Texas defense posed a great challenge. Given your background as once the running backs coach for the Vikings, you understand the importance of being able to run the ball. What areas in the running game (blocking scheme, play selection, etc.) does the team need to improve upon?

To answer that question, really you've covered all of the areas that we need to work on. There is no area that we don't need to improve upon. When you say blocking scheme, you always want to make sure that you can identify the right scheme to have called at the right time. When you say play selections, it is always trying to get on the right play. And so much of modern-day college football is the ability of your quarterback to make those decisions for you on the field, to get you into the right run hopefully at the right time. What you didn't mention was just the physical act of blocking, which even the best-laid plans, as they say of Mice & Men, often fall apart if the execution is not there. We need to make sure in our scheme and in our system and in our program that we're working on all those areas to improve our run game each and every day, and for each and every team we play. The University of Texas really posed some tremendous challenges for us because their two inside tackles may be two of the best tackles that we will see all year. If both of those young men stay healthy, you'll see them playing professional football and doing very well.

Jerry Pang (San Francisco, CA)
You have done such a terrific job with the football program. Keep up the good work. My question though, have you thought of more swing passes to Brian Allen and Kerry Carter (ala Darrin Nelson, Glyn Milburn) to isolate them one-on-one in the flat?

The use of our swing passes probably as much as anything else depends on the style of defense that we're playing and what are the vulnerable areas to every defense. If you go back a couple of years - if you remember when Anthony Bookman, Greg Comella and Mike Mitchell were here in our backfield along with Jon Ritchie - in the Notre Dame ballgame we exclusively used the swing passes because versus that particular defense it gave us great options and made their defense extremely vulnerable. What we'll be looking at in terms of utilizing our backs - and hopefully we've done a slightly better job of involving them - and our tight ends this year in our system will be what the defense offers us and the opportunity to have the most success. At some point during the year, on some of the defenses that we'll look at, you will see us use the swing passes a lot more, very much like Darrin Nelson did and also like Glyn Milburn did.

Tim Cunningham (Ballwin, MO)
Of course I am following the Cardinal, and I am very impressed with the Texas win. My question is are you still making your players run gassers? You know, down and back twice across the field in under 30 seconds? I'll never forget those.

The answer to that one is only if they play the saxophone (Cunningham is an accomplished musician) do we allow them to run gassers. Gassers are a part of conditioning and a way of more so than developing the body, having an amazing tendency to develop the mind. They are a grueling exercise after practice. When one understands that he has conquered such a grueling feat of running 200 yards in under 30 seconds, it becomes a sense of strength both mentally and eventually physically. We still have those incorporated in our practices and no one, of course, ran them better than Tim Cunningham.

Al Campa (San Francisco, CA) -- Class of '83
Coach - let me be possibly the last person to congratulate you on a tremendous season last year. It was the most exciting season I have ever seen, and you did a fabulous job leading the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl. Also, congratulations on a great win over Texas. Against Texas, the defense seemed to have much more success containing the passing game when they were blitzing. Neither Texas QB seemed comfortable in the pocket and the result was many poor passes and numerous sacks. However, when the defense did not blitz, Texas passed the ball effectively, particularly when it was not an obvious passing situation. Can we expect to see more blitzing in the future, even when it's not an obvious passing situation?

Our ability to utilize the blitz hopefully will be utilized as a surprise, more so than when it's obvious. The key result of blitzing is to try to catch your opponent off-guard, either by the timing of the blitz or the nature of the blitz and where you're coming from as to gain a numerical advantage. What we will try to do is always give our guys the best chance to be successful but time our blitzes where they are either in moments where they are unsuspected or we create number counts that give us an obvious advantage and they can not be protected.


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