In football, different is dangerous. Gimmicks may get you yards, but they’re just as likely to get you fired. If it wasn’t used by Knute Rockne, Pop Warner or Clark Shaughnessy, then how could it be any good?
Chris Ault had an idea.
“I wanted to do something different,” he said.
Ault is the head coach at Nevada, which plays Boston College on Sunday in the Kraft Fight Hunter Bowl at AT&T Park.
He had retired after the 1995 season to become athletic director, and for some reason — boredom? lack of creativeness? masochism? — agreed to return in 2004, at age 58. Hey, the kids are grown, so it’s time to be wild and foolish.
It was time to develop a new offense, which eventually would be called the pistol not long after the doubters stopped calling him crazy.
“No film,” Ault said, “nobody to talk to.”
On Wednesday, at AT&T — already configured for football but still remaining the home of the World Series champion Giants — Ault talked to reporters.
It was the spring of 2005, the second season after Ault returned to coach the school from which he graduated in 1965. He wanted to get the quarterback involved in the offense as more than a passer, but he didn’t want him playing five to seven yards behind the line, as with the shotgun. Too much side-to-side running, or in coachspeak, east-west running. He wanted to go north-south, straight ahead.
“My staff looked at me,” he said with a head shake, “and I know they all decided to get their résumés ready. They were thinking, ‘This guy’s off.’ They really did.”
No one believed the Wright Brothers could get that baby into the air at Kitty Hawk, either. Ault’s pistol — because the QB is only four yards behind scrimmage, less than in the shotgun — also flew. Or, more properly, ran.
“He’s changed the landscape of college football,” Nevada running backs coach Jim Mastro told the New York Times.
He’s also changed Nevada into a nationally ranked team, one that lost only once (to Hawaii) in 13 games, one that upset Boise State (you remember those field goal misses, don’t you?) and won the Western Athletic Conference with an offense in which quarterback Colin Kaepernick in four seasons passed for 9,906 yards and rushed for 4,090.
One in which Vai Taua ran for 1,546 yards this season and receiver Rishard Matthews had 49 receptions for 793 yards.
“We’ve had more fun with this thing,” said Ault, alluding to the pistol like some sort of toy. “We just continued to re-invent it. I wanted to get the quarterback off the line of scrimmage, but I didn’t want it to be a shotgun. We can get play-action passes and still continue to run north-south.
“When I was coaching before,” he said of the years 1976-2004, “we used the one-back offense, and were the No. 1 throwing team in the nation. In the 1990s, we were as good as you could find. But I felt if you were going to win championships at the major college level in this day and age, you’ve got to run the ball better.”
Nevada has run it beautifully and successfully. Ault has done everything with the pistol but shoot himself in the foot.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHEN: Sunday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Park
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM)