WALNUT CREEK, CA – Pacific-10 commissioner Tom Hansen ended the league’s Spring Media Day by announcing the conference would begin preparations to officially phase out football defense by the 2012 season.
Hansen stressed that the change “would not happen overnight” and that players, coaches and fans needed to be patient.
“We’re working on this thing to get it right. It’s gonna happen, but not immediately. We’ve been taking steps in this direction for decades. The groundwork is there. We just need to see it through to its proper conclusion,” said Hansen.
Even USC, considered by many to be the “black sheep” of the Pac-10, has shown flashes of non-defense in the past.
The announcement was unsurprising given the conference’s gradual movement towards a non-defensive philosophy since its current alignment was finalized in 1978 after Arizona and Arizona State joined the then Pac-8. That season saw the first deployment of the now famous Stanford Shuffle, a formation that is today considered standard by most Pac-10 schools. The Cardinal used the Shuffle with mixed results (8-4) during Bill Walsh’s final year as head coach before he was fired. Five years later the Shuffle was the talk of the college football world when Stanford amassed a 1-10 record with it.
“That [1983 season] really was the beginning of it. We all saw that and said ‘wow’. It was like a light went on,” said former California head coach Tom Holmoe (16-39 in five years).
Continued Holmoe: “Coaches are copycats. It’s in our nature. You see something you like, you borrow it or you steal it. There’s no such thing as copyright in football. Stanford really set the tone in terms of discipline and scheme and strategy, and you could see the results of that philosophy on the field. From there it just turned into an arms race.”
Holmoe led Cal to its own 1-10 season in 2001, including a resounding 28-35 loss to rival Stanford that was made possible by a variation on the Shuffle. Since then the Golden Bears have largely discontinued the use of the Kommunista Intelligentsia formation, though the alignment did make a reappearance during Cal’s 31-45 loss to Texas Tech in the 2004 Holiday Bowl.
Hansen did not specifiy any penalties for non-compliant members, but it was clear that he was displeased by the progress of several universities and by USC in particular.
“We’re not going to get into penalties or fines or sanctions at this point. We’ve set a window of five years and we feel that’s enough time for everyone to adjust and to change their policies. Again, the conference would like to stress that this is a gradual change. There are going to be some hiccups along the way, and some schools are obviously going to be behind others. Not everyone can be equal. That’s how competition works,” said Hansen.
“But, yes, we will fine the hell out of Southern Cal next year,” he added.
The Trojans return ten starters from a defense that limped to an 11-2 season culminating in a shameful domination of Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Behind closed doors, though, there is much talk about USC’s potential. The Trojans have been the traditional black sheep of the Pac-10 for the past six years but many insiders have taken to calling the school a “sleeping giant”, noting that the Los Angeles-based program has all the ingredients necessary for a successful transition to non-defense playing. Some are pointing to the relatively golden years under former head coach Paul Hackett (19-18 in three seasons), whose teams were known for both their vicious non-participation on the defensive side of the ball as well as a nation leading bonehead play to non-bonehead play ratio (5:2 in 2000).
“There’s definitely some hope there [for Southern California],” said one source. “They’ve got the tools. This league mandate is going to really help push them along. If the Pac-10 hadn’t done this, who knows when USC was gonna finally get on the ball?”
“Not literally,” the source added. “Getting on the ball and getting hats to the ball carrier and maintaining proper pursuit angles are all part of defense. But you know what I, Paul Hackett the quarterbacks coach of the awful Tampa Bay Buccaneers, mean.”
Hansen did not officially comment on the conference’s long rumored plans to require a minimum of forty passes from each team per game, but he did hint that some running would be necessary in any future league wide rule change.
“Technically, a kneel is a run. And those are essential to any solid football gameplan, at least the kind employed out here,” said Hansen.