The Passing Revolution - John Jenkins and the Run and Shoot

*The Roundup is examining the shift in offensive football by going back in time and through the lens of the revolution that occurred here in the state both at the high school and collegiate levels,  starting with the dark ages of aerial assaults, the 1960's and moving into the modern era of Air Raids and Spreads.

He came from Pampa, tall and lanky, bright blonde air. He played at Arkansas, well played is generous, he saw action at Arkansas before graduating and becoming an assistant to Lou Holtz. He coached Linebackers. One of the great offensive minds in college football spent most of his early coaching career on the defensive side of the ball. Then John Jenkins got his chance, hired on with the USFL's Houston Gamblers as a special teams coach, Jenkins worked with the Moses of offensive football, Mouse Davis. The rest is history and the future. 

Davis was a high school coach in Oregon in the 1970's when he discovered a book by an Ohio high school coach, Glen "Tiger" Ellison, entitled "Run and Shoot Football - The Offense of the Future." Davis employed Ellison's attack and adapted it to the point that his charges were regularly drubbing opponents at levels unseen in football and doing it all with the forward pass. As Davis surveyed the landscape of football he saw blue bloods whose success was dependent on their ability to deploy massive offensive lines and running backs that ran like gazelles. He and a rag tag group of free thinkers from around the country sought a different way. 

The Gambler with the Gamblers

John Jenkins and David Klingler

John Jenkins and David Klingler

Enter John Jenkins, who has a preference for calling folks "Hoss" and is as fast talking as he is fast thinking. Jenkins first employed the Run and Shoot with the Gamblers after Davis left to take over the Denver Gold. Jenkins directed Jim Kelly to video game level offensive numbers, eventually landing Kelly a gig running the K-Gun in Buffalo. While with the Gamblers, Jenkins offense set twenty professional passing 1985. 

In 1987, Jack Pardee accepted the head coaching gig at the University of Houston. The Cougars were no strangers to offensive innovation, two decades earlier Houston coach Bill Yeoman perfected something called the Houston Veer, an option based attack that helped the Cougars to three Southwest Conference titles in their first four years in the league. 

By '87 the USFL, Donald Trump and all, had gone under and Pardee looked across town to Jenkins for an offensive coordinator. Jenkins inherited a veer based offense and an option quarterback named Andre Ware. The Cougars would never be the same. 

"We Get the Chalk Last"

X Choice vs. various coverages. via

The Run and Shoot is based on pre-snap reads that dictate routes for the offense. Jenkins made these reads player specific, so a receiver  makes a pre-snap read of his area, rather than the entire coverage package, looking for leverage. The quarterback reads his keys and if everything goes correctly, it is a choose your adventure of touchdowns. Plays look like route trees with nothing predetermined. An offense with experienced receivers and a capable signal caller can basically read the defense and no matter what the defense chooses, they  choose wrong. 

“Why does the Run ‘n Shoot work?” according to Mouse Davis; “Because [the defense] is always wrong. No matter what you do, we’re going to take advantage of it. You can do whatever you want because we always get the chalk last.”

Everything’s similar, but different. We’re more advanced, more complex. Tinkering with this deal, messing with it in my head, the possibilities through the avenues in the air are so unlimited it’s scary.
— John Jenkins

John Jenkins grabbed the chalk and redrew the board by expanding the Davis model run and shoot. He continued to develop the offense at Houston. In his excellent 1991 Sports Illustrated profile Jenkins noted the differences; "Everything's similar, but different. We're more advanced, more complex. Tinkering with this deal, messing with it in my head, the possibilities through the avenues in the air are so unlimited it's scary." Jenkins actually went away from call his offense the Run and Shoot and instead started referring to it as a Multiple Adjusting Passing Offense or MAPO. 

Jenkins was one of the first to literally spread the field, assistant coach Tony Fitzpatrick, played for Jenkins and Davis with the Gamblers noted "Jenks is so far ahead of everybody else, it's a joke. Mouse comes in here now, looks at our films and even he doesn't understand them. Spreading the field? Mouse had [the Gamblers'] slot guys split arm's length from the tackles. Jenks would have them start their routes over by the Gatorade carts if he could."

Andre Ware

Andre Ware

And Cougars Ruled the Earth

The Cougars became the bane of the SWC's existence. The year prior to Pardee's arrival the Cougars managed just one win in Yeoman's last season. Pardee won four in his first at the helm and nine in his second including the worst drumming at Texas team had suffered in Austin, a 66-15 bludgeoning. The 1988 Cougars went to the Aloha Bowl, losing to Washington State. 

In 1989 the Cougars were placed on five years probation for various violations occurring during the Yeoman era.  Still, Pardee's 1989 team managed nine wins including a 95-21 destruction of SMU's first post death penalty squad. 1989 also produced Houston first and only Heisman Trophy winner, that veer quarterback who developed into quite the passer, Andre Ware. 

Pardew left after the '89 season and took a job a few miles west with the Oilers. Still on probation, Jenkins' 1990 squad went 10-1, the one blemish was a loss to the "Shock the Nation" Texas Longhorns. A new quarterback, David Klingler stepped in for the graduated Ware, and the Cougars didn't miss a beat. If anything they added a few. Klingler would throw for over 5,100 yards and 54 touchdowns. Klingler led the NCAA's in completions, attempts, touchdowns, and total yards. He ended his career as the Southwest Conference's all time leader in almost every statistical passing category.

By 1990 the Run and Shoot had converted a few more disciples, SMU and TCU were running some variant of the scheme. Forest Gregg installed the offense at SMU with the Mustangs coming off the death penalty and Tom Rossley continued it when he took over. Houston and TCU would meet in an epic arial display in 1990 that saw TCU's Matt Vogler throw for 690 yards and Klingler throw for seven touchdowns in the Cougars 56-35 win. Klingler finished third in Heisman voting behind Ty Detmer and Rocket Ishmael. 

For his career at Houston, in spite of finishing 1990 as the number 10 team in the country, the NCAA would hamstring the Cougars and the Pardee/Jenkins era squads would play in one bowl game, the 1988 Aloha Bowl.

Jenkins' 1991 team started the year ranked 10th in the country and traveled to Miami to start the season where they were exposed by the 2nd ranked Hurricanes and the downhill slide was underway. Jenkins' last two seasons at Houston were lackluster, each with just four victories.   

Jenkins was ousted in 1993 after the NCAA and quite frankly, Jenkins' own ego caught up with him. Jenkins refused to share his offensive philosophy at any off-season football camps, shutting himself off from Texas high school coaches, the death nail for any coach in the state. SWC coaches grew tired of Jenkins' perceived lack of class and running up the score. They were happy to see him go. 

Jenkins' legacy and that of Mouse Davis lives on in maverick coaches like Mike Leach and Art Briles who each took portions of Tiger Ellison's vision and continued to path to the promise land. Leach taking Texas Tech to heights never seen in Lubbock and inspiring further offensive innovators like Lincoln Riley, Kliff Kingsbury, and Sonnie Cumbie. Briles used the passing principles at the high school level, building a juggernaut at Stephenville and eventually took his show to Houston and Baylor. 

Davis by the way coached at practically every level of football, finally retiring in 2010 after coaching receivers at the University of Hawaii. Jenkins would take his talents to the CFL, eventually coordinating the offense of Gray Cup champion Toronto with quarterback Doug Flutie. He last coached something called the Hudson Valley Fort. Still slinging it around there Hoss.