The old BYU passing game of the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s was a remarkable achievement for its time. Today a 300 or 400+ yard passing game is quite common in college football but 30+ years ago it was exceedingly rare. Back when it was accepted conventional wisdom to run the ball and pass mainly on 3rd down and long BYU stood conventional wisdom on its head and passed the ball on any and all downs regardless of where they were on the field. Just as Bill Walsh was tinkering in the NFL with shorter routes and precision pass plays based upon perfectly timed execution BYU was doing a version of the same thing in college football.
In the media today it more common to describe the old BYU offense as essentially the Norm Chow offense. I briefly asked Coach Chow about this in passing once and he brushed the question off as disrespectful to his predecessors and mentioned some articles. And it is true if you bother to dig around for the details. Norm Chow was an offensive lineman at Utah and later became a graduate assistant at BYU in 1973-74. From 1975-1981 he was wide receivers coach and then from 1982-1989 QB coach and co-offensive coordinator. In 1990 he was promoted to assistant head football coach and co-offensive coordinator positions which he held at BYU until he left in 1999. (Link to his career progression from his former USC resume page). In his tapes and lectures he points out clearly it is the BYU offense and that Head Coach LaVell Edwards and others mainly built up the passing game over the decades. LaVell Edwards notes this as well in various comments and articles.
I decided to throw the football, not just the normal 10 or 15 times a game but 35 to 45 times per game on any down from our own end zone to the opponents end zone. The only success we had ever had at BYU was when Virgil Carter was our quarterback (in the mid 1960’s) and we threw the ball.
The BYU pass offense is based on a timing system. We design the quarterback drops, route depths, and protection schemes so that the quarterback can throw the ball in a specific timed sequence. If the defense and coverage will not allow us to execute our rhythm or timing, then we convert our attack with route adjustments. We want to throw the ball upfield by attacking the vertical seams created by coverage and the horizontal seams created by using our running backs in a flare-flood control concept. By doing this we can still be a ball control offense and take advantage of what the defense is giving us.
We have five basic tenents in our passing game. First, we must protect the quarterback. Second, we want to play ball control football, primarily with the forward pass. Third, it is important to incorporate an effective running game with the passing attack. Fourth, we will take what the defense gives us. Fifth, we as coaches must constantly KISS the offense (Keep It Simple Stupid). — LaVell Edwards, “The Football Coaching Bible“
As Coach Edwards indicates the BYU offense actually got its start in the mid 1960’s when LaVell Edwards was offensive coordinator and Virgil Carter was his quarterback. Virgil was the first in a long string of BYU QB’s to set passing records and move onto the NFL. In an amazing twist of fate Virgil Carter was drafted by the Chicago Bears but eventually wound up in Cincinnati with Bill Walsh as his offensive coordinator. Virgil could not throw a very deep ball so Walsh was forced to concentrate on what Virgil could do well – throw shorter timed routes like he had at BYU. Later on at San Francisco Walsh also recruited Mike Holmgren the QB coach at BYU from 1982-85 to join his staff on the 49ers.
Coach Edwards and Coach Chow teamed up in 1985 to write a book entitled “Winning Football with the Forward Pass“. In the introduction Edwards and Chow note that the contents rely heavily upon former coaches at BYU including Dewey Warren, Dwain Painter, J.D. Helm, Doug Scovil, Wally English, Ted Tollner, Dave Kragthorpe, Garth Hall, Mike Holmgren, and Mel Olson. More specifically in a 1980 Coach of the Year Clinic speech Edwards specifically cites Dewey Warren and Doug Scovil in particular for bringing pro level experience and concepts to BYU which helped develop the offense.
Regardless of its origins and contributions I think it is a good offense to study for anyone interested in football. I’ve managed to track down a lot of the material over the past couple of years that Coach Chow mentioned. Here is a link to seven coaching clinic speeches by LaVell Edwards dating back to 1980 and two BYU playbooks. Inside you’ll find a lot of the more concepts and common plays that were associated with BYU including the mesh routes, half back option routes, Y corner routes, and other famous examples.
Some of the files are faint in appearance. I don’t have access to anything other than the pdf’s included in the link. If you print the contents out it might work better. Also if the files don’t appear or download for some reason please leave a comment below.
Here is just a partial list of coaches that can trace their roots back to BYU and LaVell Edwards coaching tree.
- Mike Leach Texas Tech Coach (BYU graduate)
- Mike Holmgren Seattle Seahawks Coach (BYU quarterbacks coach)
- Steve Sarkisian University of Washington Head Coach (BYU quarterback)
- Hal Mumme Kentucky & later New Mexico State Coach (Since fired)
- Norm Chow UCLA Offensive Coordinator (BYU offensive coordinator)
- Dave Kragthorpe Former Oregon State Head Coach (BYU Offensive Line Coach)
- Kyle Whittingham Utah Head Coach (BYU linebacker)
- Robert Anae BYU Offensive Coordinator (BYU Offensive Lineman)
- Brian Billick former NFL Head Coach (BYU tight end/graduate assistant)
- Ted Tollner former USC Head Coach (BYU Offensive Coordinator)
- Doug Scovil former SDSU Head Coach (BYU Offensive Coordinator)
- Brandon Doman BYU Quarterbacks Coach (BYU quarterback)
- Tom Holmoe Former Cal Head Coach (BYU Defensive Back)
- Andy Reid Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach (BYU Lineman/ graduate assistant)
- Charlie Stubbs Louisville Offensive Coordinator (BYU graduate assistant}