John Shoop

Thanks, Amazing Student Athletes

I have been told that if I want to continue coaching, I need to distance myself from what happened at UNC.  One administrator told me that what happened there is “toxic” and only time and distance will make it go away.    I don’t want to distance myself from UNC.  On this Thanksgiving week I want to give thanks for ALL the young men who I had the privilege of coaching at the University of North Carolina.  My feelings are deeply invested in each of them.  I cannot imagine distancing myself from these fine young men who I recruited and coached.  In fact, in difficult times, amid the messiness and ambiguity of the last couple of years, these young men inspired me daily and fed my spirit to continue to work hard.    As a coach at UNC I wanted to help them become the best football players that they could be.  I also wanted them to become the best students, family members, fathers, and citizens they could be.  I found in my five years of coaching at UNC and six years of living in this community that these young men taught me a lot more than I probably taught them.   My memories from the University of North Carolina will not be of an institution, an emblem, or a brand.  My memories will be of people.  I am...

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'Just Blow The Horn'

I once coached with a guy who grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was the ball boy for the Utah Jazz during the prime of Karl Malone’s career.  He told me that Malone didn’t like pre-game warm ups.  In fact, Malone would often come out of the locker room right as the tip off was about to occur and go directly to center court.  When I asked my friend how Malone got away with this he reminded me that as one of the all-time great players, people trusted that Karl Malone knew how to get himself ready.  “Forget the shoot around.  Just blow the horn” were the words my colleague said “The Mailman” recited regularly.    That is how I feel about Thursday games.  “Forget the shoot around.  Just blow the horn.” While in the NFL I coached with the Chicago Bears versus the Detroit Lions in their traditional Thanksgiving Day game at noon.  A Sunday afternoon to Thursday at noon road trip turnaround is even quicker than the Saturday afternoon to Thursday night road trip facing the Tar Heels.  This turnaround forced me to focus much more on our own team than the opponent.  We didn’t have the time to study the opponent as much as normal.  Therefore our attitude was let’s go do what we do well and don’t over think it.  “Just blow the...

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Preparing For The Triple Option

From 1992 to 1994, I was a defensive graduate assistant coach at Vanderbilt University.  Our Defensive Coordinator was a wonderful coach named Carl “Bull” Reese.  He taught me a lot about football and was a pleasure to work with.  His favorite saying for our defense was “The ball is the issue.”  He believed, as I did, that the most important ingredient to playing quality defense was pursuit to the ball and gang tackling when you got there.  Imagine how I felt then in 2008 when Coach Davis decided our defense would practice the entire week without a football as we prepared for Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson’s triple option offense.    Playing defense against the triple option is a demanding form of assignment football.  On the triple option, the offense has the possibility of three different people carrying the ball every play depending on how the defense reacts.  First, the quarterback could hand it to the fullback if the defense doesn’t account for him.  He is reading a defender called his “give key.”  If that defender doesn’t tackle the fullback, the quarterback will “give” it to him.  This is the first option.    The second option is for him to “pull it” from the fullback’s belly if tackled by the “give key” and run it himself.  However, after deciding to “pull it” the quarterback must read his “pitch key.” ...

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Be Good At Things That Matter

I grew up caddying at Oakmont Country Club just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It is a great golf course that hosts major tournaments regularly.  Some of my coaching philosophy was developed there as a teenager helping golfers navigate the course.  I learned quickly that a golfer better be good at things that matter if he/she wanted to score well at Oakmont.     Some golfers spend their time on the practice range nailing drives 300 yards without great purpose.  Distance off the tee doesn’t matter as much as accuracy when playing a challenging course.  In fact, good golfers may use their driver fewer than six times when battling Oakmont.  Work from the tee box is not nearly as important as touch, poise, confidence, and a repetitive stroke within 150 yards of the pin.    Similarly, quarterbacks would come to our summer camp and immediately want to show me how far and hard they could throw a football.  While there is a floor that a Division I quarterback should be above in terms of arm strength, once above that floor, distance and velocity on passes are not as important as accuracy, touch, poise, confidence, and a repetitive motion.  At camps I would ask quarterbacks to throw passes from unusual positions as if they were under a heavy rush.    Maintaining a repetitive motion from awkward positions is important.  Eighty percent of...

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Run Fits and Second Chances

Two teams have challenged the Carolina defense running the ball this year. Louisville did in the first half of their game and Duke did last week. Both teams used a combination of two backs and three wide receivers. I’m surprised others haven’t copied this template and will be curious to see if State does. These are tough fits for defenses because there is uncertainty about where the extra gap appears. In a one back set, there are seven gaps the defense must defend. Two A gaps, two B gaps, two C gaps, and a D gap to the side of a tight end. (Gaps to the formation strength are often capitalized and weak side gaps are generally in lower case.) While an offensive coach can create difficult fits in the run game with one back sets, there is not as much variation. The extra gap is to the tight end. Because tight ends generally don’t carry the ball it is easier for Defensive Coordinators to plan run fits. In Figures 1 through 4, the extra gap (D gap) is always to the tight end. Illustrated are some common ways to defend the 7 gaps. If they defend the gaps well, there are still three wide receivers that the QB can throw to on quick screens. What happens in a two back/ three wide receiver set is that defenses are...

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The Long Hard Way

When UNC played Duke while I was offensive coordinator, our staff talked a lot about “going the long hard way” versus their defense.  Duke plays a very aggressive and disciplined form of zone that prevents many big plays.  If we just took what they gave us and made every play work, we could go the “long hard way.”    The Carolina offense had 25 first downs in each of the last two games against the Blue Devils.  On one hand these can be viewed as good stats, but on the other it’s cause for concern because we couldn’t score on big plays.  The tailback position of the Heels carried the ball 66 times for 340 yards against Duke in their last two meetings. Over those two games, Dwight Jones had 21 catches but for only 222 yards.  Any Tar Heel fan knows that Dwight was capable of a 200 yard receiving day with only seven catches.    Coach Knowles and the Duke staff limited our quick strike ability and made us play a patient, grind it out style of football.  Sometimes commentators refer to this as a “bend but don’t break” style of defense.  I think that has negative connotations.  Aggressive zone schemes that don’t give up big plays and force an offense to have mental and physical endurance while going the “long hard way” is sound football.    ...

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Gio An 'Uncommon' Back

December 16, 2001 was a frigid day in Chicago and the Bears were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field.  It was my first full season as Offensive Coordinator and our record was 9-3 at the time (we finished the year at 13-3).  We were pounding the Bucs pretty good behind our mammoth offensive line.  Pro bowlers Olin Kruetz and “Big Cat” Williams cleared the way for the NFL Rookie of the Year, Anthony “A-Train” Thomas.  At halftime of that game our Head Coach, Dick Jauron, was listening to me talk to the staff about pass protections and patterns that I thought would work well in the second half.  He came over to me with a stat sheet that said “A-Train” was averaging over 7 yard per carry in the first half.  I told him we had some nice play action passes coming up.  He looked me in the eye said very clearly, “John, I suggest you keep handing it to Anthony until that average goes down.”  The “A-Train” finished the game with 31 carries for 173 yards in a 27-3 Bears win.   I thought of that story when I saw Gio Bernard’s stats last week versus Va. Tech.  He averaged 11.4 yard on 23 carries. I pictured Dick Jauron wondering why he didn’t carry it more.   In my first article of the season I said...

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Best Of Both Worlds

I think highly of Bud Foster, the DC at Virginia Tech.  He coaches an interesting defensive scheme and I wonder why more teams don’t run it.  They describe their defense as a 4-2-5, that is four defensive lineman, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. But the techniques they employ are different than most 4-2-5 teams.    Usually an offensive coordinator can categorize defenses into two families.  One is middle of the field open coverages (MOFO), like cover 2, where there is no safety in the deep middle. With this type of coverage, defenses have only seven defenders committed to the “box” defending the run game.  Generally speaking, it is easier to run the ball versus a “7 in the box/ 2 deep” defense than it is to throw.  (fig. 1)   Another family is middle of the field closed coverages (MOFC), like cover 3 or man free, where there is a safety deep in centerfield. In this family of defense a play caller can count on an “8 man box” and it makes running the ball difficult and passing more appealing.  (fig. 2)           And then you have Virginia Tech which, versus a standard two back set, has nine guys in the box defending the run while playing a form of cover 2.  Stacking the box and playing cover 2 is the best of both worlds. ...

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Statistics Versus Strategy

UNC has some choices to make about how to approach the Idaho game. One approach is to run up the score, gain lots of yards, and pad statistics.  This usually pleases fans, boosters, and the press.  Another approach does not focus on stats as much as it does compiling wins for the season.  Against outmatched opponents our staff was very aware of what we put on film for future opponents.  We viewed this as an opportunity to create tendencies that would give us an advantage later.    In the 2010 season, UNC played William & Mary the week before traveling to Florida State. I was afraid that our players would be looking ahead to the Seminoles rather than focusing on the task at hand. Some of our offensive linemen got injured the week before against Miami, FL, and Coach Davis decided to sit them out.   And most importantly, William & Mary, whose defense was coordinated by my brother Bob, was good and had beaten some FBS schools recently.  Even so, I knew we should beat the Tribe and we did, albeit un-sensationally, winning 21-17.    In that game we called 37 run plays with the intent to direct the practice of FSU the following week.  The game was closer than I thought because I didn’t expect William & Mary to score as much as they did, but I kept calling...

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Look For A Hundred Passes!

When UNC prepared for ECU two years ago, we planned to run the ball as much as possible. It was our belief that the nature of ECU’s offense prevented their defense from preparing adequately for our run game.   Offensively the Pirates are no huddle, four wide receivers, and heavily oriented toward the pass. We didn’t think that they would be able to practice against a running game consisting of multiple personnel groupings, confusing run fits, and conflict of assignment play-action passes. They didn’t have the personnel to form a scout team mimicking what we did offensively.   We were right. In 2010, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn both went over 100 yards rushing and combined for 277 yards on 43 carries in a big win. Last season, Gio Bernard eclipsed the 100-yard mark with 12 minutes remaining in the first half and the RBs combined for 226 yards on 40 carries in another win.   This plan is the same one Louisville used against UNC last week as the Cardinals RBs combined for 200 yards on 36 carries and their offense held the ball for more than 38 minutes.   This year, UNC’s offense will look like spring football to Brian Mitchell, the DC at ECU. The over/under for passes in this game is 100 and there may be 200 offensive plays run between these similar offenses.  ...

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