Embedded in the Spread

Embedded in the Spread

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Ron West arrived in Chapel Hill with 17 years of experience on the defensive side of the ball, although his history with Larry Fedora and the spread offense date back 20 years.

When longtime Baylor head coach Grant Teaff retired in 1992, his offensive coordinator, Chuck Reedy, stepped into his role and made two immediate decisions that would help shape UNC's coaching staff two decades later.

Reedy elected to keep Fedora, his tight ends/running backs/wide receivers coach, on staff and also hired West to coach his offensive line. West had spent the previous seven years as Louisiana-Lafayette's defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach, but his experience with the offensive line – he was a lineman at Clemson and coached the OL for five years at North Texas and Texas Tech – was enough to satisfy Reedy.

Baylor ran the triple-option in '94 before shifting to "more of a one-back, check-with-me system" in '95, according to West. The Bears began installing the tenets of the modern-day spread, utilizing inside and outside zones along with some counter plays. The option was still in the playbook, yet the focus shifted to throwing the ball more.

In 1996, the first year of the newly formed Big 12, Reedy hired current Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy as passing game coordinator and elevated West to running game coordinator. The Bears stumbled to a 4-7 record in '96, due in large part to injuries and a reliance on youth, and Reedy became the first Big 12 coach to lose his job.

In 1997, Fedora joined Fisher DeBerry's staff at Air Force as passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach, West took the offensive line coach job under Tommy Bowden at Tulane and Gundy hopped on as the passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach at Maryland.

At Tulane, West walked into a situation with offensive guru Rich Rodriguez at the helm.

"I was very blessed to be with Coach Rodriguez and Coach Bowden at Tulane when we started the spread scheme there running the quarterback a little bit," West told InsideCarolina.com recently. "We broke every record in the history of Conference USA at the time. We were one of the top offenses in the country."

The Green Wave, led by quarterback Shaun King, posted a 12-0 record in '98, winning the C-USA title and finishing No. 7 in the AP behind an offense that averaged 45 points per game.

In the spring prior to that record-setting season in New Orleans, Fedora visited Tulane to watch how Rodriguez orchestrated his offense. At the time, Tulane was the only program in the country running the no-huddle.

"When Larry came to visit us at Tulane, he saw that we were doing a lot of the stuff that we did at Baylor," West said. "The thing that we added to it was how we threw the bubble tandem on the perimeter and we started doing more shotgun so we could have the ability to throw it."

Tulane's success led to Bowden being offered the Clemson job in the spring of '99, and he took Rodriguez and West with him. Fedora accepted the offensive coordinator position at Middle Tennessee State during the same offseason and West visited Murfreesboro with cut-ups to help his former colleague set up his offense.

At Clemson, Brandon Streeter served as the starting quarterback but an athletic backup – Woody Dantzler – caught the new staff's attention.

"We had a quarterback that was an average thrower but a great runner," West said. "And so I felt like, because I always concentrated on the running game and the protection part, I told Coach Rod that we could maybe figure a way to fake the back and start running the quarterback and we came up with it. The next thing you know…

"We were probably ahead of everybody else. We had everybody coming to visit us. Woody wound up rushing for way over 1,000 and throwing for over 2,000."

Dantzler became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a single season. He added 27 total touchdowns in 2001.

After five seasons coaching the offensive line at Clemson, West switched to the defensive side of the ball. One year later, Vic Koenning arrived as defensive coordinator, forging the relationship that would ultimately reunite West, Fedora and Koenning in Chapel Hill this January.

West's long history working with the spread offense provides critical insight into his current job as co-defensive coordinator.

"The biggest thing that it enables me to do is that I have an understanding of what people try to do to us offensively and how they see things and how they see weaknesses," West said. "One of the things that you have to do, that I found the way that people stopped what we did at Clemson when we were running that offense, was they showed us one thing and they took it away.

"And that offense is designed around attacking the bubbles and if they cheat on the perimeter we'll throw bubble routes and we'll throw the football on the perimeter, so you have to be able to hold up on the perimeter and you've got to be able to take things away. "

West also worked with Koenning and co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch at Illinois before taking the co-defensive coordinator job at Arizona State last season. The Sun Devils led the country in tackles for loss and ranked second in sacks, third in pass defense (167.9 ypg), fourth in interceptions and 27th in total defense (350.7 ypg).

 

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