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As NFL hires offensive coaches, prep teams stick with what works

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Northern Nash quarterback Davontae Wiggins, top, attempts to avoid Nash Central's Escobaugh Larmond as he runs the ball during their game this past season.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Thursday, January 10, 2019

This past high school football season saw SouthWest Edgecombe throw the football more than it had in years. Nash Central ditched its pass-heavy approach to run the ball more, while Northern Nash’s spread might have enjoyed its peak in 2018.

Other programs like Southern Nash and Tarboro stuck with play styles that have worked for the past two decades. Are changing offensive philosophies in high school based on available talent and personnel, or a course correction to catch up with modern football?

“Some high schools have gone to the spread or RPO (run-pass option) stuff more recently,” Nash Central coach Chris Lee said. “But most do what you know best. For me, I know some spread concepts but I know the wing-T a bit better. I’m sure Coach (Jeff) Craddock over at Tarboro knows about other offenses, but he knows his system well and it works.”

The NFL playoffs continue this weekend with eight teams still alive and working toward a Super Bowl title. The rest of league is searching for ways to become one of those remaining teams.

At the end of the regular season there were eight head coaching vacancies to be filled. So far six teams — the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and the New York Jets — have hired head coaches. The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals are still looking.

And they’re all searching for the same thing.

Teams are insatiable in scouring the newest crop of candidates for the right one to make the on-field product a success.

Last season there were seven head coaching openings, and the year before had six vacant spots. Year after year, the thinking is that the next bright mind could just be one hire away.

This era of pro football is slanted toward offenses as teams have taken advantage of rule changes that penalize defenses for certain types of hits, or how defenders have to be careful covering receivers downfield, and even the lax rules on how far offensive lineman can block upfield.

Enter the RPO, spread offenses and gadget plays. This trend has been creeping up, but it was fully set into motion when the Los Angeles Rams hired coach Sean McVay, who, at 30 years old, was the youngest head coaching hire in league history.

A former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator, McVay turned around the Rams franchise by guiding the development of young quarterback Jared Goff to back-to-back productive seasons and built a high-scoring offense that highlighted talented players like Tarboro grad Todd Gurley, who has flourished the past two seasons on his way to the league’s offensive player of the year in 2017.

Every team is searching for that next McVay, and the time is now for young offensive minds to make the move upward. Look no further than the new Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who comes with a 35-40 record over six seasons at Texas Tech, but also has worked with top quarterbacks in the league like the Chiefs’ likely MVP Patrick Mahomes.

Of the six head coaching hires as of this writing on Thursday afternoon, five are offensive minds. The Broncos’ hire of Vic Fangio is the lone defensive coach in the bunch. He’s fresh off coordinating the Chicago Bears defense.

With an arms race in the coaching ranks happening across football’s top leagues, is there much of that in high school football?

To an extent. The process of hiring coaches is often dependent on a teaching opening at the school. Sometimes a request can be made to look for a teacher with a coaching background, but that doesn’t always pan out.

“Most athletic directors or principals when they hire people they look at the school’s philosophy and go with that,” said Lee, who was an offensive coordinator at Rocky Mount High before taking over at Nash Central in 2015. “Sometimes you’ll see a program who is trying to make a turnaround try to bring in guys on the offensive side of the ball because that’s more exciting.”

Elsewhere, Northern Nash first-year coach Andrew Farriss was an offensive coordinator before replacing longtime coach Randy Raper, though Farriss said that with the team losing its quarterback and a few receivers to graduation, the pass-happy offense will be dialed back a bit.

While the trend at the professional level skews more toward offense, high schools seem to stick with what has worked in the past while also trying to maximize whatever type of athlete attends the school for four years.

“You can only coach what walks through the door,” Lee said.

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