Bud Wilkinson - Backfield Drill - WP

Offensive and Defensive Use of Backfield Drills

First, it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to you about drills. I know there is nothing that I can say that you all haven’t heard innumerable times before. I do have this feeling, generally speaking, about football. It is a very fascinating thing to talk in terms of tactics, diagramming plays and setting flankers and talking about whether a 5-3 with a slant or a plugging line backer or things of that sort are not the best means of combating that particular defense or setting a flanker won’t draw them out of a defense and all those other elements that make football a game of chess and disregard the execution.

One of the first coaching schools I ever attended, I heard Hank Crisp make a talk. Hank was then the line coach at Alabama. A couple of head coaches had talked and they had diagrammed all of these formations and all of these plays and had wound up with a double reverse that would score the touchdown. When it became Hank’s turn on the program, he said, “It is real fine to look at all those things but,” he said, “I am the fellow who has to teach these fellows how to make all those maneuvers.”

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My belief about coaching is that most of us are far more tactically minded than we should be and less fundamentally minded. I think that teaching execution, if it is done well enough and if you are fortunate enough to have football players like you have sitting in front of you here, will make most any formation (single wing, double wing, short punt, etc.) go pretty well. Well executed, the 5-man line or the 7-man line looks equally good. So we try real hard to do most of our coaching from the standpoint of hoping that we will fundamentally execute a few very simple plays quite well.

In teaching drills, we have this feeling, that the No. 1 thing we should decide is why we are doing the drill. I don’t know if I am making myself quite clear when I say that, but I think you as a coach ought to decide, “Is this a conditioning drill, a reaction drill, an agility drill, or just what is it?”

You are all familiar, I know, with the circle drill, where one man is in the circle and there are a group of people around him, five or six, a couple of yards away and they are supposed to pop in at the man in the middle, hit him and bounce back. The man in the middle is supposed to turn around and adjust and take on anybody coming. We think that is a real good drill and, to get at this point of why you are doing the drill, we feel it is a reaction drill 100 per cent. We don’t try to hit the man hard who is in the middle of the circle at all, and we feel if he is in the middle of the circle for more than 6 or 7 seconds, it ceases to be a reaction drill and becomes a conditioning drill. If we want to make him tough, we ought to hit him hard. Then it would be a drill for toughness. If we want to make it a conditioning drill, we ought to keep the man in the middle of the circle for a minute or something of that sort, but if we are going for reaction, about six seconds is the maximum that we feel he can react at the full limit of his physical capabilities, so to speak. So we are trying real hard to be honest with ourselves as to why we do each drill.

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Then we would like to be able to do this. This sounds like a long term, but I just can’t state it in any simpler way. Hank Iba at Oklahoma A. & M. told me this years ago. He said: “The problem in coaching is to create in practice the situation the player will face in the game and repeat it until he can react from rote memory.” That is all there is to coaching. I will say it one more time. The problem in coaching is to create in practice the situation the player will face in the game and repeat it until he can react from rote memory – without conscious thought. We would like to do that with the drill, too.

Now, we think that these things make a good drill as opposed to a bad drill and No. 1 is that the drill must always have more than one reaction. We don’t think there is any play in football where you just get one reaction, where you just charge. If you are on defense, for example, and you have to hit somebody, you have to control him. You have to ignore the fake, find the ball, move to the ball and make the tackle. It is a series of reactions, and every play in football is the same way and we think drills where you just do one thing aren’t good. We like to have at least two reactions in any drill we are going to do.

A second thing is this, that we would like to have our team be able to run well, but if you just get out and run, that gets pretty old, so we would like within these drills to have our players do a lot of running without consciously realizing they are doing it. I know they realize it without any question, but if you do uninteresting maneuvers or run in laps or things of that sort, that gets awfully old. If you set up some kind of drill where they get the running without having to think, “Well, now, we have to do a lot of running.” we think it is a little better.

We also would like to make the drills competitive, and the latter one is the hardest to achieve, but we would like them to be fun if it is possible to do so. Football practice is tough by any standards and if it can become fun through being competitive, we think we’ll get a little better execution out of it.

The last one is this, that we would like if we can – and we can’t do it, of course, but we are hopeful that we can have a variety of drills to accomplish the same thing so that we never get involved in a practice session where the players know that at a certain time we are going to do the same old thing for a certain number of minutes. We would like to have enough different ways of accomplishing the same thing that practice never becomes a hopeless routine. Now, it is routine at best, I know that, but if we can keep it from being the same old pattern day after day and the same old drills, if we can have one drill one day and another the next, both of which are going to get at the same technique, we think the players will learn a little better because they will be a little fresher mentally and there is a little more imagination involved in doing something that is new. It is real hard to do something old.

That is all the theory we have about it. None of these drills are original. Most of them we picked up from Bobby Dodd and his staff at Georgia Tech, or Red Sanders at U.C.L.A. I don’t think we have any original ones in the whole thing.

I would like to start out by introducing the players to you first. The gentleman on the left is Hugh Ballard, our senior tackle. Next is John Bell, our right end. Next, Billy Prizer, our fullback. The next, Edmund Gray, our left tackle. Tommy McDonald, our left halfback. Tommy Emerson, our right tackle. Jerry Tubbs, our center. Jimmy Harris, our quarterback. All these boys are seniors and it has been great to have them and every time I see them in football suits, I wish they were going to be out for practice again next fall.

One of the great things that has happened to me at Oklahoma is to be associated with Gomer Jones, who does most of the coaching while I sit around and talk about it, so I am going to turn this over to Gomer and let him start off with the line drills we use.

This article was written while Coach Wilkinson was at Oklahoma and first published in the 1957 AFCA Proceedings Manual.


Bud Wilkinson was the head coach at the University of Oklahoma for 17 seasons. Over a decade after retiring from Oklahoma, he briefly returned to coaching as the head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. Wilkinson lead Oklahoma from 1947 until 1963. During that time, Wilkinson became one of the most celebrated college coaches of all time. His teams captured national championships in 1950, 1955, and 1956; 14 Big Six/Seven/Eight Conference titles (13 of which were consecutive); and they amassed a 145–29–4 (.826) overall record. The centerpiece of his time in Norman was a 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957, an NCAA Division I record that still stands. Wilkinson received the AFCA Coach of the Year award in 1949 and was the recipient of the AFCA’s prestigious Amos Alonzo Stagg Award in 1984. He served as the AFCA President in 1958. Wilkinson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969. He died February 9, 1994, at the age of 77.

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