The Chiefs will hit the practice field for the first of their OTA sessions on Monday.
It will be then that the offensive players get their first real indications on what the new Chiefs offense will look like.
New offense? Yes, it’s going to be new, although it won’t be quite the change that the players experienced at the end of the 2009 pre-season when head coach Todd Haley fired coordinator Chan Gailey and installed himself as the play caller and man in charge of the offense.
However, there will be noticeable differences when they crack the books this week and get a look at the scheme. Is it Haley’s offense? Is it the playbook of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis? Will it be a combination of the two?
No, the father of the Chiefs 2010 offensive scheme will not even be on the field Monday. He’ll be somewhere in Florida, more than likely on a golf course. The man behind the Chiefs offense is Ron Erhardt. It is an approach that he developed from his time as a head coach at New England, seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator with the Giants-Patriots-Steelers and Jets and even a bit back to his own days as a college head coach at North Dakota State.
The Erhardt philosophy does not establish any sort of new agenda in the sport. It’s a tried and true formula.
“Its run the ball and then throwing play-action passes off of those runs,” Haley said when asked last week to describe the offensive philosophy for the 2010 Chiefs.
It’s always chancy to characterize an offensive or defensive system with just a few words, or even a single sentence. It creates a picture that sometimes isn’t accurate. Consider the high flying scheme used by Dick Vermeil and Al Saunders that set new standards in the Chiefs record books. It’s easy to look at the passing numbers of Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison, et. al. and say it was a passing offense. That would ignore the remarkable running numbers of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson over the years.
The 2010 Chiefs offense is not the so-called West Coast scheme made famous by the late Bill Walsh with the 49ers and still used in the league with disciplines from his coaching tree like Philadelphia and Green Bay. It’s also not the Don Coryell based offense, which was the base for what the Chiefs did under Vermeil and Saunders, and is still in use around the league with teams like Chicago and San Diego.
The Ron Erhardt (left) offense was created in concert with former college and pro coach Ray Perkins and grew in stature with the success of Bill Parcells teams with the Giants, Patriots and Jets. Those are the roots of what the Chiefs will do this year.
Erhardt is famous for his often repeated line: “you pass to score, run to win.” During his time with the Steelers and even with the Patriots, Erhardt’s offense frequently had five receivers on the field. It’s similar to what New England still uses today with Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. And, those offenses were always able to run the ball, using the likes of Ottis Anderson, Barry Foster, Curtis Martin and others.
Here are some of the basics of what goes into an Erhardt-type offense:
- Rather than hundreds of plays, the scheme relies on multiple formations and variations in personnel groupings that are used with a core number of base plays. Take 10 basic plays, make changes with formations and groupings and those 10 plays can have enough different looks that it seems like 70 to 80 plays.
- The formations and groupings are based on taking advantage of personnel matchups against individual opponents. From week to week there can be a very different emphasis on what the offense focuses on. Analysis of the opponent may make the emphasis one week on power running, the next on a shot passing game.
- The running game is generally used to set up the pass with play-action passing being the primary method of throwing the ball.
“I think you can cut down on the plays and get different looks from your formations and who’s in them,” Weis said several years ago when talking about implementing the Erhardt offense. “It’s easier for the players to learn. It’s easier for the quarterback to learn. You get different looks without changing his reads. You don’t need an open-ended number of plays.”
The Erhardt-Weis-Haley approach believes more in matchups than trickery. There’s a belief more in formations and player groupings than any single play in the playbook.
“We are a game-plan offense and we will be a game-plan defense,” said Haley. “We will do things each week that we think our players do the best against the team we are facing. If you don’t think that way, then you are a system offense, fitting players into the system all the time. You are going to do what you do, and it’s not going to vary; you are less concerned with the opponent.
“That’s the two different thought processes that go into any offense and defense. We are game plan, not system. Both systems have worked in the league. We just choose to do things based on game plans.”
There have been cuts made to the scheme since Haley and Weis got together in January. They both have the foundation of the offense from their time with the Jets in the late 1990s, where Parcells was the head coach and he brought in Erhardt to teach the system to Weis, who became the offensive coordinator. Haley was offensive assistant and then wide receivers coach.
“The great thing about this situation is that when we were together back in the 90s, it was a pure form of the offense,” Haley said. “I guess you could say in my mind it’s become impure because when coaches that run the offense go somewhere else, things get changed. Whether it’s because of the personnel or terminology already in place, there are things that get added on, there becomes additional language.”
Haley used an example of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the last decade. Ken Whisenhunt left the Jets where he had time in the offense and moved on to Pittsburgh, where a similar offense had been established years before by Erhardt. “You’ve got Ken going into an established system, and then he’s working with Russ Grimm, and Russ comes out of the Joe Gibbs-Dan Henning-Norv Turner school and he’s got a big influence on things.”
By the time Haley met up with those two with the Arizona Cardinals in 2007, the scheme was different.
“There were changes that Kenny made in Pittsburgh, and changes that I had made in Dallas, you’ve got to run them together and make it as whole as you can,” Haley said.
“With this opportunity with Charlie, we’ve had the chance to go back and eliminate some of those changes. It’s more about terminology and verbiage and things like that. They add up, just adding and adding and adding and then a word that means this, now it means that.
“There are still the ideas and thoughts that you’ve come up with over the years that you know work and have been proven. You are not going to do away with what you know works, it’s just put into a more basic frame.
“Ron Erhardt would be proud. It’s much closer to where it started from a terminology standpoint.”
WHO IS RON ERHARDT?
It was after the 2000 season with the New York Jets that Ron Erhardt retired as an active NFL coach. He was just about to celebrate his 68th birthday and had spent 45 seasons in the business.
A native of Mandan, North Dakota – which is across the Missouri River from Bismarck – Erhardt graduated with the class of 1953 at Jamestown College in North Dakota. After two years in the Army, he was hired as an assistant football coach at Williston High School in North Dakota for the 1956 season. He moved on to serve six years as the head coach at a pair of North Dakota High Schools, racking up a 45-9-2 record.
From there he moved to North Dakota State where he spent three seasons as an assistant and was named in 1966 as the head coach. Over seven seasons he had a 61-7-1 record, won six conference titles and Division II national titles in 1968-69.
In 1973, Erhardt joined the coaching staff of Chuck Fairbanks with the New England Patriots as the backfield coach. After four seasons, he replaced offensive coordinator Red Miller who left to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Fairbanks left the team near the end of the ‘78 season to become head coach at the University of Colorado. Erhardt was named as his replacement, spending three seasons as head coach (1979-81), posting a 21-27 record. His linebackers coach on that staff was a fellow named Bill Parcells.
Erhardt joined Ray Perkins staff with the New York Giants in 1982. Perkins left late in that ‘82 season to become head coach at the University of Alabama, and was replaced in the job of head coach by Parcells. He kept Erhardt on the staff and the Giants eventually won a pair of Super Bowls. When Parcells retired after the 1990 season, Ray Handley was named his replaced. He demoted Erhardt for the 1991 season.
When Bill Cowher left the Chiefs to become head coach of the Steelers in 1992, he hired Erhardt to run his offense. Four years later, the Steelers lost in the Super Bowl to Dallas. Erhardt resigned after the season become of a conflict with Cowher on offensive philosophy.
That’s when he landed with the Jets on the staff of Rich Kotite. After suffering a 1-15 season in 1996, Kotite was replaced by Parcells for the 1997 season. That’s when Erhardt was asked to educate Weis and prepare him to become the offensive coordinator.
Erhardt retired on January 12, 1998.
NIGHTHAWKS TAKING FLIGHT IN OMAHA
Last week, the new Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League announced its coaching staff for the 2010 season.
The Nighthawks have joined the league for its second season, and right now the UFL claims four other franchises besides Omaha: the Florida and Las Vegas returning from the inaugural season and teams in Sacramento and Hartford.
There’s a former Chiefs flair to the Omaha staff of head coach Jeff Jagodzinski. Serving as quarterbacks coach is Ron Hudson, a long-time college coach who worked at Kansas State and spent two years in the pro personnel department of the Chiefs (). The defensive line coach is Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston, who spent seven seasons in two different stints (1995-96, 2001-05) with the Chiefs as an assistant coach under Marty Schottenheimer and Dick Vermeil. The offensive line assistant is Michael Ketchum, who spent three seasons (2006-08) on Herm Edwards staff.
PERSONNEL FILE/FRIDAY-SATURDAY, MAY 14-15
- BEARS – signed seventh-round draft choice OT J’Marcus Webb to a 4-year contract.
- BRONCOS – claimed G Stanley Daniels on waivers (Packers).
- PATRIOTS – re-signed UFA DE Derrick Burgess.
- TEXANS – signed sixth-round draft choice WR Trindon Holliday to a 4-year contract.