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September 29, 2011TUSCALOOSA | When Will Muschamp was hired as the University of Florida's head football coach, he sought out a cutting-edge offensive guru to run the Gators' attack. Muschamp turned to former New England Patriots coordinator Charlie Weis at a price of $2.625 million over three years.
Ironically, Muschamp brought in a coach who runs a modified version of an offensive system created in large part by a former Alabama player and coach in the 1970s. Weis runs a version of the Erhardt-Perkins offense created by Ray Perkins and Ron Erhardt when the two were assistant coaches with the Patriots in the mid-1970s.
Perkins, of course, played at UA under Paul W. "Bear" Bryant in the 1960s and succeeded Bryant as head coach of the Crimson Tide from 1983 through '86. By that time, Perkins had already been involved in the creation of an offense that is still in use today - in whole or in part -by National Football League teams including the Patriots, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints.
Perkins introduced the offense in full as head coach of the New York Giants before leaving for Alabama. Bill Parcells, promoted to succeed Perkins, inherited the same playbook and utilized it for the rest of his coaching career.
"When I first went to New England in '74, we spent four years fine-tuning and modifying, if you will, some of the same type offensive plays that I used when I played," Perkins said. "But the playbook that I would eventually use and introduce in New York was the offensive playbook that we put together in New England.
"It's no big deal, really. I don't look at it as us inventing it. I look at it as a bunch of coaches sitting in rooms late at night organizing and getting things together to help players be successful."
That same playbook, which Perkins estimates is 3 1/2 to 4 inches thick, would be utilized by Weis when he was hired as offensive coordinator in New England in 2000. Perkins came back to New England as offensive coordinator in the mid 1990s, where Weis was also an assistant.
"Parcells was the head coach, Weis was the running backs coach and I was offensive coordinator," Perkins said. "We were using basically the same playbook.
"There's been hours and hours and hours and hours put in to formulating and revising that playbook, and a lot of those hours came from yours truly. It's a great playbook. I've still got copies at my house."
There are no magic plays in that playbook, but the concept behind it revolutionized offense. The legacy of the Erhardt-Perkins offense is the use of a smaller number of plays run from a large number of formations with different personnel groupings - the same running play, for instance, might be run from eight different formations. It might be run with four wideouts, with two wideouts and two tight ends, or with three wideouts and one tight end.
"When you have multiple formations, you could dictate what you wanted people do to (on defense) where you could take advantage," said Richard Williamson, a former UA player who coached in the NFL for more than two decades. "They would move people around and create matchups."
Said Perkins, "In essence, you're running the same play. You're just giving them some window-dressing to make it look different."
Drew Bledsoe retired in 2007 after 16 years in the league and now lives in Oregon, where he is co-owner of the DoubleBack Winery. He ran the Erhardt-Perkins offense when Perkins was offensive coordinator with New England in the 1990s, for five years under Weis with the Patriots and under Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys. He watched the offense grow in sophistication over the course of his career.
"What Charlie and also with Ray did was present a defense with a lot of looks with the personnel groups," Bledsoe said. "At its core, it was really the same offense. Over time, Charlie evolved it. It was an evolution of the offense."
Weis began to introduce more four- and five-receiver sets to open up the passing game, and also expanded the terminology to designate different routes for receivers lined up on opposite sides of the formation.
The other legacy of the Erhardt-Perkins offense is the nomenclature, or terminology, used for calling plays. Perkins and Erhardt developed a numbers-based system for communicating what every player on the field has to do on each play. Numbers dictate formations, blocking schemes and which back carries the ball through which hole on running plays. Code words tell receivers which routes to run, who is in motion and who has to break off short for hot routes on blitzes.
"We tried to get a playbook and nomenclature that would allow us to do anything we wished to do," Perkins said. "Not that we did it all, but we had a mechanism, a way to do it - we knew what we were going to call it and so forth, so we could communicate it."
Perkins hasn't coached since the 2000 season, but he still knows the offense he helped create.
"I would venture to say the playbook that New England uses today is the same playbook," Perkins said. "If I was to thumb through it, it would be very familiar to me. Not that it's totally intact, but it would be very familiar."
Considering the success teams have had with the offense over the years, it's only logical that it has survived for more than three decades.
"Why not? It's a good book," Perkins said. "People tend to use what they're familiar with, and they tend to use what has been successful. That just makes sense."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.