Five Lessons Learned From Running The Double-Wing Offense

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by Jerry Vallotton

You have heard that hindsight is 20/20 vision, and to that I must agree. In fact, I have almost X-ray vision as it pertains to looking backward. As an old coach, I now have what the old-timers used to call “perspective,” which interpreted, means, wisdom shaped by pain and time.

In the spring of 1992 we discovered a strange man who lived in a cabin in the woods named Don Markham.  Similar to the meeting between Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) and Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) in the movie, Field of Dreams, we, as a small staff of three, were in awe of this hermitted legend-guru. But on the urging of a college teammate, we made the short trip from Northern California to southern Oregon, where Coach Markham was in semi-retirement. Coach Markham mumbled about his offense, scribbled coaching notes and scratched his head like a mathematician contemplating an equation – and the three of us gobbled it all up and wrote down everything we could.

The rest, they say, is history. The story has been well-documented and the explosion and rampant spread (excuse the term) of the Double-Wing Offense – the Markham-flavored attack juggernaut – flourished all over California, then Oregon, Washington and soon across the rest of the nation.

Our program ran it for 11 seasons. Markham (who’s still in semi-retirement) continues to run it, most recently in Idaho after leaving Compton High School in Los Angeles.

I wrote and published a book called The Toss in 1997 to document all that we had learned and also to pay tribute to Don Markham’s genius. In the time between 1992 and 1997, we had set the California state scoring record for points in a season, while Don’s team set the national all-time scoring record and the attack kept growing.

Well, here we are 22 years later and as I look back, I often ponder the “what-ifs” of life, love and coaching decisions. I am often prodded to write a sequel to The Toss but never find the time. But, in a nutshell, here are five lessons learned over time about this offense, once called a passing fad!

Lesson No. 1: If I could, I would!

If I could do it all over again or if I was crazy enough to start coaching again, there is no doubt in my mind that I would use the Double-Wing Offense. It is hard to describe the joy of coaching and running this attack. It brought a thrill a minute and never ceases to amaze. We made so many great memories in our struggle to compete. The Double-Wing Offense gave us a fighting chance regardless of our talent or our schedule. In its most dominant phases, it can be downright scary!

Lesson No. 2: This offense will probably get you fired!

An old principal told me, “You only leave coaching two ways.” The Double-Wing will bring yards, points, wins and a whole lot of enemies. It will anger administrators, boosters, opponents, coaches, players and the mothers of sure-to-earn-a-scholarship receivers. It will get you noticed. It will evoke strong emotions, and sooner than later it will tick off enough folks that they will “go a different direction.”

A side-note to this is if you track Don Markham’s career – as the father of this scheme – you will find he relocates about every three years. Sometimes he leaves on his terms. Sometimes he is escorted out the door. But never, ever with regret – just a shrug of the shoulders and then he’s onto the next lucky team.

Lesson No. 3: It still works!

The fat kid needs a diet, the skinny kid needs to hit the weight room and the slow kid needs to be very good at calculus. These are obvious facts. So is the need for a losing program to get an offense that moves the chains, eats clock and utilizes all average players in a combined mass to wear down superior talent.

The Double-Wing has proven to be “the least personnel-dependent scheme” ever! Having talent, speed and athleticism obviously makes life more fun, but in high school, you use what shows up at school. The stock offense from a double-wing formation is based on what we call “the big four plays.”

  • Toss (aka pitch, power, blast, etc.)
  • Sweep
  • FB Trap
  • Misdirection Play

These four plays should make up about 80 percent of your offense, generally speaking.


Lesson No. 4: You must create at least a 20-percent “new-wrinkle” factor every season and every game to beat the best teams.

If you learn nothing but this concept, I think it’s worth it. I got it from a high-school coach in Oklahoma. The 80/20 rule is invaluable. I am going to gear everything in my program to ram the Double-Wing down your throat. But I am also going to bring 20 percent of a change-up every time we meet to keep the demons in your defensive coordinator’s head so he doesn’t sleep well.

Here are five suggestions to keep things fresh:

  1. No Huddle: Run a series after a turn-over or time-out. Run the lungs off the defense for a series.
  2. Use Shifts: Run a Double-TE spread using the same personnel shift, both wings to wide slots and the FB to a deep tailback or anything else that you can utilize without messing your own players up. The goal is to put the defense in a state of discomfort and out of alignment.
  3. The Flood Pass: With the above-mentioned formation (we call it “Nebraska”) throw the ball on first down. 2 deep = run 3 streaks, 3 deep = run slot motion into a bunch and flood underneath. In other words, throw it where they ain’t! Plunder and pillage defensive stupidity and make life miserable for those gimmick defenses created to stop your bread-and-butter offense.
  4. Change The Count: We told our players, “It’s on 2 until you graduate” and we meant it (for the majority of the time, at least). But, we also loved to go on “first sound” and run wedge (a giant blocking wall for a FB dive) or a surprise pop pass or quick sweep after the two count has lulled the defense to sleep. We love to make the D-linemen jump with a hard count or “no-play.” We have also had success using long counts. Just hold the track-meet up and make them hesitate just a little.
  5. Trick Plays: Use them, especially early in the game. In this offense, jumping out by 14 points is really equal to scoring 28 due to all the wear-and-tear you cause on the defense (as they spend a long time swimming in pounding tides). The clock-control factor also comes into effect and your opponent will not have enough possessions to make up the points. Therefore, by throwing in “look-alike plays” such as pitch passes, fake reverses or funky new plays, your team may reap huge rewards (especially if you score early). If you wait until you have to run a trick play, especially against a cautious, deep-3 defense, your odds of success go from slim to none.

Lesson No. 5: Our final lesson for today, class, is brought to you by the word “balance.”

In looking back over all the factors that are critical to Double-Wing success, I think our staff failed in achieving balance more than anything else. It took years after I retired to even figure it out.

Balance is vital in that all three aspects of the game be in sync each season and each game, based on current personnel and opponent strength. Call it “ying-and-yang” or “bull-and-bear. No matter the label, your offense must be willing to take risks (20 percent), but you must be non-negotiable with offensive efficiency and the physicality needed the other 80 percent of the time.

At the same time, the defense must alter its aggressiveness based on the offense’s success. For example, if the game is tight, and the other staff has seen our offense for a number of years, then they are equal to us if not better from a personnel standpoint. We must give ourselves a chance to win by not beating ourselves (80 percent). But, if we don’t add risk (20 percent), the rewards will not come.

Consequently, if your defense is reckless during a tight game and gives up unnecessary yards or points due to over-blitzing, manning-up too much or playing in an unsound fashion – you’ll never get the chance on offense. But once your team is ahead, the defense can really open up the game’s margin by forcing a desperate team (down by, say, 10 or more), who feels it must throw often, or do what is not their usual forté in an effort to catch up. Then, bringing added pressure in this scenario forces both mistakes and turnovers.

Special teams are not exempt from the formula either. As a coach, you must decide how much time you can give to this third aspect. If you are going for field position only, then that’s a specific special teams philosophy. If you are bringing special teams wrinkles (20 percent) into the kicking game, that’s also a specific special teams philosophy. If you are ignoring special teams and hoping for the best, that too is a philosophy. But like a great coach once said, “You get what you emphasize!”

All three parts of your football team must be managed and meshed by the entire staff, all working together. Even if that means giving up a lot of yards on defense but no scores, or taking a chance of embarrassment early with a trick play on offense. It may also mean a special teams strategy of punting the ball out-of-bounds every time in order to keep the ball away from an opponent’s star punt returner. It all must work together.

Don’t Make It Easy For People

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of hard, painful lessons learned from my years of coaching.

There is one other thing I will leave you with: Never write a book on the offense you are currently running!

Writing a book about my offense probably gave 10-years-worth of coaching experience to each of our opponent’s defensive coordinators in one night of reading. We arrogantly prided ourselves on not being bothered by “who-knew-what,” because after all, we felt that they still had to stop us.

But as the great Ben Franklin said: “Love your neighbor, but don’t pull down your hedges.” Hope you all have a great season!

Jerry Vallotton coached high school football and wrestling for 30 years. He is now working as an administrator and teacher. He is a part-time coach at a local Mixed Martial Arts gym and serves as corner man for his son Caleb Vallotton, who is an up-and-coming MMA fighter. Vallotton still speaks at various Double-Wing Coaching Clinics and has a helpful website at: www.doublewing.org.

Comments 2

  1. As a young coach I can really appreciate this article. I look forward to one day running the double wing offense and “getting fired” for it. Thank you!

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