Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Pistol Evolution

In the Beginning

Back about ten years ago we lined up in the pistol for the first time, little did we know what we were embarking upon. We were running some zone read from the gun and people were playing games on the side we set our back. There were some real tendencies we were trying to overcome. We set our back behind the quarterback and found we were able to run our inside zone read game, just as we had with the back offset. By the time 2006 rolled around, we were in the pistol full-time.

In our eyes, there were two distinct advantages to the pistol. The first was that we could run our zone read game without the defense knowing which side would be the side we were reading. The second advantage was the fact that we were able to run all of our downhill run concepts from the pistol. Finally, our quarterback had depth in the pass game.

The biggest advantage to being in the pistol was balance. When we were under center we didn’t throw the ball often… or very effectively. Because of this, we routinely faced 8 and nine man fronts. When we got into the gun, we were able to spread people out. We were able to take some pressure off of our offensive lineman.

The defense has loaded the box. The safety is only 6 yards away from the LOS!

The Gun Spread the Defense Out- FS now at 12 yards

Because our quarterback already had depth, we were able to protect better. Our quarterbacks were able to throw the ball better. They were more comfortable. All of a sudden we had balance. Because we had balance, we ran the ball more effectively.

In the 90’s we were based out of the I. We ran midline, load veer, iso, toss, trap, inside zone, counter, and power. We chose 6 to 7 of these concepts to run each year, depending on personnel. We were consistently one of the top rushing teams in the area. In 1999 we were introduced to the zone read by Jerry Campbell, who was the offensive coordinator at Westwood High School just outside of Austin, Texas. Forever our world was changed. 

During this same time, we met a young, energetic coach from a small college up North. Chip Kelly was recruiting for New Hampshire, and was on the forefront of the zone read game. He had some ideas that were way ahead of their time. Over the next couple of years we began to incorporate the gun zone read into our offense. By 2002, we were in the gun about 50% of the time. However, we were still getting under center to run midline, iso, veer, toss, and trap. We were running our zone read concepts from the gun.

We thought we were diverse, as teams had to prepare for our gun based offense, and out I based offense. What we learned from talking to our opponents is that we were very easy to defend because of our tendencies. They defended our I formation offense one way, and our gun based offense another way. We also were essentially running two distinct systems, which did not allow for efficiency in practice. We needed to find a way to run the best of the three worlds we were living in.

Enter the Pistol

While we had dabbled in the pistol previously, it was in 2005 and 2006 that we figured out some things we can do with the pistol. I had a tremendous offensive line coach, Chris Harris. During spring football, we were putting the back behind the QB to run our zone read concepts. We used both one and two back looks. We were at the end of spring practice when we fumbled a bunch of snaps under center. We told our QB to stay at 5 yards. We had our F line up at 4 yards behind the right guard. Our tailback was lined up behind the Q. We snapped the ball to the QB, who turned and gave the ball to the tailback. We were running traditional Iso from the pistol.

From there, we ran inside veer. We started running it with the offset back running the dive path. Then, we evolved to running inside veer with the pistol back being the dive back. Next, we ran traditional power. Then, counter trey. All of a sudden, we were able to marry our spread run game, option game, and our traditional downhill run game from the pistol. We no longer had to get under center.

Over the last 9 years, I have helped several schools install the spread and pistol offenses. Each school I have helped has done things differently. That is the great thing about this game. You can take tried and true concepts and make them your own. It has been a lot of fun to see how guys have taken different concepts and adapted them to the pistol. 

The weekend of March 1st I will be speaking at the Nike Clinic in Oregon to talk about our Pistol Offense. I will be speaking on Marrying the Downhill Run Game and the Spread with the Pistol, and Installing the Quick Pass Game from the Pistol. If you are heading to the clinic, stop by and say hello. 

When I first started speaking on the pistol at clinics in 2006 and 2007, I would have small crowds. Most of them were curious, but they just couldn't grasp the concept of the back being behind the QB in the gun. Last year, I had over 500 coaches in one session. With the success of some NFL teams bringing more exposure to the pistol, I am excited to see how much the interest has increased.

If there is anything I can do to help you with the pistol, shoot me an email. This business is all about coaches helping coaches. We all have begged, borrowed, and stolen from other coaches.

Also, I published a couple of iBooks that can help your program with X's and O's. The first is on Installing RPO's into any offense. Here is a link to the iBooks version: The ibooks version includes explanations, diagrams, and video clips on multiple RPO Concepts. It will give you a simple process for implementing them into your offense.
If you don't have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you can order the Amazon version for the Kindle. It has everything except the embedded video. You can order it here:

I also wrote a book on Tempo. It will greatly help you build a multiple tempo system with simple communication that will allow your kids to play with confidence. It also had over an hour of video clips! You can order the ibooks version here:

Order the Amazon Kindle version here:

One of the keys to our success was tremendous preparation!The key to  preparation was our outstanding group of documents we used for all three phases. If you are looking for fully editable and customizable documents that you can tailor to your program, I have made mine available. 

Here is a link to my offensive game planning documents:
It includes everything from a scouting report template, to practice plans, to a two-sided color call sheet, and more! Each of the nine documents are fully editable and customizable! Order today for under $15 and download them tonight!

Here is a link to the defensive game planning documents. It includes 12 fully editable and customizable documents.

And finally, I put together a special teams resource. This has everything you need, included drill tape, practice tape, and game footage. It includes teaching presentations and scouting forms just for special teams!


  1. Hi Coach. I have read both your books (101 Option Plays and 101 Run Plays out of the pistol) and have taken a lot out of both. I am currently running a flex bone offense from the short gun but I am finding that we are predictable with the motion and that our best player being a wingback is predictable in the ways we get him the ball. I have been examining installing the pistol and would like to get your thoughts as to the best way to install this offense. We run triple option and midline out of the flex bone very successfully and would like to marry this with the pistol zone read. What suggestions do you have for me? In the pistol, who is most likely the Tailback? Fulback? What do you look for in guards and tackles? Do you think you can be a midline/triple/zone read team? or do you think it takes away from the others if you try to do all three?

  2. I think you can run triple, midline, and zone read, but triple and zone read have many similar parts that you really only need one. For our backs we like our backs to honestly be interchangeable. If I have a true FB type he will be the pistol back in our triple and mid concepts. For the most part I want all our backs to be able to get downhill. I like quick lineman with size (don't we all)!