Football: Talking offense with Tony Franklin

New Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was the man behind the curtain last fall when Sonny Dykes’ Louisiana Tech team led the nation in scoring and total yards.

His spread option system worked at Kentucky, Troy and Middle Tennessee State before La Tech, although Franklin jokes it worked well enough in his one season at Auburn to get the entire staff fired.

Before becoming a college football coach, Franklin, 55, spent 16 years teaching high school history and political science. Beginning Monday, spring football will be all about teaching Cal’s players an entirely new way to practice and play football.

Tony Franklin

 Here’s my conversation with Franklin:

What is your first priority for spring practice?
“Job One is to build a belief system and teach them how to practice. The offense will be installed in three days. They’ll have everything, basically. Then it’s just a matter of the details. That’s the hard thing for a lot of guys. Coaches are different. Some guys are scheme coaches — everything’s about me having the chalkboard and drawing a better play.

“Our deal is going to run a few plays and try to get really good at doing those little things right. We’ve got to get these guys to understand the importance of every rep, that the drills that we do, there’s a reason we do things, and there’s a reason we’re a stickler for doing it right. If we do it right, you’ll play. If you don’t you won’t. There’s not much gray area in what we do.”

How much of what you do is based on changing formations?
“We’re not a huge formation team, either. When I was at Middle Tennessee, we had a really productive offense. We were one back (and four wideouts) all the time. I say that because our quarterback was a special runner. We had a need to be very simple. It made us faster. Last year at LaTech we used more formation stuff. Last two years got more into the power formations. Mainly I did it to have something for the defense they hadn’t seen.

“The other reason is I try to get people on the field if they’re good players — it builds camaraderie. Our offensive line at LaTech was real good — we had about seven good O-linemen. Most line coaches don’t like playing more than five. What I would do is create formations to get those guys on the field. We played a senior who had played maybe five snaps his entire career. We put him at one of the running back slots with a 99 number and had him go hit people in the mouth. That was a formation where he got to play 15 to 20 snaps a game.

“And we had other formations we had a tackle who was almost as good as the starters, so we created a formation to get him on the field.”

How quickly does this offense begin to come together?
“Sometimes it’s ugly early while you’re trying to figure it out. It’s not unusual for it to be halfway through the season and all of a sudden it’s, `OK, we’ve got it now.’ And it starts to click.”

Talk about how you create your fast tempo through practice:
“Everything we do in practice is fast. There’s a lot of people who try to play fast on Saturdays and they can’t because they don’t practice fast. Our whole deal is we’re going to practice extremely fast and get a lot of reps. We’re going to coach on film and we’re going to coach a whole lot of how we’re going to play on Saturday. So if you’re at practice you’re going to see a lot of team drill stuff where there’s no coaches on the field. The first few days there might be, but there won’t be after that.”

So this is not only different for the players, but for coaches, right?
“That’s how people fail because they don’t practice that way. You’ve got to commit to it. That’s the hard part for (coaches) who think they want to do this. They’re used to talking in practice, stoppping and coaching. We don’t stop. If we’re coaching, we’re coaching on the run. Our coaches have got to coach. That’s why I like young people around — they can run better than me.”

How do you expect the quarterback picture to unfold?
“There’s not really a timetable because I’m hoping somebody just jumps off the screen and says, `I’m phenomenal. Play me.’ That makes it easy. I had a deal at Troy where two days into spring practice I named a starter, and he just got there. But he was far and above better than the rest of the guys. He was player of the year in that conference for two years, so that was easy. I’ve had other places, like Auburn, where we couldn’t figure it out and nobody was good enough. We coached ’em good enough to get fired.”

You’ve got five scholarship quarterbacks and two walkons. Do all seven figure in the mix at the start of spring?
“To me, they’re all the same. Doesn’t matter if they’re a walkon or scholarship. I’m going to watch them and once I decide this guy’s not ready or may never be ready, we’ll have that conversation and those need to go away.”

What qualities are you looking for in a quarterback?
“Find a way to win. We’ve done it throwing and we’ve done it with a guy who was a phenomenal thrower in Tim Couch (at Kentucky), a phenomenal runner in Dwight Dasher (at Middle Tennessee State), combination of really good at both in Omar Haugabook (at Troy). And last year Colby Cameronr (at Louisiana Tech) was just one of the most accurate throwers in the history of college football.

“We want a really competitive, smart, loyal good kid. Which one of these guys can win? Who takes you down and scores touchdowns.”

Does he have to be a runner?
“You want to be able — if you drop back on third-and-5 and they ignore him — he can take off and get the first down.”

What are the other attributes you need from him?
“Accuracy and don’t turn it over. You turn it over we lose. You don’t we usually win. You go back and look at our season, we don’t turn it over for 10 weeks and we’re pretty darned good. The last two weeks we turn it over and we’re not very good. We score 40-something points both games and we lose.”

What’s your response to the impression that your version of the spread offense relies on 75 passes every game?
“I could care less how we get there. Just so happens the numbers tend to be balanced, and not really by design. Because I’ll throw it 70 times if I think we have to to win. But I’ll run it 90 to win, too, Usually it balances itself out.”

How difficult will it be to get through spring ball without your top two returning backs, Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco?
“Nobody gets fired for losing the spring football game. It’ll be ugly at times, no doubt. It’ll be a great feeling-out process. Plus we get to look at some other guys.”

What’s your evaluation of your wide receiver group?
“I watched film of the ones we played and there’s some intriguing characters who are going to be fun to play with. The biggest issue is there’s not a lot of depth. There’s only five guys on scholarship. Normally we would have probably 12. We added three. It’s hard to do it all in one year. It’ll be fun because there’s some different body types who can do different stuff.”

Does the tight end have a role in your offense?
“My whole deal with tight ends, I’d love to have a good tight end. But the key word is `good.’ I don’t need a body just to be on the field to occupy the space. They need to be able to run. If I’m going to put somebody in the box to bring another defender in the box, they need to be able to block. If they can’t block, why did I bring them into the box to bring another defender to have the guy get his butt whipped.”

Offensive line was an issue for this team last season. What are your thoughts about this group so far?
“I like what I see watching the agility drills and early-morning stuff we can do. I love their attiude and their look and their intelligence. I watch the film from last year and they’re a well-coached football team. Jim (Michalczik) did a good job with them. I think they’ll be a strength of our program. We were thrilled with the class we’re bringing in.”

Do you think the players have a real sense of what they’re about to get into — especially the tempo?
“The neat thing so far about this group is they’re smart and they’re eager. They’re listening. I haven’t seen resistance. You’ve got guys that look hungry and they want to. Their belief system should be good because we’re walking in with an offense that was one of the best in the history of college football last year.

“So we have their attention: Here’s what we do. It always works, How fast it works depends on you. Now if you want to be slow and fight it and say I haven’t done it that way before, then three years from now you can watch us play in the Rose Bowl. Or you can make it happen now. This thing can happen immediately overnight. It’s up to you. If you buy in immediately, then we can be good immediately.”

You have no doubts your offense translates to this league, this level?
“The league and level, that’s all (baloney). We played Texas A&M last year and scored 57 points against a team that I think Alabama, Florida and Arkansas combined didn’t score that many against them (actually, a combined 59 points). It doesn’t matter. There’s good football all over the country.”


Jeff Faraudo

  • Juancho

    Great interview.

    Would have loved to see a follow up question to the one on QBs asking if Kline is that guy. Because a lot of alumni and fans think it is.

  • The Wisdom Cow

    I like what I read. I don’t think anyone ever questioned that the offense would move the ball. I’m quite certain Franklin will have them moving.

    By implication, he is at heart about getting the guys on the field that can do what needs to be done to execute the play. THIS IS SO DIFFERENT FROM TEDFORD, where the play was what mattered, hoping for execution. He’d play the QB that understood the play even though he could make the throws 50% of the time.

    Look at it this way – announcers often use hyperbole in the last 2 minutes of a half, when CBs are playing way off, that an OC would take that 7 yard out all the way down the field if the CBs are going to give it to them. What happens? The CBs still play off, yet the offense NEVER keeps running the same play, even when there is no way the CB could jump early enough to stop it.

    I think Franklin would just smile and keep calling the 7 yard out all the way down the field, because his players were going to execute it with a 98% success rate each time.

  • Calduke

    I’m 100% in with the new coaches and scheme.

    Let’s hope Franklin has more success than Mike Leach had with installing the spread the first year.
    Leach had an experienced QB to work with and – well, you know the rest.

  • The Wisdom Cow

    Calduke, it isn’t a “scheme” spread is kinda the point. He’ll spread out a defense with options, but the “scheme” is going to come out of what the personnel can accomplish.

    Where most coaches (Tedford, Leach, etc) will find the players that can best execute their plays without regard to whether they can do so competently (just as long as they are the best guy available), Franklin is going to adjust his plays to the players, with the baseline being the guys that can actually perform. (See “I’ll run it 90 to win”)

    His answer about TEs was most instructive. He won’t use one if the guy can’t do the job of the position. Most coaches would keep running a TE out there (or for Leach, a WR that couldn’t get open) just because they want a body in the position of the plays they like to run.

    I’m very enthusiastic because of this perspective. It show a coach that not only is not afraid to change his Xs and Os, it says he thinks it is his responsibility to do so if something is not working.

  • Juancho

    Fyi cal baseball is in trouble. The starting pitching needs to be swapped out for the freshman. Were getting killed by irvine this weekend. Will be 4-4 after today.

  • wehofx

    Yeah, great work, JF.

    Execution over scheme. Gotta love it.

    Re: previous thread: As usual, fall on the GB49/Juancho side of arguing without being disagreeable.

    Lady Bears are making a huge come back!

    Bears Ballin’!

  • 66Bear

    Te be repetitive, once again (that is after reading Coach Franklin’s comments) I am stoked about the upgrade we seem to have gotten, and I am so happy for the young men on our team that they will have an opportunity to be competitive again under Coach Dykes and his assistants. Go Bears! 🙂

  • BlakeStreetBear

    Music to my ears coach Franklin! Welcome to Berkeley! The azz kicking starts in August!

  • rob bear

    Nice comment on the QB position being wide open. That is the way it should be, regardless of how many stars next to a player’s name, who was here last year or not, etc. Wipe the slate clean and build some competition and backup consistency. Amen to the azz kicking starting in August, but with EXTREME PREJUDICE!

  • Gobears49

    It all sounds very good but, of course, we’ll have to wait to see how it works out. I hope it works out very well, as i want to see Cal play in the Rose Bowl (maybe more than playing for the national title).

    I have a few, minor, comments, not earth-shattering like my normal ones (just kidding).

    I’ve reread the interview about five times and can’t figure out what he’s really saying. Sounds like it boils down to Al Davis saying, “Just win, baby,” and we don’t care how we do that. However, if Franklin does decide to adjust his spread offense to a certain type of quarterback, then that quarterback gets hurt and his backup does not do the same things well as the now hurt first stringer, then what do you do? Hopefully, the coaches will anticipate that and will put in enough plays so that they include enough so the first, second, and third string quarterbacks can be used effectively, even though differently. But that may be difficult if you’re going to practice, over and over (like Franklin says will be done in practice), the plays only your first string QB does well. You probably can’t practice all plays, including the ones the second stringer does well, a lot. Not sure I have the answer here but more just raising an issue. I’m sure the coaches are likely to have that figured out. Can’t get BlueNGold upset again.

    Second, I was absolutely shocked, and I’m surprised that nobody else has brought it up, when Franklin made the following comment about the QB’s — ” I’m going to watch them and once I decide this guy’s not ready or may never be ready, we’ll have that conversation and those need to go away.” READ THAT STATEMENT CAREFULLY.

    That statement seems to be simply unbelievable. You give a guy a scholarship, which I assume can’t be taken away, and after a few weeks of practice you decide that the guy may not ready to play now (assumed he meant NOW as he went on to state the same immediate banishment rule — that the guy would have to leave — when he may never be ready to play). What if Franklin decides that six of his seven quarterback are 1) not ready to play now or, 2) may never be ready to play — does he send them all packing right then and there? I can’t believe he means that. I can’t believe anybody does that for a guy who is not ready to play now but could be in the future. If a guy is not ready to play now, but could if he practiced more or worked on somethings, why not keep him? Is Franklin going to CUT that kind of player immediately, including a scholarship player? Really?

    A good analogy to what I’m talking about, which can perhaps be more easily understood, can be seen from the Cal basketball team. Cal has a few freshman who probably are in the category of not being able to play effective basketball for the team now. Do we cut them because they are not ready to play now because they could not compete NOW with the players in the league? No, not if they have potential to be effective in the future if they practice and do certain other things the coaches want them to work on. Those players stay on the team unless other, better, players come in and fill out the roster. Doing otherwise would be stupid and I don’t think anybody does that.

    If they don’t have the potential to be effective in the future, them maybe Monti tells them that they are not likely to play much in the future and then lets them decide to stay at Cal and perhaps be a part of the team or go elsewhere where they may have a better chance of playing. Actually, I think that might be what happened to the guard/forward from Canada who played for Cal last year (who was too small and was not a good shooter), and maybe even for Rossi. Both left for greener pastures, PERHAPS (not the emphasis) on getting the word from Monty (and I have no knowledge of that and am only guessing that could have occurred).

    So, bottom line, a much more reasonable, and humane approach, is to tell only those players who don’t have the potential to develop into useful players in the future that they should look to play elsewhere. Whether you actually cut them is a close question, but certainly would be a very unusual around here, certainly for a player on scholarship. But maybe that’s more like the way they do things in the south than around here.

  • 66Bear

    Dear Gobears49,

    After seeing your entries, it seems certain to me that you must be a progressive. Did you have a hand in drafting the Affordable Care Act? Perhaps you can draft some legislation based on your blog comments and legislate the sports’ competition outcomes that you demand.

  • covinared

    Go Bears: I think thats what he meant. I think once a scholie is awarded, it can’t be revoked so long as the player does not break the rules anyway. Coaches should be up front with those that don’t project to play at their recruited position so the player can decide whether to ride pine or try something new. It looks like Boehm or Hinder may fall into that class. Bridgford is in too deep. In my day, we had a qb named Charlie Young who went from starter to afterthought when Rich Campbell emerged. He was told he was not in the plans, so he switched to cornerback and special teams for his senior year. Boehm might think of switching to lb or something if he does not move up, or move on.

  • Gobears49


    You’ve got it wrong. I am a conservative Republican, and almost a Tea Partyer, and got that way because when I attended Cal, I got upset that the left wouldn’t allow conservative speakers on campus. I thought college was a place where you were supposed to be given an opportunity to hear both sides and then make up your mind. The Left wouldn’t allow that and it has gotten much worse over time, with all this added PC business.

    Just so I understand Franklin, if freshman QB Goff is not ready to help the Bears NOW, he needs to “go away” (i.e. make plans to transfer or simply be cut). Is my understanding of what Franklin said correct? If so, I strongly disagree with it, as he hasn’t been given enough time to prove himself.

  • Gobears49

    To clarify, Franklin said — “To me, they’re all the same. Doesn’t matter if they’re a walkon or scholarship. I’m going to watch them and once I decide this guy’s not ready or may never be ready, we’ll have that conversation and those need to go away.”

    So if Elite 11 QB Goff is judged by Franklin to be “not ready” (now), Goff should be told he is not in Cal’s plans and in some way needs “to go away” (i.e. Goff should make plans to transfer, if he wants to play college football, or simply be cut from the Cal roster). I’m looking for a comment from everyone who contributes on this board, especially the regulars, as to whether they agree with the statement I have made in my prior sentence.

  • Yoda

    Dykes has been quoted as saying some of the quarterbacks will leave if, for example, a true freshman Goff wins the job, but necessarily if an upperclassman wins the job. That’s how it works. And since most of these guys were recruited into a pro-style system they may have other reasons to change schools.

    That said, one could also read the statement as simply saying once Franklin determines that x-number of the 7 aren’t ready or won’t be ready they are simply not in the mix any more. Whether they leave or stay, they are out of the competition for the spot or spots.

    Either way is fine by me. It’s reality, and especially if a guy was highly recruited and doesn’t win the job he’s going to want to go somewhere and play. And that’s good, especially if he’s not a fit for this system.

    And 66Bear, I am a progressive, I have no problem with the idea that competition plays out that way, and I think you’re an ass for trying to make political analogies based on collegiate sports. And for a lot of other things if that’s how you view the world.

  • Yoda

    Dykes has been quoted as saying some of the quarterbacks will leave if, for example, a true freshman Goff wins the job, but necessarily if an upperclassman wins the job. That’s how it works. And since most of these guys were recruited into a pro-style system they may have other reasons to change schools.

    That said, one could also read the statement as simply saying once Franklin determines that x-number of the 7 aren’t ready or won’t be ready they are simply not in the mix any more. Whether they leave or stay, they are out of the competition for the spot or spots.

    Either way is fine by me. It’s reality, and especially if a guy was highly recruited and doesn’t win the job he’s going to want to go somewhere and play. And that’s good, especially if he’s not a fit for this system.

    And 66Bear, you’re an ass for trying to make political analogies based on collegiate sports.

  • Gobears49

    Still awaiting the comments from the regulars.

    Still can’t believe that it is smart or fair to handle everyone the same. Freshmen, like Goff, should be given more time to prove and improve themselves than players with less available productive years to play for Cal. Based upon that rule, the first guy to go would be someone like Bridgford if it is determined he doesn’t measure up NOW, as he is a senior and could probably play his last year at at IIA school. I recall, many years ago (most guys won’t remember this as they are too young), a kid named Perry Klein wasn’t get any playing time at QB behind Dave Barr, so he transferred to a IIA school, C.W. Post, l before just before his senior year and played so well there he made the Atlanta Falcoms roster and even played for them. Here’s a very good article in the L.A. Times on the Perry Klein saga, who was a real character.


    BTW, I still can’t believe that the offense modifies its system/formation/plays to the style of their best players but the defense doesn’t do that because the 4 – 3 is what the defensive coordinator knows best. I’m not an expert at all what positions we have on defense that we have a lot of good players at, but last I heard last year, not accounting for the injuries, we were long and strong at linebacker compared to the defensive line. But maybe someone can correct me on that.

    Hard to believe there is much sense to have a totally different philosophy as to how to play defense with the skills and availability there versus the same issue on offense.

    Also, I should point out that my comments have been much more gentle than raising the issue of why Buh left the defensive coordinator job at Nevada for a linebacker coach position at Wisconsin, which can be viewed by many as a step down. I thought of that issue weeks ago, but didn’t think it was right to bring up on this board (I can now, as that issue has already been brought up by somebody else on this board). I guess I do have a little bit of a kinder, gentler, side.

  • Gobears49

    BTW, also interesting that the coaches seem to rely very heavily on what “body type” a player has to determine what they are best at doing.” I think “body type” can be a good indicator of that, but to rely on it too heavily is, to my mind, is too much of a generalization. A guy can be big and fast, too. Those are the kind you want to have.

    Not exactly covered by this topic, but I am reminded of Bear Bryant’s famous quote of what he was looking in a player (probably not a skill player) — “mobile, agile, and hostile” (pronounced with emphasis in the “i”).

    Buh from his interview on the topic of linebackers —

    “We analyzed a lot of film and looked at a lot of the body types that we had. We found out that a lot of our outside linebackers could be converted to close and open-side defensive ends. The open-side body types for us are speed, edge rushers, Chris McCain-type guys. The close-end side they’re a little bit beefier. Kyle Kragen is that type, Brennan Scarlett is that body type.”

    Frankin from his interview on the topic of wide receivers —

    “It’ll be fun because there’s some different body types who can do different stuff.”

  • Gobears49

    Meant “Franklin.”

  • jabes

    If a JR or SR QB isn’t right for The System now, they won’t be on the two-deep so they might as well leave because they don’t have time to develop. A FR QB with potential to develop may stay, a FR QB could also prove out very quickly not to have that potential. I’m a bleeding heart liberal, and the sentiment makes perfect sense to me. Plus, it’s easier to say “measure up or get out” then negotiate a softer stance case-by-case then to have a softer “measure up or commit to get better” and then if you cut a guy loose you like you are doing it arbitrarily.

  • Gobears49

    Thanks for your comment, Jabes. You seem to somewhat agree that the longer a player has to develop, the more discretion should be given to keeping that player. I disagree with you that if the “measure up” period expires without that development occurring, and you cut a guy loose at that point, you are doing so “arbitrarily.” At that point, if the “measuring up” does not occur, the condition to keep a guy on the roster simply did not occur — it’s sort of like not fulfilling a condition of a contract at that point, which would terminate the contract.

    So, under my view, which I think you generally agree with, Klein and Goff, both being freshman (with Goff entitled to a redshirt year), they should be given more leniency in their evaluation than the other players, because they have more time to develop at Cal. Goff, because he would have five years to develop at Cal, would be given more leniency than Klein, who only has four. Still find it very hard to see how Cal could tell them now to go elsewhere, given their credentials, but on the other hand I thought it was clear early on that Brock Mansion, another Elite 11 QB, wasn’t very good and would never develop into a good QB for Cal. He would have been better off playing elsewhere if that was really important to him.

  • jabes

    I don’t really agree or disagree. I’m just interpreting what I think Franklin is saying.

    Based solely on this interview, I think he’s more likely than not to cut a guy loose, especially one he didn’t recruit, if they aren’t getting The System and even more likely if they are a JR/SR. I think he’s better off, even if he as an exception clause that he’ll keep a FR with potential, not saying that up front.

  • Gobears49,

    Sorry if I misjudged you. I just thought that your control needs seemed suspiciously high. Go in peace. 🙂

  • Nor-Cal Scott


    Honestly, I think you’re reading wayyyyyyy to much into that statement.

    The team has a total of 7 QB’s, all with varying amounts of eligibility left. No coach is going to suggest to a RS Freshman (ex: Kline) or a 3rd year Soph (ex: Boehm)to leave the program after a few weeks of spring practice. After all, they need to develop a stable of solid QBs.

    I imagine that the staff might tell an older guy (ex: Hinder) that they will not see much, if any, playing time, and if they want to see playing time they might look elsewhere. That happens around the country, especially with a new staff.

    I enjoyed JF’s Q&A with both Franklin & Buh.

  • Gobears49

    Nor-Cal Scott,

    I totally agree with you as to what makes sense, and I have stated so in my prior comments. But we have no experience in seeing what these coaches actually do so all we have to go on is what they say. Dykes seems to be a very good coach, but rather unconventional in a few areas, and I suspect his long-time assistants are the same. Who knows how unconventional they really are, at this point.

    Franklin says he will evaluate his QB’s on the same basis and he didn’t say he would more greatly value longer future eligibility as an exception to that rule. I will just repeat his statement on this subject of how he will evaluate his QB’s, which worries me some — “To me, they’re all the same. Doesn’t matter if they’re a walkon or scholarship. I’m going to watch them and once I decide this guy’s not ready or may never be ready, we’ll have that conversation and those need to go away.”

    I should add, that if Dykes and Franklin want to get rid of either of their two elite freshmen QB’s, which I agree with you that no coach should realistically do and which I don’t expect them happen, I think they will quickly change their minds once they hear the response from the alumni.

  • BlueNGold

    JF- great interviews with both coaches Buh and Franklin. I hope that you do one with the special teams guy too, since that has been an Achilles heel in recent years.

    Such a shame that we have to rely on what the coaches tell us they are planning to do. Is it a foregone conclusion that they will deviate from those pronouncements? If so, why? Given that the staff is completely new, I prefer to see the product on the field before making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. Especially when credibility is being questioned.

  • Kotempman

    I love the comments on the players attitudes being excited and willing to listen and learn!!!! They all have to buy in to reach their peak in performance so go teach-um Sonny and Co.!!!!!!

  • GoBear49

    agree w/#24. It’s Feb and you are rereading interviews 5 times or more? Find something good to do in your life and let this thing play out.