An Ode to the Option: The Offense of the ’70s Plays Its Final Act Today in Detroit.

Quick Lane Bowl is the retirement party for Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, the last Power Five Conference Coach to run the venerable, run-first offense.

Marky Billson, host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

“There are too many bowl games” has become a common refrain at this time of year.

And while few might want to spend the day after Christmas in Detroit, and frankly a matchup between 7–5 Georgia Tech and 6–6 Minnesota reinforces the notion, this afternoon’s Quick Lane Bowl might be an exception.

Because it figures to be one of the last times to see the option used in major college football.

Okay, sure, the service academies will surely continue to run it. And so will Kennesaw State.

But otherwise, it’s the single-wing. It’s from a time long gone.

And that might be encouraging, because it says football is being played more athletically and perhaps even safer than ever before.

Georgia Tech experienced initial success with the option under Paul Johnson, winning 20 games their first two seasons with an ACC Championship in his second season of 2009. The Yellow Jackets reached the ACC Championship Game four times in his first seven years and won 11 games as recently as 2014.

One of Johnson’s methods of success was to recruit quarterbacks and then put them at other positions, such as running back. The Yellow Jackets would routinely rack up massive rushing numbers with their athletes and be the proverbial “tough team to play against.”

But a 3–9 season in 2015 started the beginning of the end for the Johnson and with it, the traditional option. The Yellow Jackets were 9–4 the following year but last year finished only 5–6, with a game against Central Florida cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.

You’d think UCF would want the game rescheduled after it became apparent they would need all the help they could get to make the College Football Playoff.

But the Yellow Jackets just weren’t the team they were at the start of Johnson’s tenure. If eventually defeating a team that beat Alabama wasn’t going to win the National Title for the Golden Knights, how would a victory that lost to 4–8 Tennessee help?

Paul Johnson coaching his players at Georgia Tech

Perhaps it became apparent the option’s time had passed after, as Russ Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reported, Johnson disciple Ken Niumatalolo interviewed for the Arizona head coaching vacancy last year. The Wildcats quarterback tweeted out his disdain for running the offense. Arizona hired Kevin Sumlin instead.

Quarterbacks want to play quarterback. They want to throw and if they’re going to move to another position, they want it to be wide receiver. The option is so Darryl Royal.

It also, as Dellenger reports, relies on cut blocking, or blocking below the waist, which is now illegal more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Still, the option may not be completely antiquated. As long as college football employs it’s archaic timing rules and hash marks not in line with the goal posts in the center of the field, there’s going to be a need to continue to have a rushing attack.

And many coaches still try to utilize the 11 on 10 concepts of the option, they just do it out of the shotgun. Willie Fritz does this at Tulane. The Green Wave just won their first bowl game since 2002.

But as far as lining up under the center and pitching the ball to the side or keeping it? Yes, this afternoon in Detroit will almost assuredly be the last time it will be used in a Power Five Conference game.

Two assistant coaches remain on ETSU’s current staff from the Hamilton tenure, which ended in 2003.

It will also likely be the last time you’ll see Paul Hamilton on the sidelines. The associate director of player personnel for the Yellow Jackets, the former ETSU head coach is contemplating retirement after 37 years in the business and won’t be retained on incoming head coach Geoff Collins’ staff.

Few would miss the Quick Lane Bowl if it went away. But at least this time, when it kicks off at 5:15 p.m. ET, it is the final act on a large stage for the offense that gave us Bo Jackson and Steve Owens and Billy Simms.

Bo Jackson takes on Alabama in the Iron Bowl in the wishbone formation

Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays on 1420 WEMB Sports Radio. Watch him live and archived here and here.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store