Nevada head coach Chris Ault talks Chad Morris and the Pistol
Ault, who developed the Pistol formation as a way to improve his running game, is used to having visitors make the trek to Reno to learn more about the formation.
“I knew of him, but I didn’t know Chad,” Ault told TigerNet this week. “But I wasn’t really surprised when he called, because we have had a lot of schools come through here the last three or four years that want to exchange ideas on the Pistol. There have been some programs that just want to learn about it and see what they want to take from it. When he called and came out, we had a lot of fun exchanging ideas on how the Pistol may or may not help them.”
For those that may not know, the Pistol formation is a variation on the shotgun offense made famous by Ault. Where shotgun offenses put the quarterback five to six yards behind the line of scrimmage, the Pistol places him four yards behind the line, with a tailback placed directly behind him, as opposed to beside him, as in the shotgun.
There is no doubt the Tigers were good on offense in 2011 - the Tigers were 21st nationally in passing offense, 26th in total offense and 24th in scoring offense, but only 59th in rushing offense, averaging 158.5 yards rushing per game.
Morris wanted to improve the rushing game, especially the short-yardage rushing attack, a phase of the game in which Clemson has struggled over what seems like the last decade. The Tigers will have three new starters on the offensive line this season, and Ault told TigerNet that the formation can help a line that is less than dominant.
“There is no question that it can help the offensive line, and that is one of the reasons I went to it,” Ault said. “We call our offensive line The Union, and what happens after the snap is really up to the offensive line and we tried to design this offense to help them out. The most important parts of our offense begin with The Union. That is where it begins with any offense.”
Ault said that one of the things that makes the formation so successful – he had three 1,000 yard rushers two years ago – is the fact that the defense can’t decipher the direction of the back.
“We have been successful because our running game has been outstanding, and it has allowed us to do different things in the scheme,” Ault said. “Being in this formation doesn’t tip the direction of the back, and that was the most important thing. I wanted to run the ball and I wanted to run downhill. There is no question that people can be successful with it, and you can do so many different things out of it. You can also get the read-option offense involved with it – whatever the coaches feel like they can exploit. You can do a variety of different things because it gives you so many options.”
It can even help in the power running game.
Ault previously served as head coach for the Wolf Pack from 1976 to 1992 and from 1994 to 1995, and then served as the school’s athletic director from 1986 to 2004. It was while serving as the athletic director that the seeds of the Pistol were planted.
“I was out of coaching for a few years as an athletic director. While I was out, I had a chance to look at a lot of football,” Ault said. “Our offense back then was a one-back offense, and it was pretty good. But when I came back, I didn’t feel like our offense was good enough to compete for a championship. I had this idea in my head – there was no film to look at so it was all in my head. Before my second spring back, we messed around with it, and I am sure my coaches thought I was nuts. We made mistakes and just learned from it and went from there. Without any film, we just had to go out there and experiment and see what I thought it should look like. We made every mistake in the book and just kept going.”
Now, Ault teaches the formation to any coach who comes calling. In Morris, he says he found a kindred spirit.
“I want to say he spent two-and-a-half days out here,” he said. “I think he is an enthusiastic coach. I think he’s a guy who wants to learn and explore every opportunity he has to make his offense better and I admire people like that. We do that here – we are always looking to make our offense better and explore new opportunities. It was a lot of fun to see what he has done and see how he has evolved with his offense. The Pistol is like any other offense – it has its strengths and weaknesses, but it is all in how you elect to use it.”
He said he also learned a little bit from Morris as well, something he wanted to do after catching glimpses of Clemson’s offense a year ago.
“I saw two games this past year. I am very familiar with some of the things they do, and we have had an interest in the [Gus] Malzahn style of offense,” he said. “It was interesting to hear the different ideas and thoughts. We didn’t know if they wanted to really utilize it or just experiment with it to see if it would help their offense.”