Looking at Bear Bryant’s 1975 Alabama Playbook

The coaching world is all about information sharing.

Two years ago, while working on the NFL draft, I exchanged a series of coaching clinic notes and game films with a college coach. In turn, that coach shared with me a number of playbooks that are still held up as seminal works in the coaching ranks.

One of those was Bear Bryant’s 1975 playbook, a year in which the Tide won an SEC title, and just a couple of seasons before they would go on to win back-to-back national championships.

Below are some of my observations and notes from reading through Bryant’s playbook.

You can find the full playbook at the bottom of this post.

1. Overall Takeaways

  • Length: Bryant’s playbook is remarkably short. The total length is 45 pages. For comparison’s sake, Urban Meyer’s 2006 Florida playbook — a team that won the national championship — had 243 pages dedicated to just the offensive side of the ball. That Florida offense, by modern standards, was simplistic, yet the offensive book was still five times the size of Bryant’s.
  • All three phases in one book: There is now a division between offense, defense, and special teams. Each unit gets their own playbook, or play sheet, with a split between coaching staffs. In just 45 pages, Bryant combines all three phases.
  • Emphasis on attitude: All coaches are looking to foster a certain kind of culture. From Bryant’s playbook, it’s evident that his focus was on building an aggressive attitude among his players; how they should walk, talk, act in and out of the huddle, and present themselves is laid out clearly. Bryant placed emphasis on physical and aggressive phrases: “BREAK HARD,” “NEVER BE BEATEN INSIDE.”
  • Detail: Like all great coaches, Bryant is detail-oriented. Players fit into his scheme like a big jigsaw puzzle. Each role is defined with specific instructions. There’s little room for players to get creative or break from the scheme. Their tasks and responsibilities are laid out in detail and they’re responsible for executing the coaches’ plan.
  • Option Football: Traditional option football, particularly the wishbone formation, has become a dinosaur. Those who still run a classical “triple-option” offense are few and far between. They incorporate far more play-action and passing concepts than Bryant’s option offense. Bryant’s playbook is a great look at how teams used to attack defenses when their quarterback would attempt less than 100 passes a season. (In 1975 Richard Todd (starting quarterback) attempted 89 passes.)

What is striking is how many of the same option concepts and principles are still used today. Coaches like Gus Malzahn run a modern version of Bryant’s option attack. There are some crucial differences. Quarterbacks now line up in the shotgun rather than under center, teams use an H-back rather than a traditional fullback and quarterbacks are real passing threats.

But Malzahn’s option packages take their lead from the old wishbone offenses of old.

Here is an example of a Bryant option play:

And a Malzahn option play, in which a wide receiver is motioned to become, effectively, a second running back.

Two different presentations, but fundamentally the same principles.

  • Handwritten: While much of the playbook was constructed on a typewriter, a good deal is handwritten. In particular, specific notes and coaching techniques. It’s fair to assume that the handwritten notes were used in years prior, and the future, to emphasize specific points that did not need to be changed or updated.

Here are some of the specific things I picked out that should be of interest.

2. Terminology

Bill Belichick’s father Steve Belichick is credited with being the first modern football “scout” and for creating and defining terminology that is still used to evaluate individual talent today.

Bryant created terms and terminology to define techniques for entire schemes that are used at every level of football today.

A good example is the “gap” system. The system used to number/letter the gaps between lineman and define techniques/alignments.

When you hear an announcer say a lineman “plugged the A-gap” or that he’s lined up as a “three-technique” those are terms Bryant invented.

3. Blocking

Perhaps my favorite part of Bryant’s playbook is his definition of different types of blocks from offensive lineman.

Given that option football was all about generating a push up front to run the ball — against loaded boxes — coaching the offensive line was as important in 1975 as coaching quarterbacks is today.

Many of these blocks are now outlawed. You can see how Bryant advocates for vicious blocks aimed at different body parts of defensive players.

Drive Block — a vicious head and shoulders block.

Bama Block — drive block at knee of opponent.

Groin Block — a low drive block with upward action aimed at the defensive man’s groin.

Chop Block — open field block on men in the secondary by throwing your body (extended at his throat).

Stalk Block — Block used to block secondary people (get close to man and when he commits, take him, don’t leave feet).

Bryant’s coaching points all intend to inflict serious punishment on any defensive player. Terms like “vicious” and “at his throat” give a good indication of how he viewed the battle for the line of scrimmage.

The “Bama Block” is now what we would term a “chop block” — which are now outlawed if a lineman is already engaged — and the Bryant “Chop Block” or “Groin Block” would cause a national inquiry if an Alabama player attempted one in a game this year.

Read the full column on SEC Country

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