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Don Faurot

In 1941, a year after Clark Shaughnessy's Stanford team used the T formation to win the Rose Bowl, Missouri coach Don Faurot created a new version, the split T, so named because the offensive linemen were split apart rather packed tightly together. The split T relied upon two basic plays: the dive and the option.

It may come as a surprise, but Faurot's recipe for the option was not a pre-existing football play. It was a basketball play.

During his playing days at Missouri, Faurot was a 3-sport star. He was the captain of the Tigers' basketball team as well as the starting fullback on the football team and an infielder on the baseball team. Faurot once told the Des Moines Register that basketball's 2-on-1 fastbreak was the blueprint for the option. "We ran a lot of 2-on-1 fastbreaks, forcing the defender to make a decision," Faurot said, "and that made me wonder if the same thing could be done in football." He soon found that could it ever.

"The option play and split line enabled us to run inside or outside the defensive end without blocking him," Faurot said. "This technique was unheard of prior to this time."

On the option play, the quarterback slid along the line horizontally for 3-to-5 steps rather than turning away from the center and bringing the ball back into the backfield for a handoff. As the quarterback navigated horizontally, he watched the outermost defender, either an end or a linebacker. If the defender took the quarterback, he pitched the ball to a trailing halfback. If the defender took the halfback, he kept the ball and cut inside the defender to run downfield.

The option replaced a thing (a physical blocker) at the point of attack with an abstract idea: The decision of the defender which--no matter what he decided--"blocked" the defender and thereby nullified him as a threat to the play. The option gave Missouri control by providing its offense with both the first and last decision in an encounter with the defense. Prior to the snap, the Tigers' quarterback first decided whether to run the option, the dive, or another play. If he chose the option, he decided whether to keep or pitch as the last instant.

The first opposing coach to experience Faurot's new design was Paul Brown. In 1941, Missouri visited Ohio State in a game that marked Browns' debut as the Buckeyes' head coach. Brown wrote that "we had nothing to match this revolutionary concept in offensive football. Though we won the game, 12-7, we were not prepared for this new concept, and we managed to survive only by the sheerest of good fortune."

Other coaches also were impressed. "The split-T formation was the greatest offensive innovation in a quarter century," said Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson, who learned the split-T option from Faurot. Former Missouri and Notre Dame coach Dan Devine said in 1995 that Faurot "made the only significant change in offensive football in, I used to say 50, but I'd say 75 years."

Wilkinson's and Devine's observations are not all hyperbole. It is undeniable that the idea of creating a 2-on-1 matchup in favor of the offense is at the heart of all offensive football. From Vince Lombardi's "run to daylight" power sweep design to Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense, all of the great offensive play designers simply have been trying to recreate what Faurot designed first with the split-T option: A 2-on-1 advantage.

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