Back in the day, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier would sometimes not even glance at the sheet that listed all the plays he could call.
That spoke to how much time the coach had invested beforehand, analyzing an opponent, crafting offensive formations to beguile its defense then committing the options so he could recall them effortlessly.
And yes, the no-look call also spoke somewhat to his nature.
"I'd probably already thrown it down after an interception or something," Spurrier deadpanned, "and I just called them off the top of my head."
His visor had likely been thrown even earlier.
But these days are different.
Offenses and defenses are more complex and a head coach's duties are more varied and more time-consuming than when Spurrier coached the Tampa Bay Bandits, Duke Blue Devils and Florida Gators.
That's why Spurrier, who once needled Florida State's Bobby Bowden for not being more involved, will join an increasing number of football coaches renowned for their offensive wizardry in relinquishing some, if not all, play calling duties.
"I'm still going to be the offensive coordinator and I'm still going to have my input into the play calling," said Spurrier, 63, adding that his son, receivers coach Steve Jr., will take over that role. "I haven't given it up completely, let's put it that way."
A chance to sleep
New Duke coach David Cutcliffe admits it seems odd at best, inappropriate at worst, to have his offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper call the plays.
That's not a knock on Roper.
"Kurt's been around me now for eight, nine years and he knows everything I know and then some," Cutcliffe said.
But Cutcliffe, 53, knows he earned his spurs — the opportunity to be a head coach, first at Mississippi and now in Durham — thanks to his skill as an offensive play caller. Okay, having Peyton and Eli Manning (the former while he was Tennessee's offensive coordinator) didn't hurt, but Cutcliffe seemed to have that "feel" for what to do on third and long or in the red zone. To him, you're supposed to dance with the one that brought you.
For him, it was a matter of time. As a play caller, he had precious little of it.
"I was doing it at Ole Miss and there was just no time for sleep," he said. "Somewhere along the way, you've got to sleep. Literally, I had two hours a night for three nights trying to be thorough with both (coach and play caller)."
Maryland's Ralph Friedgen can relate.
Friedgen, generally regarded as one of the college game's most innovative offensive minds, has turned over play calling to his new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, James Franklin.
"To be honest with you, I was getting worn out. I felt like I was being stretched too thin, if you can believe that," Friedgen, 61, said in a joke about his girth. "I felt that I wasn't with my players as much as I had been in the past. I felt it was very important that I was available to them and that I'm able to hear their problems and motivate them on a daily basis. I think they didn't really get to know who I was too. And then there were times when I would miss things as a coordinator that I normally wouldn't miss because I just couldn't do both as effectively as I think they needed to be done."
More to the game
Bowden called the plays until the early 1990s, but grew to recognize that not only could a coach in the press box see the field better than a coach on the sideline, the job of the head man was all-consuming.
That's not just during a 12-game season.
That's during all 12 months of the year.
"You can't hardly do it and be the head coach," Bowden, 78, said. "Who's going to go to the booster club meetings? Who's going to do this and that? A guy who's going to call plays has to look at film, look at film, look at film. I used to study film all the time, but there comes a time when you can't study enough and football has gotten so sophisticated, you better spend all day looking at it or you're in trouble."
And even then, you could have problems. The Gamecocks opened the 2006 season against SEC rival Mississippi State, so Spurrier spent the summer poring over game tape to spot vulnerabilities his passing game could exploit, then spent the preseason drilling his offense on his ball plays that would surely mean lots of touchdowns.
"The ballgame rolled around and guess what? We could not block their defensive line," he said. "Our quarterbacks couldn't get a dang pass off, hardly."
He went vanilla (runs and screens), relied on his defense and won rather unimpressively 15-0. Afterward, he felt he had "wasted a lot of time scheming up" when the offensive line couldn't do its job.
"So, I'm going to try to help the entire offense and the entire team a little bit better (now) maybe by creating a little bit more time away from the play calling," he said, adding that last year he was the one who filled out the wristbands his quarterbacks wore. "Everybody's sitting there looking at me and I said, 'I'm doing everything around here, right?' (The assistants) said, 'That's how you do it, Coach.' I said, 'You know what? It's time maybe for you guys to get a little more involved in it.' "
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.