If you were to ask coordinators ten or twenty years ago for their playbook, chances are they’d be able to hand you a thick binder filled with plays, blocking schemes, audibles, terminology and assignments that would take you the weekend to look over, and much longer to memorize.
However, ask coaches today that same question, and many would simply smirk. While playbooks were a staple of the game years ago, they are becoming less and less common among coordinators and head coaches, and while schemes have certainly changed a ton since then, how players learn has also changed dramatically, and coaches are taking notice.
Take for example Syracuse head coach Dino Babers, who is installing a completely new offensive and defensive scheme, complete with new verbiage from what the Orangemen ran last season, and none of the players ever went home with a playbook after meeting Babers and his staff. The reason for that has an interesting story behind it, as Syracuse.com explains.
In 1998, when Babers was promoted from running backs coach to offensive coordinator / quarterbacks coach at Arizona on Dick Tomey’s staff, he took over a playbook that was about 300 pages thick. After jumping from 34th nationally in total offense to third in a matter of two seasons, a former player uploaded the playbook to the internet for reasons unknown, and the offense stalled big time, dropping to 101st in total offense nationally the year after the leak.
Fast forward to today, when Babers no longer uses a tangible playbook anymore, and while having it released to the public probably played a role in that decision, Babers also explained that players in today’s game learn more visually – thanks to popular mediums like XBox and PlayStation – than they did decades ago.
“You learned football on Xbox where you could actually choose your team and control your players. You grew up in a visual age. That’s how we teach these guys, is the way they grew up. We don’t make them read, which is the way we grew up.”
A number of other coaches have recognized this learning trend among players and don’t use a hard playbook either, including Art Briles – who Babers worked under at Baylor in 2008.
The NFL is still using playbooks though, opting to upload the information to iPads during training camp and when the decision is made to cut a player, they’re able to remotely wipe the information to ensure it can’t be leaked.