Football is a business of sharing ideas. Every coach in the business got his ideas from someone else, who got their ideas from someone else, who tweaked a concept they learned from someone else. You don’t often get to hear from the guy that invented the post route.
That’s why hearing Chris Ault is so intriguing.
Ault, along with former assistants Scott Baumgartner, Chris Klenakis, Jim Mastro and Cameron Norcross, invented the Pistol offense in 2004 at Nevada. After half a decade of running the Pistol successfully, Ault has become in high-demand of late.
“We’ve been very, very open about the pistol offense,” Ault told the San Jose Mercury-News. “Last year we had over 44 teams come to spring football. College, high school, JC, Canadian teams a couple of years ago. We’ve been very upfront in sharing some of the things we do with it and a lot of the coaches that come say, ‘We can’t run these particular things, but we run these and we’d like to see it.’ There has been some nice exchanges, and it’s grown so much, and at the collegiate level it’s all over the country.”
To Ault, the success of the Pistol lies in its versatility.
“Everybody thinks the pistol is just a read, but the pistol is a formation,” he said. “And from that formation, if you’re a power offense, you can run the power. If you’re a counter offense, you can run the counter. It’s not just a read offense. I think the read offers another dimension to it, but it’s really a versatile formation.”
After running the Pistol for a few years, Ault found his muse in Colin Kaepernick. The Pistol peaked in 2010, Kaepernick’s senior season, when the Wolf Pack rushed for 292.2 yards per game, ranked fourth nationally in total offense at 519.1 yards per game, won the WAC and finished 13-1. In the process, Kaepernick joined Tim Tebow and Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks to throw and rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season.
Kaepernick was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, and he largely remained on the sidelines until the latter half of this season. He entered the 49ers’ starting lineup in November, throwing for 1,725 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for 304 yards and three scores over the team’s final eight games. Across the country, meanwhile, the Washington Redskins were using the Pistol with Robert Griffin III to win the NFC East title.
“I just enjoyed the heck out of watching the game and I kept thinking to myself, ‘They’re in pistol a lot, hopefully they’ll run that read a few more times.’ The things I was seeing were the things we’d seen here and looked like it would be a pretty good call,” Ault said. “The routes, I can’t tell you the routes are the same, but I thought that was the one thing I had not seen the Niners do, that I saw the Redskins do, was throw the ball with play-action out of the pistol. I thought the play-action passing really helped with the read itself out of the pistol. I recognized most of it, and I’m sure they changed it to match their personnel, but it was fun to see the skeleton, anyway.”
The Pistol reached a fever pitch on Saturday night after Kapernick set an NFL quarterback rushing record with 181 yards (and two touchdowns) to go with completing 17-of-31 passes for 263 yards with two more scores in San Francisco’s 45-31 NFC Divisional playoffs win over Green Bay.
Ault retired from Nevada in late December, and, as stated above, teams across the country have reached out to Ault, asking how to implement, and slow down, the Pistol. We may never speak to the guy who invented the post route or called the first blitz, but we can talk to the man who held the first Pistol.
To read Ault’s full Q&A with the Mercury-News’ Jerry McDonald, please click here.