Not many ACC coaches calling the shots on offense
Georgia Tech has the most productive offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference and yet coach Paul Johnson is in a distinct minority when it comes to play calling.
Not because the 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets are one of the few teams in the country running the triple option, but Johnson is one of only two head coaches in the ACC calling his own plays. The offensive coordinators have that responsibility at all the other league schools except Virginia Tech, where that is handled by quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain.
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher is the other head coach retaining play calling responsibilities.
But no matter who does the play calling, the coaches say there should be just one voice in the quarterback's ear - and the head coach always has veto power.
Fisher, like Johnson, doesn't have any plans on giving up the play-calling duties any time soon.
''Maybe down the road, years from now,'' said Fisher. ''It's a part of the game that I'm always going to be interested in just like our quarterbacks.''
But the responsibilities can be smothering too, especially if a team is not putting up points.
Boston College first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers went on a leave of absence ''for health reasons'' earlier this month just two days after the Eagles managed a lone field goal in a 30-3 loss at Central Florida. Tight ends coach Dave Brock took over those responsibilities. Rogers had been the quarterbacks coach for the Minnesota Vikings and was expected to bring a more wide-open style to the BC offense.
Georgia Tech's Johnson may also be the only play-caller in the league who works without notes or a play sheet. A longtime devotee of his spread-option, Johnson says it's a simple offense and doesn't require any crib sheet.
''I just look out there and see what they're doing and try to call plays off that,'' Johnson said. ''The thing about our deal is we've got a package, so it's not something I have to invent in my head. If we have five or six special plays, I'll remember them all.''
Johnson, however, has incorporated more passing into the Yellow Jackets offense this season following his first losing campaign since his days as head coach at Navy and it's paid off so far. Quarterback Tevin Washington has thrown for slightly better than 200 yards a game and already has eight touchdown passes.
Tech (4-0) leads the ACC in total offense averaging 630.5 yards a game and in scoring with a ridiculous average of 52.7 points a game.
The coaches agree that the key to successful offense is the player caller's relationship with the quarterback.
It's a been a huge part of Virginia Tech's success. The 11th-ranked Hokies have a new quarterback this season and a bit more of a novel approach to its play calling, assigning that duty to O'Cain.
''They spend a lot of time together seeing what he's comfortable with,'' Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. ''I think that's part of the arrangement is trying to get what he really likes and what he's really comfortable with, and I think he and coach O'Cain are working really well in that regard right now.''
Fisher agrees totally with the play caller having to be in sync with his quarterback.
''It's the way you coach him, he sees things through your eyes,'' said Fisher, who added that keeping the play-calling duties doesn't interfere with his other responsibilities as head coach.
''We still have time to run the team and do the other things,'' he said. ''It's a part of it, at least for right now, that we won't give up. Maybe down the road, maybe.''
But there can't be too many voices giving instructions to the QB.
Clemson's Dabo Swinney, a former offensive coordinator, leaves most of the play calling to his new offensive coordinator, Chad Morris. It's working for the 13th-ranked Tigers, who only trail Georgia Tech in scoring and total offense.
''A lot of it is the decisions by the quarterback,'' Swinney said. ''That has been one of the bright spots on our team, Tajh (Boyd) has done a great job in making decisions.''
Boyd, who faces another first-year starter Saturday in Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, has already passed for an ACC high 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns and leads the league in total offense.
Swinney credits much of his young quarterback's success to the close working relationship developed with Morris.
''There's always a flow that you want your play caller to have and you don't ever want to interrupt that,'' Swinney said. ''But as a head coach ... there's input that he needs as far as strategy to what we want to do, those kind of things.''
Maryland's Randy Edsall says play calling is why you hire an offensive coordinator.
''I don't do any of it,'' Edsall said. ''You hire people to do a good job.''
But Edsall, like his peers, retains veto power.
He said he'll make suggestions from time to time between series, but noted it's hard to keep a smooth rhythm if there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
The first-year Terrapin boss also said the position coaches know their players better in terms of strengths and weaknesses and what they can achieve and it leaves play calling to his coordinators.
At North Carolina State, offensive coordinator Dana Bible calls the Wolfpack's plays, but head coach Tom O'Brien steps in if needed.
''Basically, you can only have one voice doing it because if you don't, you'll never get it called and there will be confusion,'' O'Brien said. ''You're so wrapped up into what's going on, you can't have a lot of things going on.''
O'Brien said that from his experience as an offensive coordinator earlier in his career that he sometimes recognized when the play calling becomes disjointed.
''I can tell that they're stuck, and knowing where and what we are,'' O'Brien said. ''Then I can say whatever I want to say to unstick the situation. Because that happens too in games.''
And that's something that all of the coaches want to avoid.
''I think the biggest thing is to not disrupt during the game,'' said first-year Miami coach Al Golden, who depends on offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch as his primary play caller. Fisch learned the ropes from a formidable group of coaches that included Steve Spurrier, Mike Shanahan, Brian Billick and Pete Carroll.
''I'd rather ask the questions during the week and say `What are we thinking here? What would you like to do in the red zone?''' Golden said.
Of course, that's one answer all the coaches agree on: Score a touchdown.
AP Sports Writers Dave Ginsburg in Maryland, Tim Reynolds in Miami, Jimmy Golen in Boston, Hank Kurz in Richmond, Charles Odum and George Henry in Atlanta, Joedy McCreary and Aaron Beard in Raleigh contributed to this report.