Monday, April 9, 2012

Compass Tradition: Scripting with a Purpose

While most people used a strategic process to framework their scheme and their contingency plan, a few have applied a script (of objectives/approaches) to stay on course. Then there are those who have used a script to stay on course while not having a strategic foundation to determine when and how to adjust their approach.

Are you one of those rare professionals who have managed their project with a strategic process while utilizing a script?.

We found the following note from the S.F. 49ers web site in 2002. Read and reflect.

Follow The Leader
Thursday, November 07, 2002
By: Ira Miller, NFL Insider
Bill Walsh might have been the only coach with the self-assurance to attempt it, much less pull it off. Who else could have conceived a plan, now routine in the NFL, to "script" in advance the offensive plays he would call early in a game?

Walsh still remembers the skepticism that greeted him in the 1970s when, as a top offensive assistant to Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals, he started doing it.

General reasoning at the time was that it simply couldn't be done. After all, some teams still allowed their quarterbacks to call plays on the field. Plus, there was no way to know game situations, field position, down-and-distance, and so on ahead of time. So how in the name of George Halas could you decide in advance which plays to call?

Actually, it's a pretty simple process, according to Walsh, now a consultant to the 49ers. Scripting, to his way of thinking, offered a wealth of benefits, including:
  • Seeing defensive adjustments to particular formations
  • Making sure there was a pass-run balance
  • Calling particular runs designed to set up play-action passes
  • Running trick plays
  • Designing plays to move the ball in small chunks and set up a deep throw
And all the planning could be done in the office during the week instead of on the sidelines during the frenzy of a game.

One more advantage: With a script, the offensive players could devote more study time to plays that definitely would be used in the game, as opposed to studying an entire game plan that invariably included a bunch of plays that would not be called.

"It got to the point where our offensive team really wanted to know those plays," Walsh recalled. "The players really appreciate the idea that you're giving them a (head) start on the game. You can sleep easier, you have more confidence going into the game, and you're more at ease.
"For the coaches, you can feel comfortable that the game is almost on automatic pilot when it starts."

When Walsh coached the 49ers to their first three Super Bowl championships during the 1980s, his offense was ahead of its time, and his scripted plays helped give them their edge. His first championship team, in 1981, outscored its three postseason opponents 58-27 during the first half. His second championship team piled up almost identical first-half numbers (55-26) during the 1984 postseason.

Sense a trend?

"You know what's going to be called and there's no reason to make a mistake," veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe says of the system inDenver, where coach Mike Shanahan scripts the first 15 offensive plays every week. "You already know the hot pickups. You already know if (the defense does) this, who we're going to. So that makes your job a lot easier."

Just about every team in the NFL now uses some form of scripting. Walsh used to do 25 plays, but current 49ers coach Steve Mariucci made 19 the magic number this year -- in tribute, he said, to the late Johnny Unitas, who wore that number.

Most teams script about 15 plays. Shanahan and Cleveland coach Butch Davis take it a step further with a short script of six to eight plays to open the second half. Arizona limits its opening script to 12 plays. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and the New York Giants script 10 each.

One possible downside with scripting is that the game can take on a different feel after the initial burst. Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre used to complain that play caller Tom Rossley was too slow to get plays in once the script ran out. That forced Favre, who likes to keep a fast pace on the field, to begin ad-libbing.

"That had frustrated him," Rossley said. "He needs time to get up there and see. I hadn't been good at it. I've made a conscious effort to get him the play earlier."

There are, of course, some misconceptions about scripting.

49ers coach Steve Mariucci looks to Bill Walsh's expertise in scripting plays. While there might be a long script of plays, they are not called blindly in order. If teams are facing third-and-20 or short-yardage situations, a goal-line play or something other than normal down-and-distance and field position, coaches will go to the plays they have categorized for those situations.

"Would you run 25 in order? No," Walsh said. "Let's say, of the 25, you'd run 18 or 19 sort of in order. If something really worked or you saw something in the defense, you'd go back to (a play). To me, it was just sort of a safety net because there's so much emotion to start the game, you want to think clearly, and this, in a sense, forces you to stay with a regimen that you clinically planned prior to the game."

Walsh can recall games in which the script worked to perfection. So can Shanahan, who was pulling the strings as offensive coordinator when the 49ers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of Super Bowl XXIX against San Diego, and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, the play caller when they scored 55 points against Denver in Super Bowl XXIV.

There were other days when Walsh was forced to adapt on the fly because the Giants switched linebacker Lawrence Taylor to the other side of the formation or the weather was lousy. There also was one time when the 49ers were playing the Rams and the late Fritz Shurmur changed up his defense, going from a 3-4 to an even front.

"It really caught me personally off guard," Walsh recalled. "It took me a dozen plays to get going on it."

Of course, that didn't happen very often, and Walsh credits the script with making possible his last championship team, in 1988, when the 49ers had to go to Chicago to play the NFC Championship Game in frigid conditions.

"The scripting saved us because I couldn't think," he said. "It was minus-35 wind chill, and there was no way I could look at a game plan or pull something out of my head. All I wanted to do was run for cover, go in where it was warm, for survival. So in that case, the plan was what saved us."

Years later, the plan still works. In racing to a 6-2 start this season, the 49ers have outscored their opponents 125-66 during the first two periods, the biggest first-half margin of any team in the league at the midseason point.

Apparently, even after three decades, nothing beats a good script.

Side note: Since this article is 9+ yrs old, the above link is no longer functional.
Click here for a updated post on the opening plays script. This new post delineates more specifics about that topic.

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