JOE COLE / HERALD DEMOCRAT
Denison’s Josh Gibson (12) hauls down Stephenville’s Cody Cardwell during the 4A Region I Area playoff game on Nov. 22, 1997. Denison beat Stephenville 43-18 on their way to a State 4A runner up finish. It was also the last of three consecutive victories Denison had against Stephenville and its legendary offensive coach, Art Briles. Briles has gone on to lead Baylor back to respectibility.
Baylor head football coach Art Briles didn’t invent the spread offense, but he did perfect his version of it while leading Stephenville High School into legendary status during the 1990s.
Wouldn’t you know another Yellow Jackets program — this one from Denison — showed the football world how to beat Briles’ offensive schemes long before Robert Griffin III could use them to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy.
From 1995 -1997 Denison sent Stephenville home from the playoffs, beating the Yellowjackets 38-13, 27-16 and 43-18.
College coaches could blame former Denison head coach and athletic director Bob Brown for knocking Briles into their ranks, when Briles left high schools in 1999 to become the running backs coach at Texas Tech. Brown scoffed at that notion. “I have the highest regard for Art,” Brown said. “He was several steps ahead of the rest of us installing the spread offense in Texas.” And to be fair, when realignment moved Denison to Region II, Stephenville did go on to win back to back 4A state championships in 1998 and 1999.
Brown, who retired with a 191-124-4 career record and is ranked No. 92 among Texas’ winningest high school coaches, was a more traditional football coach who believed in the running game. Of course having talented running backs like Reggie Hunt in 1995, who played at TCU and was a star linebacker in the CFL known as “The Reaper” and Chris Robertson, 1996-97, who played at Texas, the University of Houston (where Briles played) and eventually ended up with the Green Bay Packers made Brown’s decision to rely on the running game easy to understand.
What Briles was doing at Stephenville was breaking down a convention that high school football teams couldn’t throw the ball and win, they had to rely on a more traditional approach of running the football with an occasional forward pass mixed in. Briles’ Stephenville teams proved high school players could adapt to a spread offense and be extremely successful, and the offense spread to powerhouses like Southlake Carroll and became the norm instead of the exception at the high school and now the college level.
”There are a lot of similarities between what Baylor runs and what Stephenville ran offensively,” Brown said in a telephone interview. “The credit for our success went to our defensive coordinator at the time, Richard Martin.
Martin came to Denison after serving as defensive coordinator with John Outlaw at Sherman. “He spent a lot of time on video,” Brown said, “and he picked up on how Briles grouped his players, and then we knew what he was fixing to run offensively. It gave us the ability to know what we needed to run and who we needed to have in defensively.” Brown said what Denison coaches knew was that when they saw certain numbers of players go into the game, then they could tell what two or maybe three plays Stephenville might be running.
Brown said that right before he retired, he made the switch to the spread offense by hiring Cody White, and his decision was influenced by what Briles was able to accomplish with his offenses at Stephenville. Brown said Denison’s personnel at the time, the advent of 7-on-7 helped make his decision easier. “I had a chance to visit with (new Denison head football coach) Chad Rogers and he was with Art (Briles) at Tech,” Brown said. “A lot of the things Chad will do offensively is what Art did at Tech, and the fans will get a chance to see that.”