Upon his firing Friday from his post as the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Turk Schonert cited philosophical differences between he and head coach Dick Jauron as the chief reason for the decision. He also pointedly referred to the offense that Jauron envisions as a "Pop Warner offense," with fewer formations and plays. Said Schonert to WIVB's John Murphy: "[Jauron] limited me in formations, limited me in plays... he's been on my back all off-season."
Alex Van Pelt, a former Bills quarterback, most recently the team's quarterbacks coach, and only in the nascent stage of his NFL coaching career, has been tasked with operating Jauron's Pop Warner offense. The idea is to simplify, to perfect plays you're good at, and to run them repeatedly until opponents prove that they can stop them. You know who else plays with the same philosophy? Some guy named Peyton Manning.
Manning on offensive philosophy in SI.com
In his Just My Type interview for Sports Illustrated (in this case, the September 7 edition, page 36), Dan Patrick spoke with Manning about offensive philosophy. Manning's reply to a question about Chargers QB Philip Rivers perfectly exemplifies Jauron's plan moving forward:
Patrick: Last week Philip Rivers told me that he didn't like the idea of calling his own plays. What's he missing out on?
Manning: San Diego is a diverse offense - they have multiple formations and personnel groups, and they'll shift [a lot]. When it comes down to it, [the Colts are] trying to be good at a certain number of plays, and we're not afraid to run the same play over and over and over again. You've got to be careful trying to run 60 different plays in a game and being pretty good at most of them, as opposed to being great at this core group of plays. I certainly don't call all the plays - I just have the flexibility to change them.
Folks, this is exactly the philosophy that Jauron envisioned when he installed the no-huddle offense. He wants his offense to be up-tempo, and he wants to find the plays that the Bills excel at running and use them until opponents can stop them. Schonert is more like Norv Turner in that he likes a slightly larger call sheet on game days and being able to execute those plays.
Both philosophies have been proven to work. But you simply can't have a discrepancy between head coach and offensive coordinator. Clearly, Schonert's philosophy was not working for this offense. More importantly, QB Trent Edwards' apparent regression this pre-season can at least be partly blamed on the fact that, quite literally, he was hearing different things from his head coach and his offensive coordinator. There had to have been some hesitancy and frustration on Edwards' part. Schonert's firing was done out of necessity - the need to have a unified philosophy, and the need to keep your starting quarterback comfortable.
The clock is ticking on Jauron and Van Pelt
Jauron's Pop Warner philosophy is sound enough on its own merit, but it makes more sense for the Bills' current offensive personnel than does Schonert's philosophy. Edwards is a young quarterback, and he doesn't really excel at one thing. What he can do is process information quickly - when he knows what to expect, that is - and make quick decisions. That will be easier for him with a slimmed-down playbook full of more effective plays. Theoretically, this philosophy gets the ball into the hands of your playmakers more often, as it's less demanding on every player running the scheme. It also makes things easier on your young offensive linemen, as well.
Unfortunately, philosophy isn't enough in this league. No matter how smart it was to make this move, the timing stinks, because Van Pelt now has eight days to put his offense through the paces and find the right plays for that slimmed-down playbook. The timing, really, is the only immediate issue. The longer-term issue is building that playbook quickly enough so that the timing, and a probable slow start to the regular season, doesn't render the philosophy moot.
The clock is ticking. Philosophically, firing Schonert makes all the sense in the world. It won't matter if Jauron and Van Pelt can't turn that philosophy into production.