When it comes down to it, everyone wants to be the person that comes up with the next great innovation. Be it a new type of restaurant, product, or service, everyone is hoping that they can strike gold from a simple idea. Simply stated, you need to think about how you think about things. It rings true. Stop thinking about things as a whole part of something. Rather, think of things in parts of a whole. Take everything into consideration, even the past and you might be apart of the next innovation.

Think Simple

When you think of a sport like football, you break each game into variables of offense, defense and special teams. But what I am asking you to do is think about football more individually. Think about all of the aspects that go into every position on offense and defense. The lineman and all of the skill positions on both sides of the ball. Think about every thing that must go right on either side if the ball for each side to be successful. For the defense to win the play, every defensive lineman needs to read their key successfully. Not to mention what the linebackers and defensive backs have to do to stop a rudimentary offensive play. Everything has to be perfect. Now, are there times that one guy or a greatly scouted and executed blitz ruin a play completely? Absolutely. But what I am getting at, is, think outside the box.

I am not just talking about schemes per se, I am talking about every aspect of whatever sport you are affiliated with. At anytime, there is always a chance that you can be a part of a moment of innovation. You might be a tennis coach, a soccer coach or a baseball coach, but you could be a part of a staff that comes up with what is the equivalent of the no huddle offense of your specific sport. All I am saying is everyone can learn from the past, history definitely repeats itself, especially in sports. Taking something simple from the past and simply tweaking it can lead to a completely new innovation. 

Past Innovation

When I think about past innovation within sport, my favorite example involves Pop Warner. In the early 1900’s, football began to build steam at the college level. Compared to what football looks like today, the sport resembled a scene out of the movie 300. Two forces slamming against each other in tight formations gaining or losing short yardage one play at a time. Despite football’s momentum, the sport was in dire straights. People were dying from slamming their heads against one another. It got so serious that it required presidential intervention. A committee got together and changed the rules of the game and added some safety precautions. One of the major rule changes was the legalization of the forward pass.

Glenn “Pop” Warner

Insert Pop Warner, who was coaching a team of all Native Americans at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. In 1907, his team stunned the college football world. Using the forward pass, Carlisle was able to beat powerhouses such as Penn, Harvard and Princeton. The pass revolutionized the game. Not only did it limit the head to head contact, it also made the game more entertaining.

Warner took the new rules and exploited them to the fullest extent. The forward pass was a very unorthodox way to win games at the time. Even though it was a legal play, there were penalties for incomplete passes and whoever threw the ball had to throw it over the center of the offensive line. Thus, the majority of other teams threw the ball three to four times a game. Warner and his Carlisle team threw the ball sometimes more than half of its plays during a game. Always coming up with new innovative ways to get their players involved. This added many variables for a defense to defend. What Warner had to do was to think about how he thought about the game. He knew that every defense was going to try and stop the run game. So his innovation included the run game to manipulate the eyes of defenses. In his offense you could never tell who was going to get the ball. There were people motioning and lots of well sold fakes to get the defense to think one person had the ball while another was running open down the field waiting for a pass. This offense became what is known today as the Single Wing offense. Defenses could no longer just sell out against the run, they had to take into account every eligible person on the field. This allowed both the run and pass game to be complements of each other.

If Warner would have just tried to be a part of the status quo and continued to run the ball like everyone else, who knows how long it would have taken for offenses to mold into what they are today. Some credit Notre Dame for the forward pass in 1913. So, maybe the game would have evolved on its own but I like to think that the Notre Dame coaches saw what Warner was doing and decided to take the forward pass and make it their own.

Present Innovation

From time to time innovation is not necessarily something brand new. Sometimes innovation comes from improving an existing idea. If you watch teams like Oregon, Auburn, or see the use of the “wildcat”, you are watching offenses that are an homage to what Pop Warner did way back in 1907. Many moving parts, misdirection and the forward pass are all aspects of Warners offense that are very present in today’s game. These aspects are even more prominent at the high school level of football where most teams do not have freak athletes like pro teams do. They have to use misdirection and innovation to give them an edge. Teams take successful schemes and techniques and constantly tweak them and shape them into similar but new ideas.

Auburn Tiger Head Coach Gus Malzahn


For example, Gus Malzahn’s Auburn offense has been on the forefront of offensive innovation over the past five years since Cam Newton ran all over the Oregon Ducks in what was the 2011 BCS National Championship game. But if you look at the schemes or listen to Malzahn talk about his offense, he contributes his success to the decades old Wing-T offense (yes, an innovation derived from Warner’s single wing offense). Malzahn took concepts and philosophies from Tubby Raymond’s 1960’s Delaware Wing-T and gave them a face lift bringing it into the 21st century with a bang. Using the same old wing plays but putting them into new spread formations and adding moving parts have put Malzahn’s offenses towards the top of the country in offense. Taking something old and battle tasted but tweaking it in his own why proved to be simple innovations that have put Auburn in line to win championships. This can also be true in regards to business or anything else you are trying to do.

An even newer instance of this is the development of the Run Pass Option(RPO) that has taken the football world by storm. Teams have taken Warner’s idea of misdirection and forward passing, and added another element to it. The RPO gives a quarterback the ability to read one defensive player and make him wrong, regardless of how he reacts. The quarterback has an option to either give the run play if the defender attempts to defend the pass. Or throw a pass if the defender attempts to defend the run. This takes Warner’s idea to another level. The offensive line will sell that it is a run by making the defender read run and reacting to it. The innovation comes in when a receiver runs a route into the area that the defender just vacated and a pass is completed, sometimes completely undefended. This is much like the read option that can stretch a defense horizontally with an added element of the pass which stretches a defense vertically as well. They took the idea of the option and said, “why can’t we throw it too?” Boom, offenses have exploded over the past few years. It is all about coming up with something that people have not seen before.

Summing it Up

In closing, innovation is all around you. Watch how people do things, how they act, what they do. This will start to give you ideas on how to improve things. This is what guys like Warner and Malzahn did. They saw something they liked and improved on it to make it their own.  You never know when a mundane everyday idea can be improved by one simple tweak. It is all about how you think about how you think about things. Think simple and you might come up with the next great innovation.


To learn more about any of the coaches or concepts above, please visit the following links.

Pop Warner

Gus Malzahn

Tubby Raymond

Information on RPOs

Information on The Wing-T Offense