By Joey Lozano | Originally posted 9/3/2013
In spring 1983, while working in the public information office of the Alamo Community College District in San Antonio, Texas, I met Dr. James R. Smith, a veterinary allergist who would forever change the nature of my relationship with football.
To say that I never expected a self-described “itchy-dog doctor” whose career revolved around the care of pets stricken with skin ailments to change my involvement with football would be an understatement.
But a conversation with Smith during one late afternoon in February 1984 at a local fitness center enabled me to become involved with football in a new and exciting way. As I rested between sets of exercises, Smith told me he had talked by telephone earlier that day with Barry Switzer, the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma.
“Why were you on the phone with Barry Switzer?” I asked. “Did he have to buy 500 head of cattle from some recruit’s father to get the kid to sign with OU, and they all had skin disease?”
“No,” Smith replied, chuckling. “I invented a multiple offense for college football, and that’s what we were talking about.”
As a lifelong football fan, I was intrigued. And because I was looking to write my first freelance article for a local magazine, I asked Smith to talk more.
The next day, Smith told me that while he was a pre-veterinary medical student at Texas A&M University during the 1970s, he attempted to walk on as a quarterback.
The Aggies at the time were coached by Emory Bellard, who had invented the famed Wishbone offense while offensive coordinator at the University of Texas. Bellard’s Wishbone enabled Texas to win 30 consecutive college football games and a national championship in 1969.
In 1975, during the week of the Aggies’ annual Thanksgiving Day game against the archrival Longhorns, it was Smith’s job as the scout team quarterback to run the Texas Wishbone against the first-team defense.
Smith noted that every time he approached the second option key on the defensive line for the critical keep-or-pitch decision, “there was someone there to take my head off, whether I had the ball or not.”
The Aggie defense had the Wishbone dissected perfectly, and kept each play to little or no gain as they would several days later when they defeated Texas, 20-10.
As a result of his experience in practice that week, Smith determined that the Wishbone was too predictable and lacked versatility, deception, passing capability and scoring potential.
Of particular concern to Smith was that in the Wishbone, a talented running back was limited to attacking only one side of the defense from option plays and sweeps.
Smith felt that the triple option was still a powerful offensive weapon, so he set out to create an offense that would retain the threat of the triple option but offer greater deception, versatility and passing capability while letting talented runners attack either side of the defense.
The result was a formation that looks like a cross between the Wishbone and Power-I offenses. He dubbed the formation (shown in the illustration below) the I-Bone.
From this formation, Smith said, a team can run all the plays of the Wishbone, Houston Veer and I-formation offenses. Smith also incorporated the use of motion to let backs to move to either side of the formation as a lead blocker, receiver or decoy.
Smith also added a play-action passing attack designed to exploit a defense’s reaction to the threat of the triple option.
It was Smith’s hope to get a major college football team to run the I-Bone, and he thought the Sooners were tailor-made for it, so wrote to Switzer after the 1983 season.
After writing a feature article about Smith and his I-Bone offense for a San Antonio magazine, I offered to help him try to get a football team to run this offense. During the next several years, I researched numerous books on option football to learn the terminology, blocking rules and backfield techniques necessary to implement the I-Bone.
The result was a 100-page manual on the I-Bone, which was marketed through direct mail and magazine advertisements. During the next couple of years, approximately 500 high school and small-college football coaches purchased the manual. Orders were even received from coaches of American football teams in Europe.
I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction being able to provide football coaches with the offense. Still, I yearned to get a book version published.
Smith died unexpectedly in December 2001, never experiencing the pleasure of seeing a team run his brainchild offense.
I discontinued selling the manual after interest in option football waned, giving way to wide-open passing schemes that dominate the football landscape today.
But option-based offenses never completely disappeared from the football scene, continuing at the high school and some collegiate levels. So in 2008, I resumed my efforts to spread the I-Bone by writing articles for various coaching publications and websites.
After losing my job in July 2011, I returned to efforts to turn Smith’s scheme into a book. Finally, in 2012, my decades of work were realized when Coaches Choice, a leading publisher of instructional books, DVDs and other learning materials for the coaching profession, agreed to publish the book titled “Coaching the I-Bone Option Attack Offense.”
The following is a brief overview of the I-Bone.
The multiple I-Bone offensive package
The I-Bone is a four-back attack with a split end. The basic formation is the full-house set as illustrated above. The fullback aligns himself so that his heels are 3 yards from the line of scrimmage. The halfback aligns either directly behind the offensive guard or straddling the guard’s outside foot, about 4 yards from the ball. The tailback is directly behind the fullback, from 5½ to 7 yards away from the ball. The quarterback always lines up directly under center.
The following diagrams illustrate the I-Bone’s triple option and counter option plays.
The frontside I triple option:
The inside Houston Veer triple option
The outside Houston veer triple option:
The backside Wishbone triple option:
Being laid off from my job was not a pleasant experience, but it gave me the time and energy necessary to renew my efforts to get Smith’s I-Bone published in book form, fulfilling a 30-year dream.
It also enabled me to give something back to the game of football that I never dreamed would be possible.
I’ll always be grateful to that “itchy-dog doctor” who made it all possible.
Joey Lozano is a former writer, editor and spokesman for the Texas Education Agency and a former journalist with experience covering high school and college football in Central and North Texas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas and has more than 30 years of combined experience in journalism and public relations. The book, ‘Coaching the I Bone Option Attack Offense‘ is available through Amazon.