Recently, I was lucky enough to come across a first printing of Championship Football: A Guide for Player, Coach and Fan by former LSU, Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Texas head coach Dana Xenophon Bible.
Bible, a contemporary of Warner, Rockne, et al., is partially responsible for establishing college football as a national phenomenon in the first half of the twentieth century, as he was, for a time, the most successful coach at three different universities in the American West. His only losing seasons were his first two at the reclamation project named the University of Texas, this in a career that touched on four decades.
And true to his middle-namesake, Bible’s football manual serves as a de facto history of the game and reportage of others’ wisdom. As Xenophon did for Socrates, so Bible does for Warner and Rockne and Wade and Neyland. His football manual has little in the way of tactics per se, and wouldn’t seem anachronistic were it published in 1917 over its real date of 1947.
Were a high school coach in today’s America set up the line drills for his players as described in Bible’s manual, he would likely be charged with child abuse. Were a college coach to run any number of the variant pre-Lombari shallow sweep or dive plays against a contemporary top-tier defensive front seven, he may be charged with manslaughter.
This man never met a passing down he couldn’t punt his way out of.
However, even though line shifts and the single wing have long been replaced by zone blocking and the read option, Bible’s influence on college football is still felt today. His so-called “Bible Plan” of dividing the state of Texas into smaller territories and relying on prominent alumni to pipeline young talent through the high school system is the model upon which today’s coaches still most commonly rely and the backbone of the accompanying Rivals / Scout / ESPN / perv-of-the-month recruitnik-fueled coverage.
Another of Bible’s signatures was his commitment to scouting the opposition. Certainly not an innovation, but his micro-managerial obsession with knowing the enemy filtered down to his players, whom he would require submit essays and answer questionnaires about upcoming opponents.
If there is a modern-day echo of Bible among the coaching ranks, it is arguably our very own four-million-dollar man, who on numerous times has insisted that he’s never innovated anything in football, he just “works with what works” harder than those around him.
The Great Leader’s salary will not go unmentioned, whether as prize or folly, throughout the upcoming season and a good many more to come. But one should remember that such compensation is not limited to the autumn months. In fact, one could rightly posit that the Great Leader earns the lion’s share of that salary on signing day, with special notice given to the following months in which the arcane scholarship algebra is negotiated to permit those top recruits’ arrival.
There is more to being a good coach than calling clever plays. After all, Bible’s reputation for scouting the other team was borne from necessity.
Opponents would already know his plays—all three of them.