From Miami: Now Malzahn Gets the 'Wildcat' Credit

by Jim Harris  on Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2008 11:48 am  

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The Miami Dolphins' "Wildcat" story never ends. After writing that Miami quarterback coach David Lee had invented the formation at Arkansas and put it to great use Sunday in the Dolphins' rout of the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde got deeper into the "Wildcat" history and discovered Gus Malzahn.

Hyde got Malzahn, the former Springdale High and Unviersity of Arkansas assistant coach who is now at Tulsa, on the phone earlier this week to discuss the "Wildcat" genesis:

"Wait, please don't make it sound, you know, like I 'invented' anything," Malzahn, 43, said. "Football's a game where you use ideas that you see. I've used everyone's ideas. This isn't about me at all. Please don't make it sound that way."

OK. Fair enough. But let's study the progression of the "Wildcat" package that led to the Dolphins scoring four touchdowns with it against New England and dumbing down Bill Belichick for one day.

In the fall of 2005, Springdale High's version of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams were receiver Damian Williams and quarterback Mitch Mustain. Both are at the University of Southern California now.

One of the plays Malzahn invented for them was a version of the Wildcat package the Dolphins used to stun New England. Springdale won the Arkansas state title in 2005.

In 2006, Malzahn became Arkansas' offensive coordinator. There he inherited talents like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, now with the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.

"Please don't present this as anything more than a way to get the best players on the field at the same time," Malzahn said.

He fine-tuned the Wildcat package. When Arkansas clinched the Southeastern Conference West Division against Tennessee that year, McFadden used it to run for 181 yards, score two touchdowns and throw for a third. Sound familiar, Ronnie Brown?

In 2007, Malzahn became the University of Tulsa's offensive coordinator. Suddenly, it became the No. 1 offense in the country. Meanwhile, David Lee replaced him at Arkansas. Lee inherited the Wildcat package. Using it, McFadden ran for 206 yards and completed three passes to beat top-ranked LSU.

Cut to this season. Lee is the new Dolphins quarterbacks coach. With him came the Wildcat package. He's no doubt put in variations and options to tailor it to the Dolphins' players.

"Shoot, David Lee is a smart coach and it takes a lot of guts to call it in a NFL game like that," Malzahn said.

Hey, when the basic stuff isn't working -- and don't Arkansas Razorback fans know all about the basic stuff not working before Malzahn joined the Hogs' staff -- you try something else. Even if that means digging back into the Sammy Baugh playbook of the 1930s and 1940s. This is, after all, a variation of the single wing and misdirection, and it's still about -- as Malzahn says -- getting the best players on the field at one time and causing the defense to have to react in ways it's not used to.

Hyde and Malzahn continue their conversation about Miami's success with the "Wildcat" formation:

Did he feel a tinge of pride?

[Malzahn] sighed over the phone. "Look I've got to get back to what I'm doing here," he said. "I really, sincerely don't want any credit for this. I'm a little gun-shy. I've just been blessed to be in the right situation with the right players." 




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