This article was originally published on Direct Snap, June 18, 2007. It is reprinted by permission of the author, Bill Statz.
I am taking the opportunity to write about Howard Jones. This great coach is one of my favorite single wing coaches. I will discuss and illustrate his “Birdcage Shift.” His teams shifted into numerous formations from the “Birdcage.”
Jones is one the few to coach teams at 3 different schools to undefeated seasons. In fact, does any one know another coach who did this feat? (Direct Snap note: Gil Dobie did the feat at North Dakota State, Washington and Cornell) Jones’ 1909 Yale team, 1921 and 1922 Iowa teams, and many USC teams went undefeated. Jones’ USC teams were 5-0 in the Rose Bowl. This feat by his teams earned Jones the nickname “King if the Rose Bowl.”
Jones used unique terminology in his single wing system. He called the traditional single wing tailback the “quarterback.” Mark Bliss is a coach who does the same as Jones. I may be mistaken, but I believe Jim Ahern uses this term, too. Jones called the traditional single wing blocking back the “left halfback” or “inside halfback”. Jones called the traditional single wing wingback the “right halfback” or “outside halfback.” Jones called the left guard or inside guard the “running guard”. This is due to the fact that he pulled on nearly every play.
The “Birdcage Shift” allowed Jones’ teams to shift into numerous formations prior to the pause before the snap of the ball. A glaring drawback to shift was the inability to snap the ball on a quick count. This was due to not starting out with seven men on the line of scrimmage. You started out with only four men on the line of scrimmage. There are four other men who are stacked behind the first line of four men. The remaining three men are stacked at the top of the 4-4-3 configured “birdcage.”
The following illustrations show how Jones’ teams went from the 4-4-3 configured “birdcage” to their final formation to execute the offensive play. These formations were the unbalanced single wing, the unbalanced box, the unbalanced short side wing, the unbalanced five man long side with backfield variations, and the balanced box. The “box” term is not the Notre Dame Box, but Jones’ box kept the two halfbacks inside as double blocking backs with the quarterback and fullback behind and inside of them forming a nearly visual “box” backfield. Please feel free to correspond with me.
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Below is film of USC’s first drive in the 1933 Rose Bowl against Pittsburgh; Coach Jones’ Trojans use several of his Birdcage variations diagrammed above.
Below is a background video on Howard Jones and his time at USC.
Finally, below is film of Northwestern using the Birdcage Shift in 1935 in a 14-7 win at Notre Dame.
Fear The Wing!