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J. L. Knox, Second's Mentor, Defends Use of Huddle System --Says That Huddle Gives Offense Greater Versatility


"There is absolutely no ground for intelligent condemnation of the huddle system of giving signals," said J. L. Knox '98, coach of the University football seconds in an interview with a CRIMSON representative yesterday. "Those who criticise it base their arguments either on the manner in which poorly coached teams execute the huddle, or on facts for which the huddle is not responsible. The huddle system is a perfectly natural development from the continuous battle between the offense and the defense which has characterized football since its beginning.

Offense Develops Shift

"About 1908 some of the better coaches realized that it was possible to use a scientifically planned offense in such a way as to capitalize weakness indicated by the defensive team whereby the defensive team was individually or collectively out of position. Percy Haughton was one of the first to recognize this fact and for years remained in advance of other coaches by planning plays to utilize any error in the opponents' defense. Other coaches gradually appreciated and duplicated his methods. This very naturally resulted in various coaches so planning and teaching defense that these weaknesses ceased to exist, and they even went so far as to have defensive players deliberately make it apparent that they were out of position, in order to invite the offense to strike apparent weaknesses only to find that the weakness was not real when the play was actually under way. It is obvious, therefore, that the power of the offense in 1908 consisted largely in the quarterback guessing a play. Then followed the period of a definite, scientifically planned offense. Finally the development of defense nullified these scientific methods of play selection. To put the offense again in the ascendancy, various coaches developed shift plays in order to compel the defense to change its alignment after being prepared to meet the offense which threatened before the shift took place.

"As time went on the defense again learned to shift with the offensive team and not leave dangerous openings which the offense could capitalize. It then became necessary for the offense to evolve some other method of keeping the defense in doubt as to the real intent of the attack, and the huddle was a very natural answer to this problem. From the huddle a team can come out into any one of a multitude of formations the exact nature of which is concealed from the defense until almost the instant when the ball is put in play. This result could not be achieved if the team made all its moves from a standard formation, because the defense could move with, and as fast as the offense.

Huddle Insures Team of Signals

"There are other features of the huddle which are of great value to the team which has the ball. It assures that the signal will be understood by the whole team. It allows for slight modifications in the plays to take advantages of weakness in the defense. Furthermore it allows men to be shifted in the lineup without attracting the attention of the defense, thus making better use of the available weapons in a perfectly legitimate manner.

Huddle Does Not Slow Up Game

"Those who criticise the huddle should not base their criticism on the performance of poorly coached teams. A properly coached team huddles within three-yards of the ball and leaves the huddle fast. While they are in the huddle the quarterback is the only one to speak, and he merely gives the signal. Records show that the average number of plays in a game is as great with the huddle system as it was with the old system of calling signals, so the huddle does not slow up the game. As for stalling, the referee is near enough to know what goes on in the huddle, and if he lets a team hold a town meeting in their huddle, it is his responsibility and no fault of the huddle system.

"The huddle is a perfectly proper and sportsmanlike means of introducing into the game the element of surprise, without which it would be stupid beyond words. The spectators for whom the game is made interesting ought certainly to be the last to complain if a few moments are required to set the stage for the thrill producers. Until a better means of achieving surprise is evolved, the huddle has come to stay."

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