New Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said he saw that “being a contrarian worked very well in the PAC-12 as we won three out of five conference championships.” He was referring, of course, to the philosophy of ground-and-pound (that was once known simply as football). Jim Harbaugh instituted that thinking at Stanford before continuing with it at Michigan after a successful stop in the NFL.
History shows that any philosophy can work, if everyone is committed to the success thereof. It can fail spectacularly if everything is not working. Styles are not the only thing that determines the success of a program. Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema brought the Badgers’ wildly successful (and consistently so) run game to Arkansas and failed.
Still, there is value in being different and making adjustments. Football is cyclical and absorbs and reacts to new ideas near-instantaneously. The spread was a reaction to the defense’s own reaction to the West Coast offense, which was a reaction to the defense before it. As the game adapts to the spread, by putting smaller, more versatile players, the pivot to power is just a natural reaction. The fundamentals of blocking and tackling do not change. Chip Kelly always said that nothing he did at Oregon was new but just old things done in slightly different packaging. Teams still run pin-and-pull plays, they are just changing who is doing the it and where.
It is never so much what you are doing, but how well you are doing it. To wit: The Sean Kugler era of UTEP football. Lest we forget so quickly, the Miners tried to bring old-school, ground-and-pound football to CUSA and had some success doing so. When the talent left (Aaron Jones) it suddenly was not so effective.
For Bloomgren, the challenge will not only be on technique and coaching, but in recruiting players that can do it at this level. For his part, he thinks the city and Rice’s unique positioning in college football will help, “We are in Houston. The best of both worlds (athletics and location) is what I am constantly selling. We are a hail mary throw from the world’s largest medical center, four pro sports teams. It’s a fun time to be in Houston.”
The Owls were only a few plays away from being a much different team, and were coached by one of the best college coaches in state history. While every rebuilding situation is different, Rice’s situation looks more like FAU’s did than any other.
Speaking of the eastern Owls of Boca Raton, their title game matchup was an example of two successful rebuilds that followed very different paths. North Texas is an Air Raid offense, with emphasis on passing. FAU brought Baylor’s super simplistic, but incredibly successful system that is all about tempo runs and deep tosses.
There are many ways to win a football game and build a program. If Bloomgren is going do good things at Rice, it will not only be because of style, but all the other things that go into building a good program. Given the situation, that looks more likely than not.