Colin Kaepernick and Chris Ault in 2010. (USAT Sports Images)
The Pistol formation -- that backfield concept which has the quarterback lined up about four yards behind center and the halfback another three yards behind him -- took the NFL by storm in 2012. Between Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick, more quarterbacks were running Pistol more effectively than ever before. That formation was invented by former Nevada head coach Chris Ault in 2005, and forwarded by Ault with Kaepernick as his quarterback from 2007 through 2010. In the NFL, we first saw the Pistol in 2008, when Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Chan Gailey reacted to the loss of his starting and backup quarterbacks (Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle, respectively) by inserting third-stringer Tyler Thigpen in the lineup and running Pistol to a high degree of effectiveness for a few weeks.
It took the rest of the league a while to catch up, but a handful of teams finally did. And now, the man responsible for that concept is also in the NFL. Ault, who retired from his position at Nevada in December of last year, has agreed to become an offensive consultant with the Kansas City Chiefs. Bob LaMonte, Ault's agent, confirmed the news to Dan Hinxman of RGJ.com.
“I’m excited to have an opportunity like this,” the 66-year-old Ault said on Monday. "It’s an opportunity to get a feel for the NFL. [Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has] hired an experienced staff. The timing is exciting. I’m going to learn an awful lot about the NFL.”
When asked whether he would be making more than the estimated $500,000 per season he was making at Nevada after 28 years there, Ault laughed and said that it wasn't about the money.
“I told Coach Reid, ‘Whatever I can do to help you win a Super Bowl, I’ll do it.’”
The Ault hire is interesting on a number of levels. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who was traded to Kansas City this offseason, was made redundant in Jim Harbaugh's offense in part because Kaepernick offered so much more dynamism, both in and out of the Pistol. So, while Kaepernick went from Ault to Harbaugh, Smith will take the reverse path. Smith, who is more mobile than people generally think he is, did run some option stuff for Urban Meyer at Utah, and it's possible that he could work his way into a few Pistol packages sooner than later.
Reid, who's been a disciple of the West Coast Offense since his days under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay in the 1990s, also hired longtime head coach and coordinator Brad Childress as a "spread game analyst," which would lead the alert reader to assume that either Reid is about to change his offensive philosophies, or he's worried enough about facing other offenses who run option and Pistol to get guys on his staff who understand how to break it down. Per the team's official website, Childress was tasked with helping to assemble information for the draft, and "he will also conduct thorough research on the spread offense, benefitting not just the offense but also helping the Chiefs defense."
Whether Smith runs mobile offenses or not may be the short-term question, but an advance knowledge of these philosophies could help the Chiefs as they look to transition to a new franchise quarterback -- perhaps in the 2014 NFL draft. Smith is a safe player at the position, but he has obvious limitations, and he may be a bridge player until Reid and his staff can get their hands on a 2014 quarterback class that looks to be far more interesting than the 2013 version.
While Florida State's E.J. Manuel (who was selected 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills) was the only highly-ranked quarterback in this class with serious experience in option packages, next year's group has quite a few prospects with abilities that lead more toward that kind of thinking. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Clemson's Tajh Boyd don't just possess impressive passing skill sets -- they can also provide threats to defenses with their running abilities. And though Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel hasn't run as much specialized option stuff as some might assume, he's certainly got the athleticism (if not yet the proven passing ability) to make things interesting at the NFL level, should he make himself available for the 2014 draft.
In January, I wondered why some smart and opportunistic NFL team hadn't hired Ault yet. It's good to see that the Chiefs did, because who would understand the Pistol better than the man who first put it together?
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