Bob Stitt has made his place in college football coaching by thinking outside the tackle box.
Montana's newest head coach sees few limitations in offensive play calling.
"A lot of coaches would say, 'Well, who does that? What other school does that?' " said Nolan Swett, wide receivers coach under Stitt at the Colorado School of Mines. "Coach Stitt will say, 'Well no one does it. But if it's good, why does it matter?' "
The University of Montana made official the hiring of the offensive innovator Tuesday, opening up a new era in Grizzly football. Like much of the Big Sky Conference ahead of it, Montana is now thinking offensively.
Over his 15 seasons at the School of Mines, Stitt's teams were known for throwing the ball around – his quarterback led all of NCAA Division II this fall with nearly 4,300 passing yards on 570 attempts. It's a tactic that translates well to the Big Sky where UM ranked ninth in total offense last season and still nearly eclipsed the 400-yard-average plateau (398.1 ypg).
Swett, who served as an assistant under Stitt for five seasons at the Golden, Colorado engineering school, doesn't see his former program leader changing that approach in his first FCS-level head position.
"It's a real fun offense to be a part of – obviously points, yards, all that kind of stuff," Swett said. "He's really good at picking apart defenses and, ideally, never making them (guess) right."
Mines finished 10-2 this past season and averaged 522.5 yards a game, with 378 of those coming through the air. Apples to oranges, but that total would have slid in a fraction of a yard behind Eastern Washington in terms of Big Sky teams.
Tempo and the confusion it causes defenses reign supreme in a Stitt-led attack, Mines second-year athletic director David Hansburg said. CSM ran the same kind of hurry-up offense that gained mainstream acceptance at places like Oregon, Baylor and Washington State recently.
"Coach Stitt has a unique style in terms of running many, many plays as quickly as he can," said Hansburg, a former college football coach himself. "He calls his plays in a fearless manner."
But the game plan itself is less complicated than you'd think, Swett added. At Mines, the Orediggers thrived on identifying weaknesses in the defense and exploiting them with a correct play.
Quick audibles at the line of scrimmage coupled with no-huddle play calling leave little time for defenses to react, even less for them to react properly.
"Instead of reinventing the wheel all week ... we do our offense," said Swett, a tight end at Division III Colorado College in Colorado Springs in his playing days. "We do what we do.
"What changes is what aspect and how we attack the defense week to week depending on what they're going to be giving us."
The Diggers relied on high-percentage passes – sophomore starter Justin Dvorak completed 65 percent of those 570 attempts this year – and utilizing as many weapons as they had. Seven players had 25 catches or more for the 2014 team, including 84 for team leader Jimmy Ellis.
"It's fun to be in that kind of offense because everybody's getting balls, it's not just one big-time receiver," Swett said. "The running back, I don't know, he caught something like 30, 40 balls for us this year."
Actually a few more than that. Senior running back Tevin Champagne nabbed 59, third-most on the team, for 417 yards and four scores.
Griz fans worried about a one-dimensional offense can relax, if Champagne's workload is any indication at least. The 5-foot-11 petroleum engineering major also rushed for 1,084 yards.
The "fly sweep" has become one of Stitt's calling cards, a receiver end-around short pass that sees the WR cut between the center and his quarterback back in the shotgun formation. But Swett insists the fly sweep is but one of many wrinkles in the coach's dangerous offense.
"Rushing up to the line of scrimmage and right when (the defense) gets set, some guy goes in motion so they have to shift and change," he began. "We would do some motioning, though we're not exactly Auburn where every play there's a guy going back and forth kind of thing."
The Orediggers made good use of pistol and shotgun formations, typically with four-receiver personnel sets, Swett explained. An athletic quarterback then had his pick of passing options to run through.
Or perhaps take off and run on his own. Dvorak, the 6-foot QB, was the team's second-leading rusher.
One position at Montana that may get a little less use is punter. Stitt's squad went for it on fourth down more than any D-II school in the nation, 51 times. Mines converted on 65 percent (33-51) of those tries, though – a better percentage than the team's performances on third down (40 percent).
"The philosophy is if it's fourth-and-3 and I convert, wherever I am on the field, (Stitt) views that as a turnover in his favor," Hansburg said. "When you're executing, it's very frustrating for an opponent's defense."
Griz fans will get their first true view of Stitt's unique offense when Montana opens the 2015 season at home against North Dakota State on Aug. 29.