An interview with former Bucs offensive co-ordinator Greg Olson
This interview took place in March 2011. Sometimes in this job you get really lucky with the people you are able to talk to. And one of those is Greg Olson, the man who controlled the offense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the sideline and was probably closer to Josh Freeman than any other person.
Outside of the general type of questions about his role on the team and the players he works with, many people wanted to know about the Bucs' actual game plan, the play calls and the terminology used. And Greg was happy to delve into the workings of the Tampa Bay offense and let you in on some audibles and plays from the 2010 playbook that previously would only have been known to the players and coaching staff alone.
Do you have names for your player groupings - 22 Heavy - 3 WRs etc?
Yes we do. There is Base (two backs, one tight end) and then Zebra, U, Big U, Tiger etc. Running backs’ coach Steve Logan is next to me on the sideline and he is in charge of getting the right personnel on the field. I call the formation to him and he takes care of that whilst I call the actual play to the quarterback.
Running plays - what are your numberings for hole gaps?
Odd numbers to the left, even to the right. The one hole is between center and left guard, three between left guard and left center and so on.
Do you run kill calls, call two plays in huddle and then kill one at the line because the other is more likely to work?
Yes we do. It’s a standard part of our offense.
In shotgun formations, Josh Freeman and Cadillac Williams often walk up to the line of scrimmage before returning back to run the play - why?
They are arranging the protections with the offensive line. It is a team thing with the line and Cadillac. They all want to be on the same page when the play is run.
Do you ever draw up plays on a napkin in a restaurant?
Oh yes. All of us co-ordinators do. It’s part of the job.
Can you give us an exact play and call from last season?
OK. The touchdown pass to Arrelious Benn in the flat from the home win over Carolina. That was STRONG RIGHT ZIP FAKE 18 NAKED Z SLIDE.
In a game earlier this season, Josh Freeman called out "Halle Berry LA Halle Berry LA" - what was that about? Ed - we originally had to take this out of the piece as the play was still in the playbook! Now as the years have gone by, we can put Greg's answer back in - that is an audible to a running play. Josh can call any actress - a West Coast will be a run to the left, East Coast to the right. He also had "Jennifer Aniston New York" earlier this year.
In one game last year, the commentators talked about a “Smoke route”. What is that?
We actually call it “Stork” but “Smoke” is the name that most teams use. It is where you have called a running play but the quarterback will look over, see a defensive back giving a receiver a large cushion, and will simply take the snap and throw it straight out there without the other players being told.
Do the Bucs’ wide receivers have many option routes or are they mostly rigid?
We have a few option routes that we use, some that can go three ways. But they are mainly conversions of routes based on defensive techniques that they see.
How many plays do you have in your playbook?
A lot! In the hundreds.
How much does the playlist change from week to week?
We probably bring in about 30 new plays a week. We bring back some old favourites from earlier in the season at times as well as brand new ones.
How hard is it to keep plays up your sleeve for later in the season?
We have such a big bank of plays because we have taught the principles right to the players. It is a long season and you need to bring new things in to keep them motivated as the year goes on. Sometimes we bring plays in for two to three weeks down the road because we think they will work well against a certain team or defense.
Do you often run something that you know won't work, to set something up that will?
Not intentionally. You have to think that every play is going to work right. But you do run things at times to set up other plays later in the drive or game.
How often does a play work 100% perfectly?
It would be a touchdown every time if it did! We coach our players to think that way.
How often do you call the same play multiple times?
If a play has worked well then we may come back to it later in the game but to be honest, not very often at all.
Most offensive co-ordinators work from a booth but you are always on the sideline - how come?
It’s actually about 50-50 between those who go upstairs and those down on the field in the NFL. I have always preferred it because you have better communication with the players, not just the quarterbacks but all of the offense. It is easier to do it in pro football because you get the Polaroid images coming down of formations and plays, something you don’t get in the college game.
How come we never seem to see you smiling on the sideline?
Really? I do smile a lot, I guess the cameras just didn’t pick that up. I’ll try and do that more next season then!
In three words, describe Raheem Morris as head coach.
Wow, only three? OK, energetic, motivated and inspirational.
Are you involved with the development of Josh Freeman or is that more quarterbacks’ coach Alex Van Pelt's role?
It’s both of us. We work on that together and not just Josh Freeman but the other quarterbacks as well.
Using Josh Johnson as a wildcat quarterback - was that your idea?
Yes it was. Josh has great athletic ability and he deserved the chance to get on the field for all the work he has put in. He is one of our better players. We had a small package of plays for him last season and we have more up our sleeve that we will be working on this off-season.
How often did Donald Penn bug you to call the play he scored on against San Francisco on the tackle eligible play?
Every day. He was always going on about calling it. So when we did, it made everyone happy. That sort of thing just makes great team spirit.
And is there anything in the rumour that Penn tried to sit in the receivers’ meeting the following day?
That is definitely the sort of thing Donald would do.
When we go against a team with a stud Defensive player (Darrelle Revis of the Jets for example) how much do you try to keep the ball away from him? Or do you see it as a challenge to take him on and better him?
We are always looking for match-ups. I would go away from a specific player if the match-up elsewhere on the field was going to work better for us.
Jon Gruden played QB in the Super Bowl build-up to simulate Rich Gannon - would you ever do that?
We always try to have fun on the training field at times but I don’t know if I could ever see myself actually doing that though.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The time I have to spend away from my family. There are some long hours during the season. But there are no really hard parts to this job. I love it and I am getting paid to coach football. You can’t beat that.
You have moved around the country with your job. Is that hard on your family?
We have been fortunate that my wife Lissa has been able to get a coaching job everywhere we have gone. She is currently a track coach at South Florida. But every move I have made has been a really positive one and all of us (including our twins) have been fortunate for it to work out well each time.
And does one day down the road, the title “Head Coach Greg Olson” sound good to you?
I guess everyone has goals but if it didn’t happen, it would not be that bad. As I said, I am lucky enough to be getting paid to come to work every day and coach football.