Ted Mullen will not go down in football history as The Tinkerer. They won't write about him breaking out the test tubes and chalk boards, cooking up some new offensive answer to unleash on each new season.
No, Mullen, Anaheim High School's new football coach, is more conservationist than innovator. He has run his I-formation offense for all the 17 seasons he has coached. Other coaches may marvel at the pitch-happy wishbone or pass-crazed novelties such as the run and shoot, but Mullen has packed up his warhorse and toted it around Villa Park, University and Foothill high schools before landing this season at Anaheim. The high schools change, the talent varies, but the offense remains the same.
"I've never considered running another offense," Mullen said. "I've had some assistant coaches who wanted me to put in the option, and I've just laughed at them."
Mullen thinks the formation that has two backs in line behind the quarterback is simply the best. Misdirection plays can easily be run. Passes can easily be thrown when the third running back lines up almost as a wide receiver. And the tailback, who lines up as much as eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, has time to build up speed and adjust to the defense.
And why bother changing models when the old standby is working well enough to give you a career record of 135-50-5? At Villa Park, Mullen posted a 72-28-2 record in nine seasons and took the Spartans to three straight Southern Conference title games, winning the championship in 1976. Though his Foothill team finished 7-5 last season, he guided the Knights to a Southern Conference championship in 1981 and lost in the 1983 title game.
"To be successful in the I, all you need is a fullback who acts like a guard and a good tailback," Mullen said. "You don't need the skilled person at quarterback."
Indeed, the offense is well-suited for a talented running back. John Fischbeck, who played for Mullen at Foothill and is now a freshman at Golden West College, rushed for more than 2,700 yards in three seasons.
"I think it's an overall great offense," Fischbeck said. "You don't have to rush yourself, you can see things develop. It's the same offense we run at Golden West."
Some coaches change their offense every year to complement the talent of their new players. A coach who has a good running quarterback might use an option. One who has a good passer and receiver might use an NFL-type offense. Mullen, though, believes the players must fit themselves into his offense. Even if that means a potentially great option quarterback must direct an offense he might not execute as well.
"I will never run an option," Mullen said. "To run an option you have to spend all your time running it to do it well. The option, I don't care what the talent is, you've got to spend more time with it than the I.
"In the I, if you have a great quarterback, you throw more out of it. A lot of guys say I'm going to adapt to their talent; I get the talent to wherever they can fit in the I. I think the I is versatile enough that your talent can adapt to it. I'd run the I no matter what (talent) I had."