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Davis made the mold for Arena ball

Fifteen years later, the offensive innovator is a first-time Arena coach responsible for living up to his example.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


Tim Marcum remembers the first indoor football game, a prototype played in Rockford, Ill., between two makeshift teams -- the homestanding Metros and the Chicago Politicians.

The date was April 26, 1986, and the game wasn't everything Marcum or the game's creator, Jim Foster, had envisioned.

"There were four linemen, two running backs and one wide receiver," Marcum said. "It was dive right, dive left. It was actually a pretty boring situation."

Enter Mouse Davis.

Enter the three-wide-receiver set.

Enter fun.

"The one thing that Jim Foster did that was certainly important and has a lot to do with the longevity of this league is he hired Mouse as the director of football operations," Marcum said.

Fifteen years later, Darrel "Mouse" Davis has come full circle, coaching for the first time in the league he helped mold. Tonight his Detroit Fury hosts Marcum's Tampa Bay Storm, the first time the two friends will coach against each other since their days in the United State Football League.

As the Arena League's director of football operations from 1986-88, Davis was responsible for bringing in the players and coaches who made up the league's first season.

He also took the result of that prototype game and tipped it on its head. Four linemen became three, two running backs became one, one wide receiver became three -- and voila!

Arena football.

"What we did was, we got down to basically what the formations are that the league runs right now," Davis said. "We basically went through and made the rules geared to more scoring and a lot of hitting. Those are the two things people like to see anyways. We wanted to have real high-scoring games."

Davis also came up rules to facilitate scoring, including the man-to-man defense, keeping the linebackers in a "box" so they can't roam and make plays, and eliminating the outside rush on kicks. When it came time to tweak the defensive rules, Davis brought in Marcum, who had been out of coaching for a few months after the USFL folded in mid-1986.

"It sounded like fun," Marcum said, "and it was."

Davis says that's what it's about for him. Since he began coaching, his offenses have gained fame -- and criticism -- for their flair and innovation (no tight end, three-, four- and five-receiver sets), not to mention high point totals. His name became the one most associated with the run-and-shoot offense.

He says he didn't invent the offense. That distinction belongs to Ohio high school coach Glenn "Tiger" Ellison, who wrote the book Run-and-Shoot Football: Offense of the Future.

Davis read it and became famous for modifying it.

"You basically steal everything you do and then do what you do and make it your own," Davis said. "You never really initiate anything in football -- well, you do, but it's usually the little things. What we did was very new and different to the NFL and football, and it's been a very good thing, as far as I'm concerned."

The run-and-shoot's birth can be traced to 1975, when Davis became the coach at Portland State.

That year, his quarterback, June Jones (who later used the run-and-shoot in the NFL with Houston and Atlanta) threw for a Division II record 3,518 yards. His next quarterback, Neil Lomax, set NCAA records of 13,220 yards and 106 touchdowns in 42 games.

Davis' teams scored points in bunches in the Canadian Football League, World Football League and USFL, where his quarterback, Jim Kelly, set a professional record with 5,793 yards for Houston in 1984.

"He's been running that offense since Moby Dick was a minnow," Marcum said. "He made it famous. ... He just opened up the game. And people like Bill Walsh and Mike Shanahan, you ask them, and they'll tell you that Mouse Davis has had as much to do with the "West Coast' offense as anyone."

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