A preferred colloquialism of Bob Sphire's is "there are different ways to skin a cat."
The North Gwinnett coach talks through a thick mustache with an amicable, disarming likeability. His jargon exposes his Kentucky roots.
But ask the coach about football offenses and the jargon vanishes. His football roots dominate all others, like the thick reaches of oak trees that reshape the earth as they extend out. Offenses are the water to Sphire's football love.
He breaks down everything on the field. He looks at a football field like a grid on graph paper. He wants every square to be equal. Right. Left. Center. Short. Middle. Long. Each gap needs use for Sphire to be happy and for his offense to be effective.
"To me, distribution equals balance," Sphire said. "Our offense uses our skill positions in a way that uses the whole field, vertically and horizontally. Over the year, I want to look back and see each position all over the field.
"I guess it's modern day calculus."
The calculus line is a joke, but it's only partially jovial. Sphire's spread offense exudes a scientific aura. Sphire talks about using matchups and adjustments updated weekly and annually based on his roster.
In Sphire's two years at North Gwinnett, the scientific spread offense has worked. The Bulldogs are a combined 24-4 with a state championship appearance last season.
Cliches form from truths and Sphire's feline phrase finds a perfect anecdote in his opponent tonight: Brookwood.
The Broncos' football tradition rests on a philosophy of running over and through each opponent. They pay attention to matchups, but moreso on where to bull over weaknesses. It's an offense developed over time with deep Gwinnett area roots that values controlling the clock, shortening games and keeping other teams' offenses off the field.
"You kind of play keep away," said Brookwoood head coach Mark Crews, who along with Dave Hunter and T. McFerrin have helped established forms of this offense from South Gwinnett to Walton. "The things we do sort of radiate to a lot of different programs."
Crews may speak sans many of Sphire's fancy descriptors, but as a coach he has reared this run-based, ball-control offense. Brookwood linemen start weight training in seventh grade and all know what is expected. Sometimes the quarterback heads the attack. Other seasons it's a running back. But it is always a back behind a big line.
In Crews' six years at Brookwood, this ball control offense has worked. The Broncos are a combined 63-13 with two state championship appearances. Under Hunter, with the same philosophy, Brookwood won a state championship game at Valdosta without throwing a pass.
The Brookwood offense developed organically over time, rather than exploding onto the scene.
Starting in the 1980s, McFerrin, Hunter, Crews and others began building football programs with this philosophy. The most successful examples are Hunter and Crews' Brookwood program and McFerrin's at South Gwinnett, which mixed in the passing game much more prominently than the Broncos. And this group didn't start with a plan for domination, they found what consistently worked and perfected it.
"I don't know if there was any big catharsis where we sat down and said this is what we are going to do," Crews said.
Fittingly, Sphire's offense came about that way.
He had started a program from scratch in Lexington, Ky., and spent his early season using the run-based wing-T. He won some games, but could never beat a handful of other schools.
"(We) had lesser talent," Sphire admits.
One team, Harrisburg, always beat Sphire and it wore on him.
"We always played them close, but couldn't beat them," he said.
Sphire had seen some other teams in the state find success spreading the field and thought it may help eliminate some of his talent deficiencies. Harrisburg's first meeting with this new offense was a 62-14 loss.
"That pretty much sealed the deal," Sphire said.
Whether it's quadrants or cut blocks, quarterback draws or traps, both offenses put up points and wins. Both teams score plenty. Brookwood averaged 32.8 points a game last year. North 27.
Each coach enters tonight's game with a winning percentage over 80 at his current program. Both know football and how to win consistently. Sphire spends his offseason remolding his system to his players and Crews must decide how best to utilize his running threats. And when the season starts, the wins seem to show up, leaving Crews with another apt cliché for both programs.
"It's like they say, 'If you don't think it's broken, you don't go looking for ways to fix it," he said.
SideBar: NORTH GWINNETT AT BROOKWOOD
North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAA)
· Coach: Bob Sphire
· Record: 0-1
· Last week: Lost 36-21 to Byrnes (S.C.)
Brookwood Broncos (8-AAAAA)
· Coach: Mark Crews
· Record: 0-1
· Last week: Had a bye
Last meeting: North won 17-3 in 2007 playoffs
Directions to Brookwood High School: From I-85, go east on Pleasant Hill Road and merge onto Ronald Reagan Parkway. Proceed to the Five Forks-Trickum Road exit. Turn right and take the next left on Dogwood Road. School is on the right.
2007: North Gwinnett 17, Brookwood 3*
2007: North Gwinnett 22, Brookwood 21
2006: North Gwinnett 10, Brookwood 3
2003: Brookwood 42, North Gwinnett 14
2002: Brookwoood 14, North Gwinnett 6
2001: North Gwinnett 14, Brookwood 10
2000: Brookwood 34, North Gwinnett 8
*indicates playoff game