Appendix III: History of the “Winged T” – by Harold S. Westerman

In 1946 David M. Nelson, a former Michigan halfback who played in the backfield with Tom Harmon and Forrest Evashevski, accepted the position of Head Football Coach at Hillsdale College located in Hillsdale, Michigan. He hired Harold Westerman, a Michigan classmate as his backfield coach. Coach Nelson and Westerman put in and ran the Michigan unbalanced single-wing offense for the next two years with great success, losing only one game. In 1948 Nelson moved on to become the backfield coach at Harvard University with Art Valpey, another former Michigan player. Coach Westerman stayed on to continue coaching at Hillsdale, as he was also the Head Basketball coach at the time.

In the spring of 1949 Nelson accepted a position as Head Football Coach at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine. He immediately hired Harold Westerman as his backfield coach and Mike Lude as his line coach. Mike had been the captain of their 1946 Hillsdale team. John Cuddeback, also a former Hillsdale player, was hired as a graduate student to coach the ends.

Nelson’s 1949 University of Maine team ran the Michigan unbalanced single wing, the same as he had done at Hillsdale College. During that 1949 season it became apparent that there were many times when this unbalanced system was not able to utilize the best players available at a given time. This situation existed because each position was unique and had it’s own definite assignment for every play.

For example, the left end’s assignments were entirely different from those of the right end. The same was true of all other positions such as guards, tackles, and backs. If the third best player at any position were to be used, he would have to learn the assignments of the different positions for every play. Again as an example, if your best halfback was at left halfback and your next best halfback was at right half, and if one of them was unable to play, your third best back might not be able to play that position. You might have to play your fourth or fifth best back, not a good situation to say the least.

Coach Nelson had a very simple solution to this depth problem. It simply entailed changing from an unbalanced formation to a balanced or mirrored offense, thus enabling players to play either right or left positions as the assignments would be the same. The change was made prior to the 1950 season and would be called the “Winged T” Offense. The Maine staff, composed of head coach Dave Nelson, backfield coach Harold Westerman and line coach Milo Lude, would run this new offense for the first time.

The signals called by the quarterback were somewhat cumbersome, as he would have to name which back would carry the ball, then which hole to hit (point of attack), and then the series or pattern the backs would run.

The holes were numbered from right to left, 1 through 9. A right end run would be 1 and a left end run would be 9. The 2 and 8 holes would be over the ends, the 3 and 7 holes over the tackles, the 4 and 6 holes over the guards and the 5 hole over the center. Thus the offensive linemen from right to left were known as the 2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8 men.

The series or patterns that the back would run were named – Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog. The following year these names would be replaced by numbers such as teens, twenties, thirties, forties, etc.

That first year, however, examples for plays would be: “left half at 1 Charlie,” “fullback at 4 Baker,” or “right half at 8 dog.” Words such as trap, cross, reach, drive, bootleg or counter were also added to indicate different blocking patterns for the linemen. These assignments could, however, be changed at the last second by a lineman calling signals at the line of scrimmage just prior to the snap, as the defense might dictate.

This entire numbering system and play calling system would be changed during the spring practice at the University of Maine by Coach Westerman who took over the head job after Nelson left for Delaware. Both men had realized the need for a simpler and less complicated system. Westy sent Dave his suggestions, and Dave adopted them at Delaware that spring.

The new play calling system would be patterned after the old single wing numbering system from Michigan consisting of three numbers. The first number would indicate the backfield formation. The second number would be the series or pattern that the backs would run, and the third number would dictate the point of attack or hole the back would hit (examples: 121, 134, 148 or 221, 234, 248, etc.) An X or Y could be added if a back should go in motion, adding an additional problem for the opponent’s defense.

The possible plays were endless and yet simple for the players to learn. Over the next fifteen years both Nelson at Delaware and Westerman at Maine would initiate many variations used with success. Both Nelson and Westerman retired from active coaching after the 1966 football season. Both continued as Athletic Directors at their respective schools.

Westerman had hired Harold “Tubby” Raymond as an assistant coach at Maine just prior to the 1951 season. He coached at Maine as an assistant for three years before accepting a similar position at Delaware with Head Coach Nelson. Raymond became Head Coach at Delaware upon Nelson’s retirement in 1966, then remained in the position until his retirement in 2002 after 36 seasons. Over the years Raymond’s offense became known as the Delaware “Wing T” even though its origin was by Dave Nelson, first at the University of Maine back in 1950 and subsequently at the University of Delaware from 1951 through the1966 season.


2 Responses to Appendix III: History of the “Winged T” – by Harold S. Westerman

  1. Pingback: FBCP Episode 203 – Origins of The Wing-T Offense

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