NORMAN — After last season, Oklahoma coaches knew they wanted to make a change in the offense, regardless of who the new quarterback was going to be.
The Sooners had run the pistol formation before, but Bob Stoops thought an expanded use of the offense — with the addition of an option element — might be just what the offense needed.
So Stoops called in the inventor of the pistol — former Nevada coach Chris Ault — to help the Sooners expand their use of the formation.
Ault, who stepped down at Nevada in December, visited Norman for two days during the spring, primarily spending time with Stoops and co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
“The exchange with their coaches over the two days and watching spring football and stuff, I was really impressed with what they had already installed from the pistol and whatever they were going to take away from our conversation,” Ault told The Oklahoman. “It was a lot of fun. To me, it was a two-day coaching clinic. I enjoyed being with those guys and glad to hear they've adopted a little bit of it.”
Stoops said before the season the offense wouldn't look much different from what the Sooners ran with Landry Jones behind center, but the option with the increased use of the pistol is nothing like anything OU has used since Stoops took over.
“When I said it's not gonna look much different, all our passing game, all the other stuff is all the same,” Stoops said. “That's one wrinkle that was different.
“It's a significant wrinkle.”
Using the pistol — where the quarterback lines up four yards behind the center, shorter than a traditional shotgun, with one running back directly behind him — with an option element is exactly what Ault intended when he devised the offense in 2005.
“I loved the shotgun,” Ault said. “I always enjoyed throwing it but what I did not like about the shotgun was the run game. I felt with the (running back) on the hip of the quarterback, you know your first movement would be East-West rather than North-South.”
When Ault came up with the offense, even his own coaches weren't too sure about it.
“Assistant coaches were looking at you out of one eye thinking, ‘We better get our resumes ready,” Ault said.
The success with the offense wasn't immediate — the Wolfpack lost 55-21 to Washington State in the pistol's debut — but it came quickly.
“It was ugly,” Ault said. “There were snaps all over the place, the timing wasn't there, but I was very optimistic. I could see if we could get it — if you can get the timing down — I felt that this thing could be advantageous for us.”
But after averaging less than 20 points in their first three games, Nevada averaged nearly 40 in their final nine, including a bowl victory.
Less than three years later, Ault watched as LSU ran the pistol in its 38-24 win over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.
Since then, the offense has exploded across football — college, high schools and even the NFL. Ault's former quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, runs the pistol with the San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks, Redskins and other NFL teams are also utilizing a form of the offense.
The Sooners went through some growing pains in the spring with the installation of the offense. It's also part of the reason Stoops kept OU's practices closed.
“I didn't get frustrated,” Stoops said. “I just knew it was gonna take time. And again, probably you see why too, we protect our practices. Everybody isn't out there filming it, everybody doesn't know what we're doing on both sides of the ball early in the season.”
Ault wasn't able to watch last week's game as he returned home to Reno, Nev., after spending some time with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he said he hoped to see the Sooners run his offense soon.
Oklahoma's opponent Saturday, West Virginia, also runs the pistol at times and used it with some success last week against William and Mary.
Later this month, the Sooners will face another team that brought Ault in over the summer when they travel to Notre Dame.
“I thought if you could take the quarterback, move him off the line and keep the running back at the same depth he'd be at in the I-formation and see if you can coordinate a downhill running game, it would be advantageous to you in the pass and the run,” Ault said. “That's really how it all started. The advantages in my mind, and I'm very biased, in the pistol offense your downhill offense is excellent. It's an I-formation without a lead fullback. If you run a little bit of the read (option), you don't have to run as much as we did, but you run a little bit of it and it becomes a two-back offense with one running back back there.”
* Born: Nov. 8, 1946
* Head coach: Nevada (1976-1992, 1994-1995, 2004-2012).
* Record: 233-109-1
* Current job: Consultant, Kansas City Chiefs
* Notable: Creator of the pistol offense. … Was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. … Coached current 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at Nevada. … The field at Mackay Stadium, Nevada's home field, will be renamed after Ault prior to Nevada's home opener against UC-Davis. … Coached the Wolf Pack to bowl appearances in each of his final eight seasons. … Played quarterback at Nevada from 1965-68.