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New Clarion U. Offensive Coordinator Brings Wealth of Knowledge as “Modern” Father of Fly Offense

Photo courtesy of Clarion Athletics

CLARION, Pa. – Mark Speckman isn’t a name that jumps off the page when you read it, but perhaps it’s a name that should Fly off the page.

Just Google Speckman’s name and the Fly offense and you will find out why.

That’s what first-year Clarion Golden Eagles football coach Raymond Monica did when he found out he was going to need a new offensive coordinator after his first choice, Peter Collins, was offered a job on Pat Narduzzi’s staff at Pitt.

“The way it happened is that Greg Stevens, the offensive coordinator over at Southeastern (Lousiana) called me one day and said ‘hey, this guy called me about a guy, do you mind talking to him? ,” Monica said in his patented southern drawl. “When I Googled him when I saw his face I was like, I know this guy. I’ve seen him in magazines. I’ve seen him before in magazines somewhere. Then you start researching him, and real ironic, the stuff that he does is stuff that we wanted to move to, to give ourselves a chance. It was really a perfect fit.”

           

That “stuff” is the Fly offense that is known better in Eastern US as the Jet Sweep, a term that Speckman, who many refer to as the “modern father” of the offense, bristles about.

“The Jet was stolen,” Speckman said. “It’s an East Coast term. I have my own theories of how it got here.”

The Fly should be very familiar to Western Pennsylvania sports fans considering it is the offense run by Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator and former Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

And, yes, Canada learned the offense from Speckman.

“I’m taking it all,” Speckman said laughing when asked how much credit he is taking for what Canada is doing. “I met Matt when he was the offensive coordinator at Indiana. We sat down, and he was very curious about it. When he went to Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, we kept in touch. We would call and do phone clinics. He was a guy, who in a sense, was low ego enough, to say maybe this is another way to do something. He wasn’t so dogmatic about his own scheme. He got it.”

But what is “it”?

           

The Fly is an offense that starts out going against the traditional thought process in football of north and south and instead goes east and west.

“There is going to be some deception,” Speckman said. “Hopefully, you divide the defense. The whole defense can’t just run to the ball.”

Speckman should know.

After all, he took an offense that was created in the 1950s at Delano High School just north of Bakersfield, Calif., and refined it to the point where many NFL teams at least use part of the concepts.

“This whole thing started in the 50s down in Delano,” Speckman said. “The guy (Gene Beck) had a bunch of little Hispanic kids, and he had to get outside. That’s what he came up with. When I got it, it was one formation and four plays. So, what I’ll take credit for is expanding it into an offensive system that I have run for many, many years.”

Speckman didn’t get the offense directly from Beck but instead from Phil Maas, who became the head football coach at North Monterey (Calif.) high school in 1979.

           

Maas had gotten the offense directly from Beck, and when he went to North Monterey he had a ninth-grade coach/American History teacher with no hands – Speckman was born with full-length arms but no hands – who had always been a defensive guy having played defense in college at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif, halfway between San Jose and San Francisco (Speckman is a member of the Menlo College Hall of Fame after also serving as the head coach at the school in 2012).

Photo courtesy of Clarion Athletics

Speckman said the offense just didn’t look right to him.

“You go to football clinics, and everything is north-south, get vertical,” Speckman said.”And we’re going sideways. My background as a defensive guy, I’m looking at it and going that would be easy to stop. We just run with it. But, as I have learned over the years, and learned that year, there is just a strange phenomenon that happens when you do that motion. One guy is going almost full speed, and everybody else is standing still. That guy should win the race.”

At the time, the Fly was just a small part of North Monterey’s offense – remember it only had four plays to it.

           

“We were trying to run the Veer,” Speckman said. “The Veer was our offense. This was a wrinkle. We coached our butts off, but we still fumbled the ball. We still didn’t get the right splits. It’s a perfection offense. I was the freshmen coach. I just said I am going to run that Fly thing. It’s more efficient. It’s more effective. It’s more forgiving.”

Two years later, Speckman was hired as the head coach at Livingston (Calif.) High School east of San Jose.

“I was pretty young, 26,” Speckman said. “I didn’t know anything about offense. I wasn’t going to run the Veer. I just put this Fly thing in. Kids would screw up, and then I would say that looks good. We just kind of built lots of formations. I’ve always stayed in touch with Phil Maas and Roger Sugimoto (who came to North Monterey with Maas in 1979), the guys who kind of taught me. There is a cult of us out (in California). We have had a Fly clinic every year for like 25 years. There are guys who have kind of adopted this system.”

Those guys include Dan Hawkins, who put Boise State on the map using the offense, and, of course, Canada, who while taking some heat during his first year as the Steelers offensive coordinator now seems to have better personal – notably at quarterback – to run the system.

But what exactly is the Fly?

A 2017 story in The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rogue, La., about the Fly when Canada was the offensive coordinator at LSU written by Ross Dellenger said, “In its simplest form, the fly is based around stretching the field horizontally. The offense uses a man – normally a fast one, such as a receiver – to run behind the line of scrimmage before the snap, usually passing just behind a quarterback under center or in front of a shotgun-based QB at the snap. The motion man is a threat as a rusher or a receiver.”

In its simplest form, that is what it is.

But the offense has evolved over the years.

The shotgun formation, for example, wasn’t used in the offense until about 2002.

“It’s evolving all the time,” Speckman said. “We are always finding new plays. We have put in a lot more Wing stuff since Matt Canada has lived in that world. So, we’ve studied that. It’s endless possibilities with the motion and the formations.”

Heck, the original form of the offense didn’t even use the wide receiver to take the sweep but instead the tight end. It was only by accident that the wide receiver became the weapon.

“We always ran the sweep, for four or five years, to a tight end,” Speckman said. “That’s how I learned it. Then, one day, the tight end got hurt. So, a wide receiver went in and lined up out wide. Since we didn’t have a tight end, we ran the sweep to that side. We had a big play, and my defensive coordinator looked at me and said that was really fast. And I go, yeah we should probably try to work on that.

“Over the years, I would see what defenses would do, and you would stop the film and there was a big hole there. How do we hit that hole? We just kept trying. The greatest thing is, no one ever told me no. No one said you can’t do that.”

So the big question is how does an offensive mind – perhaps an offensive mind that should be talked about on the same levels as Bill Walsh, Don Coryell, and other innovators – end up at a tiny Division II school in Northwestern Pennsylvania that went winless a year ago and hasn’t seriously contended in the PSAC West in over a decade.

Chance and a baby.

Speckman was coaching at FCS California-Davis – he was getting ready to play California-Berkley, not California (Pa.) he joked – as the assistant head coach and running backs coach.

This was literally a month ago – mid-July.

He and his wife, Sue, were visiting their two daughters – Lisa and Julie – who live in New York City – the couple also has a son, Tim, who lives in Germany and works with a team that plays American football – when they found out that Julie was expecting a baby.

“We’ve been on the West Coast for quite a while,” Speckman said. “My wife is from Detroit, and our girls are in New York. We went out (to New York) in July, July 13. We found out our youngest, Julie, is having her first kid. My wife was real excited about that. And I was thinking, oh that is going to be expensive to fly her out here. Then, two days later, Coach Monica called me, and we Zoomed. Two days later, I rented a car and drove out here and looked at the place. My wife was all for it. I said, shoot, let’s do it. It was just a strange alignment of stars.”

Speckman had never even heard of Clarion – heck he said he still has a hard time spelling Pennsylvania – and had only been to Pittsburgh a few times, including to talk to Walt Harris when he was Pitt’s head coach about the Fly.

“Heck, I didn’t even know that Highway (Interstate) 80 went all the way from Sacramento to New York,” Speckman said.

But Speckman’s first impressions have been great ones.

“It’s beautiful,” Speckman said. “They say the weather is bad. It’s been great since I have been here. I get it. I’ve lived in Wisconsin. I’ve lived in Montreal.”

But most importantly, it’s less than five hours to Manhattan and his family.

“We’re four-and-a-half hours from Manhattan,” Speckman said. “We can go have dinner there. We can take a quick weekend there that won’t cost an arm and a leg. They can come to us. We’re going to have holidays together. We haven’t. Especially with the baby coming, my wife, we don’t owe her, but it’s her time to cash in, and I am still doing what I love.”

Speckman isn’t naive.

He knows it’s going to take time for Clarion’s program to turn around. The Golden Eagles enter the season having lost 16 straight games since beating Seton Hill, 42-16, Oct. 5, 2019. That includes an 0-10 season last year (there was no 2020 season because of the Pandemic). Add that to a new coaching staff and an offensive coordinator that has been on the job less than 30 days, and things might not look perfect in 2022.

“I wasn’t planning on being an offensive coordinator for the last six months like I should have been,” Speckman said. “When I got back from New York and my wife was pretty fired up about doing this, I just grabbed everything, all my papers, binders, everything, and I still had to drive three days. The biggest challenge is just catching up. Catching up on what I am supposed to be doing. Every day is a sprint just to get the practice plan, the terminology straight. I think it is getting the staff on the same page and getting the players terminology. They are learning a foreign language. They didn’t really have a language coming. It didn’t really matter what I did. Coach Monica said just use your stuff. After seven days, we aren’t there but we are close. We are getting there. I think we are on the right track. We have some good players.”

Clarion opens its season by hosting West Liberty for a Thursday night tilt on Sept. 1.

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