Madison, Wis. – UW Athletic Director Chris McIntosh made the splash hire of the CFB offseason when he convinced Luke Fickell to leave Cincinnati and become the head coach of the Wisconsin football program.
That hiring left most around Badger nation wondering what kind of offense he planned on running in Madison. A few weeks ago, we got our answer when Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported that coach Fickell made a splash of his own by hiring Phil Longo as UW’s next offensive coordinator.
Who is Phil Longo?
Phil Longo comes to UW from Chapel Hills after spending the past four seasons as UNC’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under legendary head coach Mack Brown. Before that, he served as the Ole Miss OC for two seasons after finding tremendous success at FCS Sam Houston State.
Unlike former OC Bobby Engram, Longo has a long track record of production and successful playcalling at every coaching stop. North Carolina finished top-3 in the ACC in yards per play in each of the past four seasons.
He did a terrific job developing quarterbacks at UNC. Longo mentored Sam Howell, a fifth round NFL draft selection in 2021. In 2022, coach Longo played a significant role in redshirt freshman Drake Maye’s breakout season, where he passed for the third-most yards and fifth-most touchdowns in the FBS – vaulting him onto the NFL’s radar.
What Will Phil Longo Bring to Wisconsin Football?
Now, brace yourselves, Wisconsin football traditionalists…because he runs a very different system than we’ve grown accustomed to watching.
Longo, who became enamored with Mike Leach’s teachings at a coaching clinic many years ago, is a practitioner of the air-raid offense. Before you spit out your morning coffee – there is a twist.
Yes, it’s an air raid offense, but it’s combined with a…wait for it…power running game. In the words of UNC head coach Mack Brown, “He’s [Longo] taken what they did with the Oklahoma system with Lincoln Riley, and he’s combined [it with] the power running game.”
“Balance is distribution of the football to all the weapons of the offense,” Longo told UW reporters. “That’s the goal of Wisconsin’s offense.”
His playbook famously consists of 30 or fewer plays, where the offense can run multiple different looks based on the defensive alignment. Longo’s offensive goal is to remain simplistic while providing the illusion of complexity.
“Stretch them [opponents] horizontally pre-snap, vertically post-snap and then let’s find a way to get them the ball so we can watch athletes go be athletes,” Longo told UW reporters when discussing his offensive philosophy.
Another unique component of his system, in my opinion, is that he doesn’t ask his quarterbacks to read defenders. Instead, the focus is on the “looks” of the offensive set. It’s a progression concept where he wants his signal caller to trust their eyes and focus more on his receivers.
After watching some of coach Longo’s youtube videos outlining his offense, I feel comfortable saying we’ll see some zone-read, RPOs, spread concepts, and myriad other designed QB runs. He runs each of these different looks from similar formations – making opposing defenses account for every possibility.
The Big Question
Adding coach Longo as the new OC doesn’t mean Wisconsin football will become Ohio State overnight – far from it. However, it’s a clear shift in the offensive philosophy at UW, and on paper, it should appeal more to recruits.
The big question is can Wisconsin football bring in the necessary talent/athletes to accentuate the strengths of the offensive scheme?
A large part of recruiting comes down to geography and a player’s proximity to home. Coach Fickell has set parameters (a 300-mile radius) in which he intends to build the core of this program. Although that radius includes several major midwestern cities, the state of Wisconsin doesn’t churn out a ton of skill-position players. I understand he will go outside of these parameters to find players, but the point is he will have a harder time finding what the offense needs close to home.
Luke Fickell and Phil Longo have already begun to add dynamic talent at QB, which is an important first step to answering this question. It’ll be interesting to see if the top WRs follow these QBs to Madison.
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