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He's Been on the Run Since His Days at L.A. Baptist and Now . . . : Markham Is Back Making His Pitch

October 07, 1994|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BLOOMINGTON — Take a look at Don Markham's bare-bones playbook at Bloomington Highand you figure he played too many games wearing a leather helmet.

Seven plays. Drawn on a yellow legal pad. Four of them runs, two of which are called 90% of the time. Two tight ends. Double-wing.

Running isn't everything, it's darned near the only thing with Markham.

"From the very beginning, I found that if you're going to throw the ball, you can't always count on the guy throwing it or the guy catching it," Markham said. "So, we ended up running the ball all the time because of the high percentages in it. We keep it simple."

Yet it's extraordinary how overpowering and widely emulated Markham's meat-and-potatoes approach has become. Since conceiving the so-called "pitch offense" as a confident first-year coach at L.A. Baptist in 1970, Markham has dominated in coaching stints at Colton, Bishop Amat, Ramona and Bandon High in Oregon.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of coaches have modeled Markham's offense, which relies on a sturdy tailback, double- and triple-team blocking and linemen pulling on nearly every play.

"People are running it all over California," said Bob Francola, who has never met Markham but employs the pitch as coach at Kennedy High. "Anyone who has been exposed to it realizes how simple it is and what a good high school offense it is. We finally got with it in '91."

Markham will return to the region where his scheme began and is still running strong when he brings his undefeated team to Chaminade tonight for a 7:30 nonleague game.

In his first season, Markham has transformed Bloomington from a 1-9 team that finished fifth in the Division VIII Sunkist League into a streamlined machine that has run over four opponents by a combined score of 280-31.

Victories have been so lopsided that opposing coaches have charged Markham with, well, running up the score. That's exactly what the Bruins have done, throwing only 11 passes.

The accusations are nothing new. Markham faced them at L.A. Baptist, which he led to a Southern Section championship in 1971, and again at Colton, which he built into a power during an 11-year reign that ended in 1983. In Oregon, where his team played for the state championship in 1992, Markham was largely responsible for the creation of a 45-point mercy rule, often referred to as the "Bandon Rule."

"I don't say anything to all of that," Markham said of the complaints. "We're not trying to pile it on. We're just trying to do our best."

For Markham, 55, who was a wide receiver at Birmingham High and Cal State Northridge, tonight's visit will be a reunion of sorts. In 1984, he served with Chaminade Coach Rich Lawson at Pierce College. He was offensive coordinator as the Brahmas compiled a 10-1 record. Lawson, then a 29-year-old line coach, considered Markham a mentor. He adopted his system when he became coach at Chaminade in 1987.

"I remember sitting beside him on all the bus rides, watching him draw plays on a pad," Lawson said. "He'd draw lots of circles with the linemen real tight, real close together, saying 'Believe in me. This will work.'

"It is the offense of choice here. I would have to say that I developed a lot of my philosophies from him."

Same goes for George Giannini, who put the pitch in place at Montclair Prep in 1988 and has watched his backs run wild ever since. In 1989, Michael Jones and Derek Sparks both rushed for more than 1,700 yards. In 1992, Eliel Swinton ran for 2,384 yards. Last season, Wilbert Smith gained 2,512 yards.

"We run the pitch over and over again in practice in 15-minute segments," Giannini said. "Basically, it's very simple. Once you know it and have the fortitude to stick with it, it runs very well. But Markham runs it better than anyone."

Fred Grimes, a Pierce assistant in 1984, installed the pitch as coach at North Hollywood. In 1988, Chip Grant rushed for more than 2,000 yards. Today, Grimes is offensive coordinator at Kennedy.

What's the secret to the pitch? "It puts as many people as possible at the point of attack," Francola said. "Fullbacks, quarterbacks, anyone else you can find."

Linemen stand inches apart, providing a shorter route to the point of attack on pulling assignments. The idea is to overwhelm defenders with many blockers from many angles. The tailback receives the toss from the quarterback several yards behind the line of scrimmage and follows a wave of blockers--which often includes the quarterback.

At Bloomington, that's senior Jason Buell, who isn't complaining.

"I kind of like it," Buell said. "As long as we're winning. Last year, I was getting sacked all the time. Coach Markham came in and we all heard his system worked. We were willing to try anything."

Bloomington has only 19 players and Markham doesn't like to carry more than about 25 on the roster. He has only one assistant.

"With small numbers, it's easier to coach," he said.

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