A run-oriented football offense has been described as “three/four/five yards and a cloud of dust.” The term is usually credited to The Ohio State University football team that was coached by Woody Hayes (1913-1987, head coach from 1951-1978), but he didn’t coin it.
A newspaper article from December 12, 1956 had “One writer described it as ‘the cloud of dust and five yards split T offense,’” but the name of the writer wasn’t given. “Five yards and a cloud of dust” was used on December 28, 1956; “four yards and a cloud of dust” was used on April 22, 1957; and “three-four yards and a cloud of dust” was used on May 22, 1958.
Herman Hickman (1911-1958) quoted University of Texas coach Darrell Royal in Sports Illustrated on September 23, 1957, “People call the split-T the ‘four-yards-and-cloud-of-dust’ offense.” A September 22, 1958 Sports Illustrated article had “‘four yards and a cloud of dust,’ as the late Herman Hickman used to call it,” but there’s insufficient evidence that Hickman (also a TV and radio analyst) coined the saying.
Wikipedia: Offensive philosophy (American football)
“Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust”
Used to describe run-heavy offenses such as the system run by Woody Hayes of The Ohio State University from the 1950s to 1970s. A quarterback playing under Hayes would often throw fewer than 10 passes a game. Hayes is credited as saying, “Three things can happen when you pass the ball and two of them are bad”. This is a ball control offense that relies on maximizing time of possession by running the ball inside (between the tackles) in order to systematically advance the ball down the field. Hayes relied heavily on the fullback off-tackle play.
Wikipedia: Woody Hayes
Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes (February 14, 1913 – March 12, 1987) was an American football player and coach. He served as the head coach at Denison University (1946–1948), Miami University (1949–1950), and Ohio State University (1951–1978), compiling a career college football record of 238–72–10.
Hayes’ basic coaching philosophy was that “nobody could win football games unless they regarded the game positively and would agree to pay the price that success demands of a team.” His conservative style of football (especially on offense) was often described as “three yards and a cloud of dust”—in other words, a “crunching, frontal assault of muscle against muscle, bone upon bone, will against will.” The basic, bread-and-butter play in Hayes’ playbook was a fullback off-guard run or a tailback off tackle play. Hayes was often quoted as saying “only three things can happen when you pass (a completion, an incompletion, and an interception) and two of them are bad.”
Wikipedia: Herman Hickman
Herman M. Hickman (October 1, 1911 - April 25, 1958) was a Hall of Fame college football player for the University of Tennessee and later a head football coach for Yale University. He played pro football for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers. He later was a TV and radio analyst and broadcaster, a writer and a professional wrestler.
12 December 1956, Kingsport (TN) News, “‘56 Football Trend Was ‘Ball Control’” by Hugh Fullerton Jr. (AP), pg. 18, col. 7:
A number ascribed the tendency to run with the ball instead of throw it to the widespread popularity of the split T formation—primarily a running and ball control offense. One writer described it as “the cloud of dust and five yards split T offense.”
28 December 1956, Springfield (MA) Union, “West Coast Prefers Wide-Open Football; Jack Curtice of Utah Scoffs at Ball-Control Tactics Now in Practice,” pg. 25, col. 6:
Stanford, Cal., Dec. 27 (UP)—Ball control means only “five yards and a cloud of dust” to Jack Curtice, the quick-witted Utah coach now happily working with the west Shrine team which will use the split end and flanker-type of football which he prefers.
April 22, 1957
Still A Year Away
As the pigskin enjoyed its annual spring frolic with its omens of fall fortunes, Notre Dame showed it is STILL A YEAR AWAY
In the Southwest a pair of new coaches—Bill Meek of SMU, transplanted from the University of Houston, and Darrell Royal of Texas, newly arrived from Washington—took over in an atmosphere of no-nonsense, devil-take-the-hindmost practice sessions. Meek, whose manner belies his name, shuffled the SMU lineup vigorously, worked the team into a lather and impressed the alumni tremendously. Royal, a recent graduate of the Bud Wilkinson-Oklahoma Institute of Applied Football Knowledge, discovered a halfback—Walter Fondren—who is “quick as a hiccup,” promptly made him a T quarterback and observed sadly, “You don’t take over a team that lost nine games and inherit a warm bed.” Royal’s split-T strategy (“four yards and a cloud of dust”) brings to an end the era of razzle-dazzle football that has been the Texas trademark for a generation.
September 23, 1957
HERMAN HICKMAN SAYS:
THE DOPE: The Longhorns were taken over by Coach Darrell Royal this spring, and he cast a more than usually baleful eye at his prospects. Said he, a bit sourly, “One does not take over a squad that has lost nine games and inherit a warm bed.” The Longhorns should be better than they were last year, but Royal will need an electric blanket if he wants that warm bed this fall. In Walter Fondren he has a fine split-T quarterback. Fondren has the straightaway speed and the quickness a split-T operator needs, and he passes well enough; but no offense can be built upon one man. Although 25 lettermen have returned, the team will still be a young one since Royal plans a plentiful use of sophomore talent. He is changing the offense from the wide-open passing favored by Ed Price to a more conservative, conventional split-T. “People call the split-T the ‘four-yards-and-cloud-of-dust’ offense,” Royal says, “and that’s just what it is. But it still gets those yards for you and keeps the ball.” With strength only at quarterback and center and a dearth of material at end, tackle and guard in the line, it seems likely that the Longhorns will have difficulty getting the four yards.
October 28, 1957
Cactus Jack And His Kokomos
Utah’s Coach Curtice, with a wild and wonderful offense, has revolutionized football in the air-minded Skyline Conference
“I’m offense-minded,” he said with relish. “Now this team has good speed and agility. We can go wide and we can pass. We hit for long scores. We’re not a ball-controlled team, but we can play ball control when we want to. And we can do it passing, not hitting for four yards in a cloud of dust like the split-T teams.”
3 January 1958, Hartford (CT) Courant, “Wilkinson Digs Up Plays From Own Minnesota Days,” pg. 17:
Wilkinson said he actually started changing his style of offense more than a year ago from the line smashing “four yards and a cloud of dust” to a more open type of football.
29 May 1958, Oregonian (Portland, OR), sec. 2, pg. 1, col. 3:
“This is not the kind of material that lends itself to three-four yards and a cloud of dust.”
(Harry Misseldine in the Spokane Spokesman Review—ed.)
September 22, 1958
The Eleven Best Elevens
Red Grange and other members of the Sports Illustrated football staff make the annual selection of the 11 teams most likely to win the nation’s final applause in the 1958 season
Except in isolated instances such as Ohio State, where the supply of topnotch football players is so overwhelmingly abundant, the day of grind-‘em-out split-T football—“four yards and a cloud of dust,” as the late Herman Hickman used to call it—is about over.
Google News Archive
23 October 1958, News and Courier (Charleston, SC), “Soup’s One” by Ed Campbell, pg. 1D, col. 6:
Three Yards, A Cloud, And Kick
“Unless my addition is way off, three yards and a cloud of dust for three downs adds up to nine yards and brings on the kicking situation.”
16 October 1959, Omaha (NE) World-Herald, pg. 47, col. 1:
“We watch the pros and will never go back to double duty ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ brand of ball played by the colleges.”
(A college fan from Big Springs—ed.)
Darrell Royal Talks Football
By Darrell Royal with Blackie Sherrod
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
But with the type of offense we had before, the “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust,” we felt our chances of putting the ball in play 12 or 15 times on a scoring drive were practically nil.
OCLC WorldCat record
Three yards and a cloud of dust : the Ohio State football story
Author: William V Levy
Publisher: Cleveland : World Pub. Co., [©1966]
Edition/Format: Book : English : [1st ed.]