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Original Issue

Multiflexing its muscles

Completely multiple and totally flexible, Harvard has run up a 4-0 record using the innovative and confusing formations of its coach and philosopher, Joe Restic

Four and a half minutes into Harvard's game against Cornell last Saturday, Crimson Defensive Back Rocky Delgadillo intercepted a pitchout and raced 93 yards for a touchdown to set his team off toward a 20-12 victory that made it 4-0 for the season. That unblemished record includes a 15-10 win at West Point on Oct. 4. But as surprising as Delgadillo's performance was and as unlikely as it might seem that Harvard could have beaten Army, the most stunning news of the season for Crimson fans has been that the intercepted-lateral-and-93-yard-run-for-a-touchdown is not a standard part of Coach Joe Restic's complicated "multiflex" offense. Heck, just about everything else under the sun is, which makes it the most innovative offense in the college game.

In the multiflex there are so many players running around the field that you half expect to see Zeppo, Groucho, Chico and Harpo out there displaying the zany razzle-dazzle that enabled Huxley to triumph over Darwin in Horsefeathers. Multiflex stands for completely multiple and totally flexible, and Restic designed the system to confuse and immobilize opposing teams. "To me, the name of the game is movement," he says, "and the quickest way to negate the ability of an opponent is through movement and shifting. A defensive player doesn't want to make a mistake. When you move and he doesn't, you've negated his ability."

In the space of only 10 seconds, the Harvard offense may go into as many as three different sets, out of an array of 100 it has in its playbook. "A tremendous advantage," says Restic. There may also be men in motion, and there may be four deep backs, or three, or two, or just one. Sometimes there may even be two quarterbacks in at the same time, with the one over center going into motion as the ball is snapped to the other one lined up in the fullback's position. "The defensive backs can't believe it when a quarterback gets up and leaves," Restic says. "Their eyes get so big. They have to wonder where he's going. Maybe they think he's calling time out." On occasion Restic will tell the officials what Harvard is going to do so they don't become discombobulated.

Alas, the multiflex is so complicated that the Crimson players sometimes become discombobulated, too. Against Cornell, Harvard was penalized 111 yards, often for illegal procedure or an ineligible receiver downfield; and as Ron Cuccia, the 5'8" split end who can also play quarterback, said of Harvard's first-half performance against Army, "We confused Army, we confused ourselves, and we even confused the officials."

And when the offense runs completely amok, there is always the Crimson's multiple defense to stem the tide with a sack, interception or fumble recovery. And how does that work? "We change in response to the other team's sets," says Restic. "They bend over, call signals, look up, and we're not there." All in all, the multiflex system, both offense and defense, contains so many moving X's and O's that a writer for the Harvard Bulletin was once moved to observe, "Restic might have dreamed it, like Coleridge and Xanadu and Kekulè and the benzene ring."

Despite what may seem like far-out football, Restic is no ivory-tower Ivy League thinker. Coaches from all over the country call him to pick his brains. It's like phoning Stonewall Jackson, Rommel or Patton before a big battle. Restic coached the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League to the Grey Cup playoffs three times, and several years ago he turned down the Philadelphia Eagles' head coaching job. Right now his name is being bandied about as a possible successor to Dan Devine at Notre Dame, where Joe Jr. played as a punter and free safety. Last year Ray Malavasi of the Rams had Restic come to the Los Angeles camp for a month to coach Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo on some of the finer points of quarterbacking, and both found the tutoring valuable. "I was very excited working with Joe," says Haden. "He's a very knowledgeable man."

Restic who is 54, attended St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa., where he played football for two years, but when his coach went to Villanova, he followed. Restic had planned to study engineering, but a course in logic inspired him to major in philosophy, and the writings of Augustine, Aquinas and Jacques Maritain became lifelong interests. "My philosophy is: Search out the truth," Restic says. "Unveil it, be ready and have the courage to follow it, and it will set you free." In conversation, he can talk about the conscience, free will and cause and effect as easily as he can discuss a fake field-goal attempt, and when a Boston sports-writer once tried to butter him up by asking him to state the major premise, the minor premises and the conclusion of the multiflex system, Restic replied, "That's a false basic premise, so I'm not going to answer you in syllogistic form."

After graduating from Villanova, Restic played for the Philadelphia Eagles until a teammate stepped on and broke all the fingers of his left hand. He went into high school coaching and then became an assistant to Alva Kelley at Brown and Colgate. In 1962 he joined the Tiger-Cats as an assistant to Jim Trimble, the former Eagles coach, and in 1968 he became the head man.

Restic had always been keenly interested in football strategy and tactics, but the wide-open Canadian game set his mind ablaze. "I saw the possibilities of using the whole field from sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone," he says. "The rules allowed you to have unlimited motion. With the three-down system in the CFL, you had to give the offense some advantage." Thus was born the multiflex, and the more Restic used it in Canada, the more he thought he could adapt it to the U.S. rules. In 1971, after Kelley had recommended Restic to Harvard as having "the finest football mind in North America," the multiflex took root in Cambridge.

The first thing Restic tells new players is, "Forget everything you've learned. This concept is different." According to Restic, learning the multiflex system "is like taking a course in logic. In two or three weeks, you're into the meat of the course, and once you have the feel of the concept it becomes easy. Once you have the concept, it becomes fluid, expandable. As a result, we are completely multiple and totally flexible. You can win with many systems, but I don't know any system that will put more pressure on the total defense than the multiflex offense. We do everything. I say this humbly, but it gets the players highly motivated, it's very exciting, and it has fan appeal. Before we walk out there on the field, our kids feel as though they have the advantage. When teams get our films, it's a disadvantage to them."

The Harvard players believe him. "Every week we have new wrinkles," says Brian Buckley, a former high school All-America quarterback who was sought by Arizona State and Nebraska. "One of the reasons I wanted to come to Harvard was the wide-open offense. It's a place where a quarterback can learn. There's no place that can compete when it comes to excitement and imagination of play. We go into the game thinking we're going to score and going to win. There's no telling what he [Restic] could do in the pros."

If the multiflex is so great, how come Harvard can lose? While Restic's career record at Harvard is 51-32-2, very respectable, it is hardly perfect. He believes—and so do his players—that a defeat is caused by player fallibility, not by the multiflex. "The system is wonderful," says Charlie Davidson, a celebrated Cambridge sports savant. "The more it fails, the more it proves itself right. It's always pilot error."

Restic agrees. "If you're talking about the pilot, you're talking about the quarterback," he says. "The plane is fine, and I hope the guy looking after the plane is fine, too."


Restic has learned that the multiflex often requires multi-explaining.