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To understand how Bill Lazor got to where he is today, as offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, you have to first go back to Oct. 12, 1991.
Lazor was an untested sophomore quarterback at Cornell, who started that season third on the depth chart. He was so thin that his coach, Jim Hofher, personally put him on a scale to make sure he weighed 170 pounds. “I was surprised he weighed that much,” Hofher said.
Cornell was playing at Stanford that day in 1991. It predictably wasn’t much of a game.
“We were a non-scholarship Ivy League team, a band of merry men travelling across the country,” recalls Hofher. “A mismatch of a game.”
So at halftime, with the game already out of hand, Hofher turned to his young quarterback and gave him his chance. Bill Lazor would start the second half.
Now, the scoreboard says that Cornell was drubbed 55-6 by Stanford. What it doesn’t tell you is that Bill Lazor led his team on its only touchdown drive. Just six points? It was enough to convince Hofher that he had found his starting quarterback.
What he also found in the process was a player as smart as any he had ever coached, a player who would start for the next two-plus seasons, a player who was so impressive in so many ways that Hofher gave Lazor a coaching job right out of college.
“He was so cerebral,” recalls Hofher, who is now assistant head coach at Nevada. “He would ask questions, the right questions. But he was not only bright, he was industrious and he was firm and he was like that as a young player.”
Hofher rattles off stories about Lazor with pride and admiration. There was the time Lazor audibled to a quarterback sneak against Harvard.
“We were at the 5-yard line,” Hofher recalls. “You wouldn’t think you could run a quarterback sneak from there.”
But Lazor knew exactly what to do, exactly where the crease would be, exactly how his linemen would block on the play. A five-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak? No problem for Bill Lazor.
“He was so much fun to coach,” Hofher says. “There was nothing that was too much for him.”
Like the time against Brown when Cornell had a fourth-and-goal from the 10 yard line on the final play of the game, needing a touchdown to win. Hofher remembers putting in one of those plays that might have confused most any other quarterback. An unbalanced line to the wide side of the field. A fake handoff. A naked quarterback bootleg to the left. A tight end crossing into the end zone. Lazor could not have executed the play any better.
“The good guys won that day,” Hofher says.
Or maybe Hofher will tell you about the day Lazor passed for 400 yards against Columbia. Or the run of games when he threw 124 straight passes without an interception. Or the 17 school records that he broke, many of them set by Hofher when he played quarterback at Cornell.
But those weren’t the things that Hofher will remember most. What remains most vivid, and will always remain most vivid, is how Bill Lazor used his mind as his most potent weapon.
How many college coaches ask their young quarterback: “What do you think we should run on this play.” And how many college coaches would intently listen?
This is Bill Lazor’s story. So intelligent. So creative. In many ways, so ahead of his time. The perfect mentor for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The perfect architect for this new-look offense.
When Hofher took the head-coaching job at the University of Buffalo in 2001, who do you think he hired as his offensive coordinator? Yep, Bill Lazor. At 28 years old.
“May have been the youngest Division I offensive coordinator in the country at that time,” Hofher says.
A year later, Lazor said goodbye to his old coach and made his move to the NFL. He has worked for some impressive offensive minds through the years – Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren and Chip Kelly – and took something from each of them. Now, he is taking all of that knowledge and applying it to the Dolphins, impressing so many people in his short time here.
But his biggest fan may still be Jim Hofher.
“He has always lived his life with his eyes wide open,” Hofher said of Lazor. “I love him as if he was one of my own.”
And it all really started at halftime of a lopsided loss at Stanford some 23 years ago.
(On Wednesday, AC in the AM plays 10 questions with rookie linebacker Jordan Tripp.)
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