Born in the NFA: The R4 System (Part 1)


Born in the NFA: The R4 System (Pt. 1)

Dub Maddox remembers the game like it was yesterday.

In reality, it was played back in 2006, Maddox’s first year as the Quarterback Coach/Passing Game Coordinator for Jenks High School, a perennial state power in Oklahoma.

“We had a playoff game in 2006, and I had a very good quarterback that year,” said Maddox, who is also a Master Coach and Director of Product Development with NFA. “We were in a huge game, a pressure game. We were behind on the road in a hostile environment. The play we called was a Curl/Flat concept, a real simple read. Read one defender. If he drops and covers the curl, throw the flat route. If he breaks for the flat route, you throw the curl. Simple, easy read.”

As it turned out, the routine call took a decidedly wrong turn for Jenks.

“What happened was with that pressurized environment, it affected the decision making process, the ability to process what’s going on,” Maddox recalled. “The defender didn’t move; he just stood there. And our QB threw it right to him and the defender runs it back for a touchdown. So we’re down 10 instead of 3.”

When Jenks’ QB returned to the sideline after being picked off, he went right to his coach.

“He says, ‘Coach, I have no idea what I’m seeing out there,'” Maddox said. “And it was at that moment as a coach where I knew I didn’t have the tools necessary to bring him out of that. All I could offer was just a few sweeping statements, ‘Hey, suck it up.’ ‘Shake it off.’ And here comes our Head Coach (Allan Trimble) down the sideline and he’s kind of, ‘Hey, you better get this guy figured out, we’ve got to have him.’

“So there’s a lot of pressure on me to know what to do, and I felt exposed as a coach because I didn’t know what to do at that point. The kid was usually great under pressure, but it eventually it got to him.”

On a mission

Rather than accept the human element of the game without question, Maddox showed why he is one of the top offensive football coaches in the nation. He went looking for answers.

“I was on a mission to talk to great quarterback minds, offensive coordinators,” Maddux said. “I wanted to find out how they teach a quarterback on what open is. Define an open receiver for me. How do I coach that? It was a very simple question.”

Or so he thought. The more Maddox sought out answers from highly-regarded coaches supposedly in the know, the more frustrating the mission became.

“I was in the office of a very well-known offensive coordinator,” Maddox said. “He was Division-I, a very good QB coach, he wrote several books. We were in his office during spring ball, me and a couple other coaches. Closed room. He’s talking and I asked him, ‘Coach, how do you teach your quarterback what open is, or know when to throw the ball and know what is open?’ And he looked at me like I was – I don’t know – an imbecile. ‘You just know,’ he said.

“To me, in my mind, that wasn’t good enough,” Maddox continued. “I needed some sort of language, or process, so we could define what open is.”

Relentlessly pursuing an answer, Maddox wound up getting together with NFA Founder/President Darin Slack. And just like that, the R4 System was close to being born.

“Darin and I sat down that off-season and we studied quarterbacks and more,” Maddox said. “Anybody in an occupation of high stress, high pressure, in order to be great at the occupation, you have to be able to identify the non-negotiables of a scenario. For example, a firefighter goes into a burning building, he can’t think and worry about all the 20 to 50 things that can go wrong. In those seconds when the pressure is on and lives are at stake, he can only focus on the things that matter most. What they teach those firefighters is you identify the smell the flame, the color of the flame, the intensity of the heat. Those are the three things that matter most that keep them alive.

“In our world as quarterbacks, what matters most is not throwing interceptions. We’ve got to be able to identify three to four things that matter most and we have to understand what to look for, what the defense is doing. That’s how you get rapid cognition. You identify the non-negotiables, you develop a process for the quarterback to go through that’s tied in with the rhythm of the speed designed, that’s tied into the routes of the receivers and then you rep it and you get faster.”

Boom. The R4 System is born, and Maddox and Slack remain proud parents to this day. The obvious question is: What does R4 mean?

“Rhythm, Read, Rush, Release,” Maddox explained. “Those are the four families of the passing game concepts.”

Closer look at R4

Let’s take an even closer look, with Maddox offering further details:

-Rhythm routes. “Routes have certain DNA and certain timing built into them, the way they’re constructed. A route that’s been deemed a rhythm route breaks in 1.8 seconds. It has one stem. It doesn’t have multiple breaks. That allows the quarterback, he knows, ‘I want to look at my rhythm route first because it’s going to break open when I hit the last step of my drop.’ The goal is to be able to be able to throw the ball as the receiver is coming open, not after he comes open. So when we tie our footwork into route breaks we understand the timing and the purpose of them, we can know where to go, when to go and why, and once we can define what open is, we can know whether to throw it or not. Rhythm families are routes that break open first.”

-Read routes. “They are routes that break open in 2.2 to 2.6 seconds. Double-move or decelerating routes that can attack space.”

-Rush. “They are routes that are short, under 5 yards, hot routes, check-downs. By putting Rhythm, Read and Rush routes into ‘buckets,’ it allows the quarterback to mentally process what family to look at first, second and third on a play and he knows what they’re designed to attack and he knows how to tie his footwork into that.”

-Release. “This portion is, ‘Well, what I do as a quarterback if everyone is covered?’ We’ve got to release and the release is, there’s a practicing of different gap escapes and extending the timeline. That’s probably the thing that makes quarterbacks so deadly, the guys that can do that, like Johnny Manziel or Russell Wilson, guys that can get out of those bad situations and they practice those gap escapes, and that’s when big plays happen because that’s when defenses break down.”

Editor’s note:

The upcoming Part 2 article will focus on what makes the R4 so effective and why NFA is so good at teaching the System to quarterbacks across the country. Also, be sure to check out Coach Maddox’s book on the R4 System: From Headset to Helmet.



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Scot Gregor is an award-winning sportswriter for the Chicago Daily Herald. In addition to writing about Big 10 and Notre Dame football, Gregor has also covered the White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and college basketball. He grew up in Pittsburgh and watched the Steelers rise to prominence in the 1970s. Gregor has a B.S. degree in Journalism from Ohio University