Dordt Writes: Head Coach Penner’s Coaching the RPO Offense

Christian Zylstra- Staff Writer

Write a book. Accept a college football head coaching position. Move to a new town. Hire a coaching staff. Recruit players. Win football games.

It’s been a busy twelve months for Dordt College coach Joel Penner.

Most people know Penner as the head football coach for the Dordt College Defenders, but he’s proven to be versatile beyond that role.

Penner co-authored a book, Coaching the RPO Offense, with Rich Hargitt, a football coach who has published five football books on coaching offense.

Coaches’ Choice published Coaching the RPO Offense in Sept. 2016. But the groundwork and process started well before the publishing date.

The project started with a conversation at a football conference in Toronto.

“In the foreword, it talks about how often books are inspired by conversations,” Penner said. “So this was a conversation that became a very interesting conversation, which became a book idea, which became a proposal for a book which became a contract for a book.”

As the only two Americans speaking at the football conference, Hargitt and Penner discussed coaching principles and offensive strategies. What they realized fascinates football coaches.

Both Hargitt and Penner run a run-pass option (RPO) offense, but both take different paths to running similar offenses. Hargitt coaches with an emphasis on an air-raid scheme and Penner emphasizes the spread option scheme.

“We were just thinking that this was fascinating,” Penner said. “The two most polar opposite styles of offense have combined and created the RPO offense.”

As discussions about the book continued and chapters were assigned, popularity and intrigue in RPO offense exploded. More high school and college football coaches were interested in RPO schemes than ever before.

“The popularity of the RPO right now—you put ‘RPO’ on a book around a bunch of football coaches and it’s the book people will be looking at,” Penner said. “It was a ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ kind of thing.”

Hargitt and Penner put in the work and effort, both submitting their first drafts soon before Penner took the head coaching position at Dordt College.

With Penner’s plate full—at this time he was hiring a coaching staff and recruiting student athletes—editing and revising his chapters proved challenging.

“I probably worked on it a whole lot less than [publishers] wanted,” Penner said. “I stole moments. The kids would go to bed; I’d get a half an hour here to work. It was piece-by-piece.”

As the build-up for Penner’s first season at Dordt College grew, Penner started focusing more on his current job and worried less about his book. It wasn’t until a package arrived in the mail in September that his mind was jogged.

“I don’t want to say I forgot about the book, but I probably hadn’t thought about it for three months,” Penner said. “To get to September and get a package in the mail with six copies of my book, that was pretty cool.”

Penner doesn’t expect casual fans of Dordt or football to just pick up the book and start reading. After all, it’s more of a ‘how to’ book for coaches interested in running the RPO offense.

A lot of what Penner has learned or integrated into RPO offensive schematics is in this book. But he’s not worried about other coaches reading the book for secrets on how to beat a Penner-led football team.

“We trade film,” Penner said. “Nothing is more revealing about another coach’s plan than trading film, and we do it every week. So if a coach wants to study up on what we’re doing and read my book, he’s putting another $1.50 in my pocket.”

Coaching the RPO Offense is a hot commodity at coaching conferences. Penner recalls a table with his book being restocked regularly at a recent national coaching convention in Nashville, Tenn. As of Jan. 23, only 14 copies are available Amazon.

*If you are interested in owning a copy of Coaching the RPO Offense, visit Amazon to make your purchase.

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