THE Scot who has helped a leading American football franchise to perfect a revolutionary but hugely controversial move that has polarised opinion in the United States has spoken for the first time about his work and dismissed growing calls for it to be banned.

The NFL have been urged by players, coaches, fans and commentators to outlaw a groundbreaking “quarterback sneak” which has become known as both the “Brotherly Shove” and the “Tush Push” since the Philadelphia Eagles started using it last year.

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni has repeatedly argued there is only opposition to the unorthodox play because his team are vastly superior to their rivals at executing it – but critics have claimed it is dangerous, illegal and goes against the entire ethos of the sport.

You Tube channels, internet message boards, social media outlets, television and radio programmes, newspaper columns and pre-match and post-match interviews, have all been dominated by the debate.

The Herald: Jason and Travis Kelce, the celebrated brothers who play centre for the Eagles and tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs respectively and who both have Super Bowl victories on their glittering curricula vitae, made a surprising revelation last month when they were discussing the move online.

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Speaking on an episode of New Heights, the sports podcast which rapidly attracted millions of devotees and became the most popular in the world after they launched it last year, the Kelces let slip that “the Scottish man” had been involved in the evolution of the Brotherly Shove.

Putting on a Scottish accent for comedic effect, Jason Kelce said: “This Scottish guy came in. He said: ‘Coach! There ain’t nothing you can do to stop it! It’s organised mass and there’s nothing you can do as long as you’re organised! There’s too much people going in the same direction at the same time!’.”

So who is “the Scottish man” who has thrown his weight behind the Tush Push?

Step forward Richie Gray (the rugby union and American football coach from Galashiels, not the current Scotland and British and Irish Lions internationalist from Rutherglen of the same name).

He was drafted in when the Eagles were looking to try and improve the manoeuvre before the season started back in April.  

Speaking about being unexpectedly propelled into the spotlight on the other side of the Atlantic at his home in the Borders this week, Gray confessed it had been an eye-opening experience for him. “Aye, it’s been an interesting one,” he said.

So how on earth did a guy from Gala get involved?

Gray has specialised in high performance coaching in rugby union and American football – the only person in the world to have ever done so at the top level - for the past 13 years and has a long-standing working relationship with the Miami Dolphins.

Contact/collision is his particular area of expertise. He has rewritten the recognised methodology in that field and has also created all of the technical training aids which relate to his philosophy. But his association with the Eagles came out of nowhere.

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“I got a phone call from Jeff Stoutland, who is the offensive line coach for Philadelphia Eagles, one day earlier this year,” he said. “Jeff is kind of legendary in the game, is one of the top o-line coaches in the NFL. He is a great guy.

“To be honest, I had never met him before. But I know Ted Rath, the Eagles sports performance director, well because I worked with him when he was at Miami. He does all of their strength, conditioning and speed work.

“Anyway, Jeff just said to me, ‘Would you mind coming in for a couple of days’. So I flew to Philadelphia. Literally all they wanted to do was show me this play. They asked me, ‘How would you make it better? How would you break it?’.

“They had obviously already used it in match situations before that, but good coaches will always try to find another one per cent. So they brought me in in front of the whole line group and we went through the whole play for a whole morning pretty much.

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“We looked at how it was set up, how I thought it should be set up and what I thought could maybe be added. We also looked at how I would try to break it if I was defending against it as well.

“They just wanted my opinions on it and so I gave them. It might look incredibly simple, just this big surge, but there is actually a huge amount of technique to it. There have been a few things come out of it.

“It was a really good experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would like to think it’s a one per center that keeps them above everybody else for another season. You never know? I could be back next year!”

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He just might. Whatever Gray told them has clearly had the desired impact. The Brotherly Shove, or the Tush Push if you prefer, has continued to be a revelation in the NFL this year.

Philadelphia have won seven of their eight games this season, currently have the best record of any of the 32 teams and are firmly on course to retain their NFC East title.

The Eagles, who reached Super Bowl LVII last year and were only narrowly beaten to the Vince Lombardi Trophy by the Chiefs in an all-time classic encounter, have now used it on 45 occasions in total and have been successful in 41 of them. 

A play with a 91 per cent completion rate is unheard of in American football. The advantage it gives the Pennsylvanian outfit over their opponents is colossal. It is akin to a tennis player having three serves or a darts player having four darts. Hence the hullabaloo about it. And the demands that it be abolished.

So this is the $64,000 question. What exactly did Gray tell them?  An awful lot of NFL coaches would dearly love to know. Alas, he invokes the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution when he is pushed for more detail. You sense that a non-disclosure agreement may be preventing him from expanding further.  

“I can’t say much more than that,” he said. “You know what it’s like. In the old NFL there is competitive advantage everywhere. I do a lot with NFL teams, but a lot of the time you are signed up and you can’t even talk about what you have been doing with them. It is like that.

“It is actually worse with colleges. Competitive advantage there is huge. If they are doing something that another club is not doing, they will make sure that nobody can find out about it. I could go in to what I recommended, but I can’t. I wouldn’t want to.

“All I would say is that you can always make a play more accurate, whether it be rugby or football. That was obviously why they asked me in - to look and see if there was anything they could add to it. But they also wanted to know how would I look to break it down defensively.”

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Gray continued: “The Philadelphia Eagles have a phenomenal group of coaches. In the good old days, this would never have happened. But they are very open now. I think most coaches have become far more open since Covid when we spent our lives on Zoom calls.

“It was just great to be involved. It was the same time as the draft so I was there for that. Their quarterback Jalen Hurts had just signed a five year contract extension about a week before for one of the biggest sums in NFL history, about $250m. It is crazy.

“But it is a really good building. There is a good culture and a good ethos within the Eagles group from top to bottom. You can see why they are such a solid team. All they want to do is try to get better.”

So what exactly happens in the Brotherly Shove/Tush Push? Attention class! In short yardage situations, quarterback Hurts receives the ball from centre Kelce. Two or three players then line up in the backfield and push him across the first down marker. Sound straightforward? Think again.

Many franchises have attempted to replicate what the Eagles do. The majority of them have failed. In some cases quite spectacularly. Indeed, two New York Giants players ended up getting injured when they tried to do it this season. Their opponents are increasingly starting to cry foul.

Think bodyline bowling in cricket, rope-a-dope in boxing, the spear tackle in rugby union, the winged keel in yachting, broom handle putters in golf, high-technology suits in swimming.

Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL competition committee, has revealed that talks were held about banning the move last season. No new rule was put to the vote. However, McKay confirmed it will be discussed once again during the off-season and injury data which is currently being gathered will be examined.

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Gray, whose passion for American football is obvious as he speaks in his broad Borders accent, had been fascinated by the unique quarterback sneak which Sirianni and his staff had devised long before he was asked to join them.

He had been struck by its similarities with an attacking platform that is commonly used in rugby union. His knowledge of and vast experience in the other oval ball game is probably why he was contacted. He has held coaching roles with Fiji, Scotland and South Africa in the past and has worked with Toulon in France for the past seven years.

He clearly thinks the Eagles should be applauded for their ingenuity – not lambasted for doing something unconventional to gain a vital edge on their opponents.

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“I had seen this ploy used well and I was aware of it,” he said. “I always thought it was very similar to rugby-type maul move. Little did I know they would invite me in to look at it.

“You only need to get a yard. But it is a big play to get the yard to give you the down. It is a hugely important play. If you are needing one yard on that fourth down and you decide not to kick and to go for that yard it is a huge call.

“But if you get it you are into the next down and you get four more chances to make 10 yards.  As I say, it is a big, big play. Personnel are important, but you have to be technically accurate. Physicality helps, but technique is key.”

Gray continued: “I have been keeping an eye on it all year. The Eagles are still the best team at it by far. A lot of teams are trying to do it and they are failing. The Eagles are just doing it better than everyone else.

“It has become incredibly difficult to defend against. But, for me, it is a play that is out there, that everybody can use and everybody can perfect. Some teams are doing it better than others, simple as that.

“In some ways it is quite similar to the South Africa v New Zealand game at Twickenham a couple of months ago. South Africa used the split on the bench for all their forwards to come on. Everybody was up in arms about it. But you have just got to be innovative don’t you? You have to find a better way than the opposition. It is as simple as that.

“The opposition have got to find a way to try to break it. That was one of the things I was asked when I went in. From a defensive point of view, how would you go about breaking this? Give us your opinion. You know what? If you look at their stats this years, they are the most successful at it.”

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Gray is amused when it is put to him that it is very difficult to determine exactly what is happening during the move and that to the untrained eye it simply resembles a dozen players or so falling down in a giant heap on the pitch. “That’s good then,” he said. “That means it’s working.”

The decades-long ban on pushing offensive players in the NFL was lifted back in 2006 because it was widely felt that it was too difficult for match officials to penalise. So there is nothing in the rulebook as things stand to prohibit the Brotherly Shove.

But Hurts can famously squat 600lbs and concerns have been voiced about the safety of the Tush Push. Some coaches point blank refuse to try it. Gray, though, has no issues with it whatsoever and is hopeful it is here to stay.

“I am used to coaching scrum and maul,” he said. “When I see that play, which is literally over a yard and is all over in two seconds, I don’t really see any major dangers in it at all. I don’t think there will have been any major injuries within that play. You would have to look at the stats, but I don’t think there would be any major injuries.

“You don’t want to create a play that is going to injure your players, you want everyone as healthy as possible. Because the one thing that I have found out is that if you want to win games you have to keep your best players healthy.”

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The Philadelphia Eagles have benefitted greatly from borrowing from rugby union and engaging the services of a man who is steeped in that sport. Gray is convinced he has become a better coach from working in grid iron.   

“People often compare rugby and football,” he said. “But I always say, ‘Rugby is rugby, football is football’. They are totally different sports.

“American football is human chess played at 100 miles-per-hour. That is exactly what it is. The pitch is like a chess board. If you don’t get your pieces in the right place then look out, the other team will exploit it very quickly. They are brilliant at that.

“Success can literally come down to millimetres. The quote in the movie Any Given Sunday about it being a game of inches is absolutely right. It is one of the most incredible sports when you come to look at plays, tactics.

“Then within that, some of the world’s greatest athletes are involved. I have been involved in professional rugby since 1995, since it first went pro pretty much. I have seen and worked with some phenomenal athletes in my career, I have been very lucky.

“But look at Tyreek Hill at Miami and see how he changes pace and moves from side to side. Look at Christian Wilkins (the Dolphins’ defensive end), look at the Kelce brothers, look at Jalen Hurts. There are some phenomenal athletes in the NFL, phenomenal.”

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Gray added: “I have a laugh when the rugby fraternity say to me, ‘We could go in and do this in football’. I always tell them, ‘No, no you couldn’t’. It is a totally different sport. It is all over in four seconds. From the snap to the tackle, it is unbelievably quick. It is not until you have seen it live that you think, ‘Wow!’

“You have got to be a phenomenal athlete, you have also got to be incredibly sharp, you have got to do your homework and then you have got to execute. It is an incredible sport, I find it fascinating. In some ways, it has actually helped me with my rugby.”

Getting Richie Gray of Galashiels in to cast his expert eye over their pioneering quarterback sneak has certainly helped the Philadelphia Eagles to take the NFL by storm this year.

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