File:Henry L. Williams.jpg

Minnesota coach Henry L. Williams is credited with the shift's invention.

The Minnesota shift, also known as the jump shift, was an American football maneuver in which an offensive team shifted from one formation into another pre-determined formation on signal prior to the snap of the ball.[1] It was the forerunner to all quick shifts in American football.[2] The intent of the Minnesota shift was to keep the defense off balance and disguise the offense's intended point of attack.[1] To be effective,[3] the shift into the new formation was supposed to be done quickly and the ball snapped immediately afterward.[4] University of Minnesota Golden Gophers coach Dr. Henry L. Williams is credited with its invention in the first decade of the 20th century, and his institution lends its name to the shift.[1]

The maneuver gained national attention when it was adopted by period powerhouse Yale University in 1910.[1] Williams, an 1891 graduate of Yale, had earlier repeatedly offered to mentor his alma mater in the formation, but was rebuffed because the Elis would "not [take] football lessons from a Western university."[5] In 1910, the Elis suffered early season setbacks at the hands of inferior opponents, and sought an advantage to use in its game against strong Princeton and Harvard squads.[1] Former Yale end Thomas L. Shevlin, who had served as an assistant coach at Minnesota,[6] taught the team the shift. Yale used the Minnesota shift against both opponents, and beat Princeton, 5–3, and tied Harvard, 0–0.[1]

In 1917, Wisconsin head coach John R. Richards claimed that Chicago's legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg had never been able to develop a counter to the Minnesota shift.[7] In 1921, Ohio State employed a maneuver it called "guards over" that "checked the touted Minnesota shift more completely than any other Conference team has ever done," which forced the Gophers to resort unsuccessfully to the forward pass.[8] The following season, Michigan also effectively shut down the shift behind good line play.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Mary Mapes Dodge, St. Nicholas: A Monthly Magazine for Boys and Girls, Volume 42, Part 1, p. 43, 1915.
  2. Sport: Trophies and Gophers, TIME Magazine, November 3, 1941.
  3. Football for Public and Player, p. 155, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1913.
  4. Football at Minnesota, p. 21, General Alumni Association of the University of Minnesota, 1914.
  5. The History of American Football: Its Great Teams, Players, and Coaches, Prentice-Hall, 1956.
  6. "Tom Shevlin of Yale, Kindly Swashbuckler", The Anaconda Standard (reprinted in part from the New Haven Register), November 14, 1915.
  7. The University of Chicago Magazine, Volume 10, p. 84, University of Chicago, Alumni Association, 1917.
  8. The Ohio State University Monthly, Volume 13, p. 24, Ohio State University Alumni Association, 1921.
  9. The Michigan Alumnus, Volume 28, p. 207, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan, 1922.
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