Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Mar 2009

Mike Leach Does Not Think Highly Of NFL Coaches

Our friend Tim MacMahon with the Dallas Morning News has one of the more fantastic interviews of the year with Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who is very serious about Graham Harrell and his ability.

"I only need a three-hour window. I'll have a great clinic for all the NFL coaches who are so horrible that they can't teach a guy to take a snap under center and go backwards."

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 17 Mar 2009

56 comments, Last at 22 Mar 2009, 8:55pm by geraldmburris


by Key19 :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:24pm

I've always sort of wondered why people make such a big deal out of "didn't take snaps under center in college." I mean, seriously? It seems to me like dropping back would be hands down the EASIEST thing for a QB to learn. I understand that the vision part of it is different, as well as being quick with changing from moving backwards to using proper forward throwing mechanics (which if you're standing in shotgun, is not an issue obviously). I dunno. Maybe I'm just dense, but it seems like not playing under center is the most overhyped criticism of certain college QBs.

I would honestly love to see Leach pursue the QB coach thing. Imagine, he could have his own training facility where guys come to work out on dropping back and things before the combine. If he's as good as he says he is, guys like Harrell should come to the Combine and smoke out some great dropbacks and throws. I don't know if he'd be able to accomplish what he thinks he can, but if he could, that could be something interesting.

by tuluse :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:29pm

Watch Orton and his awkward drop backs his rookie year compared to last year, and tell me it doesn't mean anything.

I think the main thing is not that it's hard to drop back, but when 4-6 NFL defenders are doing their best to knock you on your back, it needs to be muscle memory and not something you are consciously doing.

by Frank (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 5:33pm

yea but do you remember how many times grossman couldnt do it? how long did he have to "learn" the steps?

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:41pm

I remember during the SB that Kurt Warner was repeatedly stepped on by his center, who was getting pushed back immediately at the snap. Centers are usually the smallest O-linemen, and have the misfortune to pretty much line up directly opposite the biggest defenders on the field. A pro QB has to be quick and nimble enough to get out from behind the line. I think if you're not a ridiculous athlete, then the only way you'll be adept at it is through continuous practice.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:44pm

You should get a copy of the 1967 Ice Bowl and watch Bart Starr's dropbacks. Some of the ugliest footwork you'll ever see, but effective enough for the time, and pretty much par for the course. Today, Bart Starr would have been killed.

by rageon :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:24pm

When I read the headline I assumed it was an article about former Denver long-snapper Mike Leach, and how he now hates Josh McDaniels. As a Denver fan, I would have agreed with him.

Wrong Mike Leach.

by Phoenix of Fury :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 6:14pm

Funny, I was hoping for the exact same thing.

by PerlStalker :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 12:14am

Ditto. I think all of us poor Bronco fans are shell shocked.

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:32pm

Quarterbacks often fail due to bad footwork.

Often times one of the first things quarterbacks work on with their quarterback coach in individual drills is their footwork/drop back. They have their drills they work on.

I know, it sounds stupid, but it isn't so easy. It's not like you are teaching a guy how to walk backwards... They have coaches where it is their job to teach a quarterback how to properly drop back among other things. The fact that Harrell wasn't in that routine hurts his stock, like it or not.

by tuluse :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:49pm

One more thing, if it's so easy to teach drop backs, why does Leach use the shotgun exclusively?

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:56pm

I'm hoping that was just really, really dry humor and not a serious question.

by karl (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 10:13pm

Actually, I think that's a pretty pertinent question. Why is Mike Leach's offense run exclusively from the shotgun? I'm guessing it's because it gives the qb advantage (easier to see/read the defense, easier throwing mechanics, more time in the passing-ready position in the pocket, etc.) that one does not get when dropping back from under center. If this is the case, Graham Harrell does not have the complete skill sets required to be an NFL qb, considering that ~60% of passing plays and ~90% of running plays come from under center.

But, if Chan Gailey or Mike Martz get jobs any time soon, I'm sure those teams would take a shot on Harrell.

by Sophandros :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 12:15pm

Chan Gailey is your reference point? Really?

Did you SEE any of his offenses at Georgia Tech?

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:50pm

It's not just walking backwards. You need to learn a whole new set of mechanics, which also means unlearning the mechanics you've been using for 4 years in college. Doesn't sound so easy when you put it that way, does it?

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 5:02pm

Okay, but turn that on its head and all of Leach's QBs are relearning the only footwork they've ever known. It's no big deal at Tech but hit the NFL and it becomes impossible?

by kscherer1@yahoo.com (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 10:49pm

I think I get your point, but I don't think it is correct. If all you've done is drop back and now you've moved to the shotgun, all you have to do is stand there, catch the ball, and remember to turn your hips before you throw. There is nothing to "unlearn". There is no meaningful footwork from the shotgun, so they are not re-learning it; they are eliminating it. A previous poster made a good point. If it is such an easy technique to teach, Mike, why have you so consciously avoided it? Of course, the obvious superiority of college coaches is demonstrated by their extraordinary track record when moving on to the NFL. You know, like Spurrier, Holtz, Petrino, etc. (and if anybody's rebuttal contains "Jimmy Johnson" it had better also include "Barry Switzer")

by John Walt :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 10:10am

Didn't they BOTH win a Super Bowl? Just sayin'

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 4:55pm

The issue with the gun in the NFL is there isn't a good run game that goes with it. Not the case in the college game with the zone read, speed option, draw, power, counter, QB power, QB counter, etc. In the NFL you need a "downhill" run game. Even with a play like stretch you want the back in the I (behind the center). It just doesn't work well with the back offset to the backside and the QB in the gun.

Leach doesn't go under center because he doesn't need to and it doesn't do anything for his passing game. He manufactures a run game to keep teams off balance that he can get away with in the college game.

by Ashamed to ask this, but... (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 9:29pm

downhill running means inside running? I wish there was a good glossary for this stuff. The lingo changes more often than the lingo in other sports, it seems.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 10:12pm

I should have been more clear. When you have a back set to the side of the QB (in the gun) as opposed to behind the QB (under center) it changes the geometry (path of the back, exposure to the backside, etc.) of the play. It's hard to explain without getting on the board, but there's a big difference between running power out of split backs in the gun and running it out of the offset I with the QB under center.

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 4:57pm

I kind of think Leach realizes at some level that while part of it, it's not just the physical act of taking a snap from center but also all that ancillary stuff about taking a snap from center-namely the lessened ability to read the defense and developing the situational awareness to see what's going on while dropping back instead of just standing in the gun. There's a reason Leach's QB's play in the shotgun, and if Leach's claims are true, it's certainly not because they don't know or couldn't learn how to take a snap from center.

by Independent George :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 5:08pm

I don't see why catching a ball mid-air would be any less difficult than running backwards. I recall Aikman once remarked that he hated the shotgun because it forced him to shift his focus to catching the snap instead of reading the DBs. I think it's more about how much time you get practice it than any inherent difficulty to one over the other.

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 5:02pm

Tulsue- Teams don't run or not run the shotgun because of a quarterbacks drop back.

BGA- I used to be amazed at how much time the QB's QB coaches spent in practice on the drop back. They probably spent at least half of their time in individuals with cones, simulating 3 step drops, 5 step drops and 7 step drops. It looked boring as can be but the QB coach took it very seriously.

Poor footwork is a good way to end up on the street. It could lead to anything from triping over, to not getting enough power being your throws, to bad trajecteries ( floating passes off your back foot), to bad timing, to poor mechanics, slower delivery, to not having your feet under you so that you are able to throw when you identified the proper receiver. These mistakes will run you out of the league real fast.

and yes, you do want your quarterback to have good muscle memory and be "solid" in his drop back so that he can be ready to throw right at the point of that 7th step.

Do you think Matt Stafford would have better timing at that 7th step or Harrell? Bad or uncertain footwork is a huge question mark and it's not BS. I understand Leach is trying to look out for his player, but it just isn't that simple.

by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 6:04pm

Exhibit A in the case that Footwork Matters is Kyle Boller. Good lord, that guy's footwork is otherworldly terrible. He can hardly finish a five step drop without tripping over himself.

by jonnyblazin :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 8:54pm

In contrast, Joe Flacco had no trouble dropping back this year despite playing almost exclusively in the shotgun in college and getting 3rd stringer reps all throughout the preseason.

I'm thinking QBs that learn good footwork do so because they are bright and coordinated, not because someone taught them how to do it.

by Steve Spurrier (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 6:57pm

Then perhaps Mike Leach is right, NFL coaches are horrible because they can't teach a simple dropback.

by Anonymous111 (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 7:05pm

Isn't the real issue that spread QBs tend to have issues reading NFL defenses?

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 11:55am

I had the same thought. I think "only took snaps from shotgun" is sometimes another way of saying "played in a gimmicky system."

by Sophandros :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 12:18pm

All college QBs tend to have difficulty reading NFL defenses.

People seem to forget that Drew Brees was a spread offense QB who played mostly in the shotgun...

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 7:14pm

Exhibit A for why Mike Leach is not an NFL coach:

He thinks they have time to teach something like taking a snap and going backwards. To a guy that you're paying enough money that he should be the starter.

A first-round draft pick should be learning things a lot more advanced than drop-back footwork.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 8:40pm

Technically, they do have time. As far as I know there are no rules limiting the amount of teaching time with their players, unless it's NFLPA related. I understand position coaches are busy doing other things but this is a very teachable skill. The coaches that are "limited" are college guys who are limited to 20 hours per week with their athletes.

Leach is on point here. I somewhat agree with Chris that this isn't something you're going to pick up, or at least pick up well, in daily 5-minute individual practice blocks. But you aren't limited by that. You can spend the serious time and drills to get much better at this skill in a short period of time.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 10:23pm

As far as I know there are no rules limiting the amount of teaching time with their players

I believe that rule is called "the calendar." (Actually, there are NFLPA rules as well, if memory serves.)

First round picks need to contribute soon. If not starter, then definitely second string. Which means they can't be spending a month figuring out footwork. They've got way more to do than that.

Also, training camp is never fully live, not for a QB. Which means realistically, the only time that coaches have to evaluate how well he's doing under center is preseason. That's not a lot of time, and it needs to be spent evaluating other things. If a starting QB trips on his center's feet, screws up his footwork, whatever, on 10 plays in all of preseason, he's probably cut the number of plays that can really be evaluated in half. Or more.

I understand position coaches are busy doing other things but this is a very teachable skill.

Do you know what they call a guy with talent who needs to be taught NFL-level skills? A third-round draft pick.

by AlanSP (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 12:10pm

First, nobody is talking about Harrell as a 1st round pick, or even a 3rd round pick for that matter. Second, there are quite a few early round picks who needed to be taught NFL-level skills. Vince Young, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees and Tim Couch were all early picks who operated primarily (or exclusively) out of the shotgun. David Carr went 1st overall, despite the fact that the team taking him wanted to change his throwing motion (is there a more basic skill than that?). Jason Smith will probably be taken in the top five this year despite the fact that he needs to learn a lot of the technique of playing tackle in the NFL. Running backs who were rarely asked to block or catch the ball in college are routinely taken in the early rounds. Similar story for WRs and route running.

by Joe :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 4:08pm

Certainly you are not using David Carr as an example of a highly drafted player with questionable skills that turned out to be successful, right?

by AlanSP (not verified) :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 3:35am

I mentioned Carr as a counterexample to the notion that players who need to be taught NFL-level skills aren't taken early in the draft, not as an example of someone where that was successful (examples who were actually successful would be guys like Flacco, Brees, Roethlisberger, Mario Williams, and Adrian Peterson).

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 5:19pm

First, nobody is talking about Harrell as a 1st round pick, or even a 3rd round pick for that matter

Did you read the article? The entire point is that Mike Leach is talking about him as a first-round pick.

From the article: Leach raved about "the best quarterback in the draft"

The entire point is that he's criticizing NFL coaches for downgrading Harrell because they don't think he can drop back effectively right now.

by AlanSP (not verified) :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 3:45am

Harrell's ability to drop back isn't what's keeping him low on teams' draft boards. That's largely his limited arm strength. Plenty of other guys from shotgun-heavy systems have gone early in the draft, which suggests that NFL teams don't think it's that big a deal.

by Feagles - King ... :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 4:11pm

My experience is very limited, but from what I can recall having watched a few Giants training camps in Albany, the quarterbacks spent at least part of the practice taking snaps under center and dropping back. Again, I've only been to a few days of training camp, but it seemed to be part of the regular practice schedule, at least in the preseason.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 7:27pm

Footwork was the thing that finally convinced me that Michael Vick would never be a good QB. I remember a few years ago I was in a group of fans watching an Atlanta game and I said that Vick had terrible footwork. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, because they apparently assumed that the only thing a QB does with his feet is run, and Vick was really good at that, so he must have good footwork, right? Well, I guess the question was never resolved thanks to some animal cruelty, but I'm pretty confident I was right.

That said, there have been college QBs who played in shotgun offenses and learned to play under center at a high level. (I think Drew Brees fits this description?)

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 7:31pm

JZ- Yeah, but Bollier can get on one knee at the 50 yardline and throw the football through the goal post.

A11- In a lot of cases the QB's in the spread ( the shotgun isn't neccesarily the spread) they are playing a high stakes version of hot potato, reading the D and throwing to the open pass catcher. In the NFL, you will more often be having to throwing say a come back route with a defender draped on the pass catcher. If you don't get the ball out quick enough, accurate enough, and with enough velocity then it doesn't work.

Maybe the Patriots should draft Harrell, sit Brady another year to heal... use Harrel in the shotgun exclusivly with their talented offensive roster, boost his stats, and trade him to some other team next year for a 1st or 2nd round draft pick and repeat the process until their entire team is highly talented draft picks.

The Patriots sign Mike Leach as a QB coach, keep running a shot gun 4 wide offense, exploit the market on "shotgun" quarterbacks by drafting the Tim Couch, Timmy Chang, Colt Brennan, Harrell type guys when other GM's don't want them, boost their value and then keep trading them away for high draft picks. Hoo Rah

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 7:42pm


I was the "jerk" saying that Vick would never work out either when all the hoopla was going on. His footwork was horrible, the guy wouldn't get set, he had a bad case of happy feet.

Another problem he had is that he'd get into a bad habit of looking at his pass rushers. The Pocket is supposed to form, and the QB is supposed to get rid of the ball after 3 seconds. Look at how when Donovan Mcnabb or Tony Romo are pressured their eyes always stay downfield, Mcnabbs MNF deep bomb to Dallas was a perfect example of that.

Instead of looking downfield, Vick would look at the DE's and see what angles they were at so that he could have his "escape route" planned out. If you ever look back at the big games and playoff games he played in, he had a much higher propensity to run with the football than throw. It was the crutch he always kept going back to but it was so obvious. When he was playing the Rams swiss cheese defense on artificial turf in the playoffs in circa 04' that was fine, but playing the Eagles in the NFCC wasn't going to work and there was no way they'd win or even cover the spread there.

Vick actually had a lot of problems, he was one of the shortest QB's in the league and had a problem with vision/batted balls down, he had the smallest hands of any quarterback in the league and numerous sources said he wasn't committed to the team ( lazy). Patrick Kearny even called him out on it when he left the team to sign with Seattle. His coaching staff particularly with Greg Knapp catered the play book based on WCO misdirection, zone blocking schemes that were taylored to his strength and utilized his legs. Even so, the coaching staff did not trust him to call audibles, and being limited like that hurt Michael's value as a quarterback. Vick was obviously more concerned with his various unsuccessful off field endeavors.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 7:50pm

Teams that need Qb like Bucs and Jets might wanttot get grahm Harrell,. If M Leach is telling truth Harrell going to be next T Bradshaw,

by Joe :: Tue, 03/17/2009 - 10:26pm

I wasn't watching his footwork in particular, but Graham Harrell did not even look like he was worth a draft pick during the Senior Bowl. I would not be surprised to see a scout look at that tape and suggest he wasn't getting everything into his throws because his weight wasn't getting set properly. My goodness he looked terrible on throws outside the hash marks.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 2:31am

Look, he has to support his guy, so I don't know how seriously his comments should be taken. Mechanically unproven qbs don't get picked in the first round, unless the pure athletic ability is head and shoulders better than his peers.

Whenever a guy makes the argument to the effect of "I know that all those guys who are doing "x", which I have never done, don't know what they are doing.", he probably shouldn't be taken too seriously.

Lemme know when Mike Leach has a successful track record of putting together effective schemes against NFL defenses.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 5:01pm

And let me know when Leach gets a chance to put together an effective scheme against NFL defenses.

Because NFL coaches have done a fantastic job of going into the college ranks, showing off their rings and NFL experience, and dominating those career college guys.

by Sophandros :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 12:23pm

Chan Gailey was so dominant at Georgia Tech that bloggers named the 8-5 record the "Chan Gailey Ratio".


Wandstat has totally owned the Big East, as well.

Oh, wait.

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by GlennW :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 10:50am

> Lemme know when Mike Leach has a successful track record of putting together effective schemes against NFL defenses.

Will, who are we to question Mike Leach? I mean, football is merely a hobby to him, well beneath his true calling in serious matters such as world politics and global warming.

Seriously, this guy makes Mike Martz sound like Tony Dungy...

by poboy :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 10:59am

I think we're overblowing Leach's comments. All he was saying is that using the "no experience under center" excuse is ridiculous, because the skill's easily taught. He then riffed on that a bit, cracking jokes about opening a clinic. That's all. I really don't think he meant to insult NFL coaches, just to point out that their criticism of Harrell is goofy.

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 6:33pm

I don't even think he was going after coaches as much as he was scouts and GMs who rank his guy lower than he thinks he should be.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Wed, 03/18/2009 - 7:37pm

I thought when Leach spoke of teaching the drop back, he had moved from Harrell to all shotgun QBs.

I like Harrell, but I don't think he's the best QB in the draft. I DO think that downgrading a QB because he doesn't have drop back experience is dumb because it's a teachable skill and I thought that was the main point Leach was attempting to make.

by Yuri (not verified) :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 11:07am

I distinctly remember catching TT play on TV last year and seeing Harrell taking SOME snaps from under center (usually handoffs). Did my own lyin' eyes deceive me? Any Tech fans out there want to comment on this?

by DC_31 (not verified) :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 12:29pm

This maybe a stretch, but isn't a question mark about someone's ability to drop back kinda of like questioning a basketball player's ability to "go to his left" or knock down the three with a "man in his face".

(Yes, I am talking to you, J.J. Redick).

And didn't the 2008 Prospectus make a note about how the whole play-action thing (a drop back play) where you take your eye off the action for 1.5 seconds or so is something that you don't quickly learn how to do in the pro's.

It's not necessarily that you can't learn how to do it at the pro level, but the time and energy (opportunity cost) associated with learning that basic skill sets you back in other, more important development areas that your peers and competition will don't struggle with.

by DC_31 (not verified) :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 12:41pm

And "Chris", you are dead on with your analysis of Ron Mexico. I think that if Rush Limbaugh could have said something like that about McNabb he might have held onto that ESPN job for a while longer. That's the real issue with any running QB (black or white) looking to make the transition to the pro's: do you spend your (limited) time and energy perfecting your throwing mechanics, or do you spend it perfecting your ability to run.

It's a tradeoff, even for highly skilled pro's, because at the highest levels the margins for success are so thin. Where's your head at when you are in the pocket: "fight or flight". It's hard to serve to masters....

And I repeat myself, it's not just that the footwork can't be taught, but it's about learning how to drop back and take your eyes off the field for 1.5 seconds. Spread QB's take the first 1.5 seconds to make quick reads. Now, they are being asked to not make the reads. Very, very different challenge--and I would argue a very different skillset.

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 03/19/2009 - 4:49pm

DC31- What I like about you is how you worked the words " opportunity cost" into a talk about football and the quarterback position. The Econ community rejoices.

by PDX Mike (not verified) :: Fri, 03/20/2009 - 5:42pm

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"(ΘַΘ)MoneyShot thinks airplane glue sniffer faker above should have nutz slapped. MoneyShot is angry about being humped from behind and will find penetrator as soon as possible!"

Perpetrator, Moneyshot, perpetrator. If Moneyshot penetrated, would explain why so angry!


by geraldmburris (not verified) :: Sun, 03/22/2009 - 8:55pm

Agree with DC, I was going to mention the bigger issue of the play-action. If it's more difficult for a quarterback to see the field from under center than out of shotgun, even moreso when he has to turn his back to the action, unable to see the coverage or potentially a blitz developing.

It probably wasn't as big an issue a few years ago before defenses began to move and shift constantly before the snap, as a QB could get a pretty good read pre-hike. Nowadays, you turn your head for a second against a LeBeau or Ryan defene and you're not likely to see anything resembling the pre-snap alignment when you whip your head back around.