Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Dec 2005

Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep

The latest from Michael Lewis is about Mike Leach, head football coach at Texas Tech. Our friend Jim Schwartz is mentioned as one of the coaches who has shown an interest in Leach's offense. A couple thoughts:

1. Next time you hear someone talk about how college sports are all about the development of student-athletes, remember that Texas Tech sent its quarterback on the field with "a throwing arm so dead that he required a cortisone shot to move it."

2. One of these days, Mike Leach is going to have a lead late in the fourth quarter, call a pass when he should just tell his quarterback to take a knee, have the pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown, lose the game, and start to think twice about how useful it is to pad the score.

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Posted by: Michael David Smith on 04 Dec 2005

24 comments, Last at 10 Dec 2005, 9:32pm by John Lemon


by Podge (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 11:54am

Doesn't run the ball. Next Eagles Offensive Coordinator?

by Scott C (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:22pm

As an Eagles fan, I was thinking the same thing, especially after listening to friends explain to me for the past month how the Eagles will never win a SB until they "get a real running game." Michael Lewis writes a good piece, though.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:23pm

I didn't realize he was to blame for Tim Couch. Bastard.

Is it just me, or couldn't the same article be written about Urban Meyer, with the added bonus that now he *does* have access to the top talent, so we can see how an unconventional offense like that does work on the highest level? Or couldn't it have been written about Houston during the Ware/Klingler era? Or about Rob Spence, who went from LaTech to Toledo to Clemson? Or Northwestern coaches bringing the spread offense to the Big 10? Or BYU back in their glory days? Or...

Maybe I'm just a bit skeptical when the newest 'genius' is annointed, and suddenly everything that works everywhere else is suddenly crap compared to this amazing new scheme. The innovations that really work will certainly be copied and improved upon, and those that don't will be exposed. Defenses will adjust, and the chess game will go on.

The best part of the article was the story about the anti-football professor at BYU showing the video and all the football fans cheering the violent hits. It just reminds me of a college class I had (honors English, which should've been called "Anti-White/Male/Christian/Capitalist Propaganda") where we watched a war movie to show how despicable violence is. So of course some of us are getting into the action, topped off when my friend thought he saw someone get shot in the butt (not Joey Porter though) and let us know about it. So we got a huge lecture about what evil jerks we are and how we shouldn't find death amusing and blah blah blah de freaking blah. Man, I hated that class.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:36pm

RE #4:

Trogdor, I feel for ya. I had a English class like that at my first school. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter could have been paid a million dollars and had a year to work and couldn't have made a caricature this bad. Black/Marxist/Lesbian/Atheist who insisted on going on and on about W every freakin' day. I constantly argued with her about pretty much everything and I got in trouble when I suggested that the college could do the collective a favor and relieve her of her teaching duties.

The only problem I had that she was a stone-cold fox. She would have made David Duke join the NAACP.

by BillT (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:46pm

Now that's how you write an article. Great stuff.

by Adam (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 1:08pm

I had an English professor in college once lecture for an entire hour and a half on chalk.

Chalkboard chalk. Chalk. He walked into the room. Picked up a piece of chalk. And just started talking. It was awful.

Then the next class he came in and showed us an episode of Friends.

Needless to say, the Chalk lecture was the better of the two.

by Joon (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 2:02pm

i'm not sure i approve of mike leach, but i heartily approve of michael lewis. fabulous writer.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 4:54pm

I think there is no doubt that Michael Lewis is one of the best writers today..

by Adam (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 7:49pm

Thats a nice article that Billy Beane wrote.


Sorry. Couldn't pass it up.

by Joe Morgan (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 8:00pm

Mike Leach never should have written this article.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 8:11pm

And in the bowl game, Tech goes up against a rock-solid Bama defense. That should be an interesting matchup. I think Bama will find a way to shut 'em down, but I'm usually wrong about these things.

by Harris (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 12:23am

As Trogdor points out, we've seen these mad geniuses before and always at no-pedigree programs. But if throwing 60 times a game could work in the SEC or Big 10, somebody would have done it already. Even if the "football establishment" shuns an offense like Leach's, an AD desperate to save his job wouldn't. Yeah, Leach is doing a lot with little talent, but for the most part he's playing teams with even less talent. The Big 12 is not a hotbed of football powerhouses and Florida Intl., Indiana State and Sam Houston State would kill the have Texas Tech's talent. If Leach was at Clemson, for instance, I suspect the athletes at Florida, Alabama and LSU would be good enough to fill the gaps created by the offense. This is probably what Tech's seasons will look like under Leach, 8 or 9 wins leading to a good bowl where they'll be promptly crushed by a team that has more in common with Texas than Baylor. At least until Andy Reid turns the offense over to Leach and Marty Morningweg and they cut all the running backs and tight ends.

by usedbread (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 12:55am

when was the last time clemson played florida, alabama, or lsu?

different conferences, duder.

by andrew (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 10:05am

The game vs Alabama will be interesting. I remember Jack Pardee's teams at Houston putting up ridiculous numbers when the Run & Shoot was new, but in time people learned to stop it. All it takes is one defense that learns how and next thing everyone's ready for it. The R&S did have some success in the NFL, but not deep into the playoffs...

by Harris (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 10:43am

Dammit, I always forget Clemson is in the ACC. Substitute Mississippi State and carry on.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 4:16pm

The problem with the teams that ran the R&S in the NFL was not their offense; rather, they didn't play solid defense or (in Houston's case v. Buffalo) they let off on the accelerator.

U of Houston was extremely successful against some good competition in the SWC. Meyer is getting OK results at Florida. But the best example, IMO, is Rich Rodriguez. He took a very innovative version of the spread, added some single wing concepts, and made Tulane's offense under Tommy Bowden virtually unstoppable. He and Tommy went to Clemson, and they were virtually unstoppable. Coach Rod left Clemson to take the WVU job, and Clemson's offense has gone rather flat since then. However, now WVU is virtually unstoppable. They will finally get their truest test against UGA in the Sugar Bowl. WVU has some talent, and combined with an innovative system, they CAN compete.

by Michael David Smith :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 4:38pm

Sophandros, I'm sure you know more about Rodriguez's offense than I do, but "virtually unstoppable" doesn't mesh at all with what I've seen of West Virginia. Granted, the two games I watched were vs. Syracuse and vs. Virginia Tech, two of their worst offensive outputs. Would you mind telling us a little more about why you're so high on this offense? Isn't a lot of its success due to playing a weak schedule?

But I don't doubt that West Virginia can compete. I was just reminiscing with a friend about the Major Harris days -- that program has had a lot of good seasons.

by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2005 - 12:16am

What a great article! Just one quick comment on these sorts of offenses: Joe Tiller came into the Big Ten and suddenly his quarterbacks were throwing A LOT (I think Brees went 55-83 one day). Purdue's offense was the talk of the Big Ten for a few years. Nowadays, not so much. We (full disclosure: huge Boiler fan. Pity me.) now are more likely to run than pass. I think that after a little while, these fad offenses run out of steam.

by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 3:10am

Leach smoked Clemson by like 50 points in the Tangerine Bowl a few years back, and destroyed Cal in last year's Holiday Bowl. I'm predicting a double-digit victory over Alabama this bowl season.

by John Lemon (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:59am

Harris: The Big 12 is, year in and year out, a superior football conference to the Big 10 (this year is an exception). The Big 12 is not a hotbed of football powerhouses? The North admittedly sucks right now, but the Big 12 has been represented in five of the last six national title games (winning one, with one to play). Texas Tech is fourth in the Big 12 South pecking order for recruits, behind Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M and plays each team every year. Nebraska is a sleeping giant in the North.

Regardless, people forget that throwing the ball 60 times a game has been proven to work at at least one traditional power. Anybody remember the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners? 13-0 national champs, running the same offense Leach introduced the year before and with virtually no highly recruited players. Yes, the offensive production tailed off at the end of the year, as their quarterback's elbow continued to deteriorate and the offensive coordinator drifted further and further from Leach's tutelage. But facts are facts: Oklahoma won a national championship running Leach's offense (which was downright explosive until November of that year) and without much talent (Yale had more players drafted). The Sooners couldn't run the ball to save their lives and NOT ONE player on their entire roster was a Texas native who had received a scholarship offer from UT. So, yes, throwing the ball 60 times a game works just fine, thank you, even for traditional powers competing for national titles.

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 8:48am

Oklahoma didn't throw anything close to 60 times a game in 2000. They didn't even throw 40 times a game. The team the Sooners met in the Orange Bowl, Florida State, had fewer passes, fewer completions and fewer yards.

by John Lemon (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 1:00pm

As I said, Oklahoma's offensive production dropped off significantly after October, partially due to an injured starting quarterback, but, more likely due to the fact that offensive coordinator Mark Mangino (now Kansas head coach) had drifted further and further from Leach's style of calling a game.

Check Oklahoma's game tapes from early in the season (Texas, K-State, Nebraska in particular). They threw the ball almost exclusively, at least until the outcome was no longer in doubt. As for Florida State, the bulk of their offense in the Orange Bowl was generated during garbage time, after it was 13-0, late in the 4th quarter. The fact remains, OU couldn't run in 2000. They won a title with Leach's offense.

FSU actually proves my point -- they couldn't run either, yet they won the ACC and got into the national title game.

by Harris (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 8:54pm

Whether the Big 12 is better than the Big 10 is a debate worth having, but I referenced the SEC. The Big 12 has been a two-team league for years (when was the last time anybody cared about Texas A&M?) But so what? A lot of gimmicks have been successful in the short term. Can Tech win consistently? I doubt it.

by John Lemon (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 9:32pm

You actually referenced both the SEC and the Big 10. The point is, Tech HAS won consistently. In fact, Tech has the longest streak in the Big 12 for consecutive bowl appearances (the last six under Leach). Leach's "gimmick" has worked every where he's gone, including Kentucky, which, last time I checked, was (unlike Clemson) in the SEC. When Bob Stoops came to OU from Florida, he selected Leach as his offensive coordinator because, even with superior talent at Forida, he was unable to consistently stop Leach's offense.

Oklahoma went from near dead last in offense in 1998 (before Leach) to near the top in 1999 (I think it was like 108th to 6th in scoring) and the national title in 2000. Since going to Tech in 2000, Leach's "gimmick" has been more than respectable against traditional conference powers and in post-season appearances (Clemson and Cal spring to mind).