Mike Leach Remade Football In His Pass-Happy Image

The football world was shocked last week when Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach died of complications related to heart disease at the age of 61. ‘I can’t imagine college football without him’: Ole Miss manager Lane Kiffin said in a tweet listen to the news. Many others shared that sentiment.

Leach was a bigger-than-life figure in the sport for a myriad of reasons. Eager to provide insight, he was a singular figure in a sea of ​​coach talk. Over the course of his 21 seasons, Leach led his teams in three different powers and his conferences, and combined he made 19 bowl appearances.1 and an overall record of 158-107. Each stop, Leach was tasked with directing a program that was, at best, second-rate in the state, both in pedigree and support.

Most notable, however, is the far-reaching influence of reach on the style of the game. By the time of his death, the framework adopted by college football’s ultimate mad his scientist and unorthodox champion was made to look pretty canonical. By Leach’s last season in Starkville, coaches at all levels of the sport had adopted and implemented the principles that Leach had popularized for decades.

Air raid attacks are frequently mentioned early in Leach’s obituary. He is synonymous with a philosophy he neither invented nor first deployed on college campuses. But that’s largely why so many people know the man who made himself a pirate and spread his plans into the mainstream.2 Between the vast coaching tree that blossomed under his guidance and his concepts increasingly influencing the modern game, Reach’s fingerprints are all over the sport.

Disciples of the Reach are everywhere

College football head coach who played or coached under Mike Leach before becoming head coach

coach school/team Year role school Year
Dave Aranda bay 2020-pre. Alumni. assist. TTU 2000-02
Zach Arnett* MSST 2022 assist.coach MSST 2020-22
art briles How Bay 2003-15 assist.coach TTU 2000-02
Neil Brown Toro, WVU 2015-Pres. player UK 1998
Jeff Choate MT Cent 2016-20 assist.coach WSUs year 2012
Sonny Cumby TTUs, LTUs 2021-pre. player TTU 2000-04
Sonny Dykes TCU + 3 others 2010-Pres. assist.coach TTU 2000-06**
Josh Hupel UCF, ten 2018-Pres. player Also 1999
Holgorsen Foundation WVU, HOU 2011-Pres. assist.coach Val, TTU 2000-07
Cliff Kingsbury TTU, NFL 2013-Pres. player TTU 2000-02
Seth Littrell UNT 2016-22 player/coach or all 1999-08**
Greg McMackin howe 2008-11 assist.coach TTU 2000-02
Ruffin McNeil ECU 2010-15 assist.coach TTU 2000-09
Eric Morris UIW, UNT 2018-Pres. player/coach TTUs, WSUs 2004-12
Lincoln Riley or USC 2017-Pres. player/coach TTU 2002-09
Ken Wilson NEVs 2022 assist.coach WSUs 2013-19

* After Leach’s death, Leach becomes head coach of Mississippi.
**Not assisting Leach in all seasons during this period.
active coach bold.

Source: hailstate.com, Wikipedia

As an assistant coach at BYU,3 Leach sat front row in the pass-focused concept that coach LaBelle Edwards implemented to rewrite the school’s (and national) record books. A relentless downfield strategy made Jim McMahon his quarterback in 1980. Leach took it to the lab, merging the BYU spread offense and Houston-fueled run-and-shoot principles with air. He stormed the innovations he learned under his mentor, Hal Mumm (who himself was drawn from Bill Walsh’s offense on the West Coast), building a foundation that would punish adversarial defenses for decades. Did.

Space and simplicity between the sidelines were a priority. At a time when playbooks were as thick as George R.R. Martin’s epic, a list of reach—mesh, Y-cross, and his four vertices, etc.—was possible. fits on a notecard“When adopting a new play, I’ve always tried to cut the existing one so that I can control the package and practice and execute because execution is paramount,” Leach said. . “It’s better for a package to be too small than too big”

Leach only lifted a finger or two when the coach brought a small billboard to the sidelines to relay the play. Leach relied on the shotgun for over 98% of his plays at Pullman and Starkville when the traditionalists called for the ball to be snapped from under center. And with a complete rejection of conservative coaching, which often scripts and constrains perhaps the most important positions in the sport, Leach quarterbacks have complete freedom to coordinate every play at the line of scrimmage. Entrusted.

In many ways, Leach’s aggressive ethos was in stark contrast to the status quo. And like many things that are misunderstood, the contrast is in ridiculing reach for using gimmicky ploys in a sport that has long prioritized tradition, such as repeatedly running headlong into the wall of humanity. Leach didn’t care much for that tradition either, and his team rushed through the last 12 seasons he coached.

Opponents would say that’s why Leach never reached the conference championship game, let alone win the conference title. However, as noted earlier, the position he held had inherent drawbacks. Mississippi, Texas Tech, and Washington have never won the conference his championship outright in modern times. And it’s not that Reach hasn’t won big matches. Perhaps his signature coaching win was his iconic last-second win over the Reds in 2008 for the Raiders.

More importantly, the landscape of college football looks radically different than when Leach landed his first head coaching job in 2000. Point and pass attempts are proliferating. That alone was attributed, at least in part, to the reach that came to Lubbock and immediately tasked quarterback Cliff Kingsbury with throwing the ball 585 times, the nation’s top (and second most in season history). doing.From that point on, the game’s all-time passing leaderboard has never been the same: 92 of the 100 most prolific season passing yards since 1956Four It has been since 1998 when Leach helped Tim Couch pitch for 4,275 yards as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator. (At the time, that mark ranked him No. 8 on the list, but now he ranks No. 77.) Coached by Leach, the quarterback is a football player in his bowl of his subdivision. His 4 out of 11 pass totals in his season are his best in history.

The success of Leach’s philosophy has been fully demonstrated this season. Passing percentage (as share of all offensive plays) hit an all-time high of his 53.2%, and three of his top five Heisman vote winners played for Leach’s disciples.Five Had USC not been face-implanted in the Pac-12 championship game, half the field in the college football playoffs would have run a version of the air raid.6

It’s not just college games. The core that Leach relied on, many of his plays have become standard in the NFL. Just to name a few, look at the depth of throws quarterbacks have today. Reach-driven teams consistently threw the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage and were ranked close to the national lead most of the time. “I want to make it short to anyone who can score,” he once said. That check-down mantra has taken hold in both college and the pros. Like the NCAA, the NFL has reached an all-time high in short pass penetration.

Considering at least a handful of the league’s starting quarterbacks have appeared under Air Raid coaching, it makes a lot of sense.7 Patrick Mahomes exploded onto the scene in 2018 after playing under Texas Tech’s Kingsbury, establishing himself as one of the greatest players of all time. What was once considered a trick offense that only worked in college is now a staple at every level of the game.

“Three of the last four teams to win the Super Bowl have run. [the Air Raid]so I think it’s going pretty well,” Leach told the AP in August.

Imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery, and it has been common in reach in recent years. Leave it to a trained attorney with no experience playing at the college level to shake things up. ‘he once said. On and off the field, there was no player quite like Leach. But if you look at the games these days, you’ll find that everyone else at any level of the sport is doing the same thing Reach did decades ago.

Neil Paine contributed research.

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