Thursday, December 04, 2008

Coachapalooza: ahoy, Mike Leach



First: would he come? For someone who's put so much effort into making Texas Tech what it is today--namely, 11-1 and winners of a share of the title in the toughest conference division ever assembled*--Leach sure seems mighty anxious to get the hell out of Lubbock. As the Wiz detailed earlier today, he's made runs at both the Miami and UCLA jobs, he made all kinds of come-hither eyes at Washington--until apparently pulling himself out of the running at UW this afternoon!--and although I can't be arsed to find the link in the avalanche of stuff from al.com, he (or someone close to him) has indicated he's at least willing to talk to Auburn. Also: negotiations to give the man an extension at Tech don't appear to be on the sort of fast track you'd expect if what Leach really wanted was to keep [You're this far into a Mike Leach post and you haven't made a pirate reference yet? Do it! Now, this verb!--ed.] uh, swashbuckling keelhauling foes for the Red Raiders. If this is all a ploy to chisel a raise out of Tech, he's doing a phenomenal job with it.

In short: I think the evidence is that Leach wants to coach somewhere else next season. Why, when he is a God That Walks Among Us at Tech? Why, when the baby of a program he's nursed through its infancy seems to have more long-term potential than ever? The only answer I can think of is: Lubbock. Leach is a lovable eccentric, and I can't think he finds himself surrounded by much lovable eccentricity in Lubbock.

Which is why, frankly, I thought right up until a few minutes ago he'd end up at Washington. Pac-10 + Seattle seems to suit Leach's demeanor much more snugly than SEC + Auburn. But if the Huskies are genuinely out of the picture ... call me cocky, but I think it's 65-35 Auburn gets him if they want him. (Or not: I wrote that before reading this. That guy would know better than I.)

Should we want him?

Pros: One thing about Mike Leach that won't be true for some of the other coaches in this series--Charlie Strong, for instance--is that there have been reams and reams and reams of stuff written about him. But there's still one essential piece to start with, if you haven't read it: Michael Lewis's 2005 profile for the NYT, which has so many beautiful nuggets I could quote you the whole thing, despite the fact it's long enough to be a homework assignment. There's the part where Leach states that beating A&M means that the women of College Station should be their slaves, the Pirate School quote that started it all, the single-minded determination to put points on the board that nearly got him slugged by SMU's Phil Bennett. But my favorite part is this:
When he was finished with Hodges, Leach marched into the locker room, climbed back up on his green stool and exhibited, with the enthusiasm of a man doing it for the first time, the proper way to swing a pirate sword. "Coach's motivational speeches are always the same," says Daniel Loper, who played four years for Leach and is now a rookie offensive tackle with the Tennessee Titans. "He tells very long stories, and you're never sure what they mean. But he's a genius. When we leave the locker room, we all know that we'll have three receivers wide open every play."
That's it, isn't it? No one know what the hell is going on with this guy, but at the end of the day, there's three wide open receivers on every play. As Lewis detailed, it doesn't take long for Leach's offense to take effect:
The year before he arrived, Kentucky's quarterback passed for 967 yards. In Leach's first year, his quarterback, Tim Couch, threw for 3,884 yards; the year after that, Couch, who lasted for only a few disappointing years in the N.F.L., threw for 4,275 yards. After Kentucky, Leach moved to Oklahoma for a single season, 1999. That year Oklahoma went from 101st to 8th in the country in offensive scoring. Its quarterback, Josh Heupel, passed for 3,850 yards that season, which was 1,700 more than any quarterback in Oklahoma football history had thrown for in a season. The next year, running Leach's offense, Oklahoma won the national championship.
Nothing's changed since then, except that the Tech offense has added the likes of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree and become even better; after being sixth in the nation in total offense for a few years, they're fourth now. And they do things like this:







FULL SCREEN VERSION


After watching what Auburn's offense has become the last few years: yes, I would like some of that, please. As for the quality of players who would pull it off, well, does it matter? Mr. SEC has endorsed Leach for Auburn HC and provides the following fascinating datum:
(H)ere’s the key to Leach: he doesn’t have to have stellar recruiting classes to win. At Texas Tech, Leach has 9 four- or five-star recruits on his roster. Nine. That’s it.

In the last two years he is 2-2 with Texas and Oklahoma. Texas has 51 four- or five-star guys, Oklahoma has 55.

Think about it. This guy is going toe-to-toe with traditional powers who out rank him in star-power five to one.
We might not out-recruit them straight up, but I imagine Auburn could stay within that five-to-one ratio with the Dawgs, Bayou Bengals, and even the Tide. Auburn is not Lubbock, and even Auburn's traditional recruiting grounds aren't nearly as picked over as Texas. Leach could likely find enough players to make it work. Also, burnout shouldn't be an issue: he's not young, but 47's not too terribly old in this business, either.

Even if you don't find Leach's legendary eccentricity endearing, you have to admit it does have its uses. Quoting his Wiki page:
During his post-game press conference after the 2007 game against Texas, Leach used most of his time to rail against the officiating crew for what he felt were bad calls. He speculated that the officials may have favored Texas because the head official lives in Austin, because they are incompetent, or possibly because the conference wants Texas to appear in a BCS bowl because of the increased appearance fees that such a bowl generates for the conference ... On November 13, 2007, the Big 12 fined Leach $10,000, the largest fine in Big 12 history. Leach also received a reprimand and was warned that further violations could result in suspension. In a Big 12 coaches' conference call that day, Leach added that he does not regret making any of the comments. (!!!) Leach announced that he would appeal the fine. Tech alumni and fans began raising money to aid Leach in paying the penalty in the event that it was upheld. Optionally, the proceeds raised could be used charitably. So, just before Christmas 2007, Leach requested that the nearly $5,000 raised to that point be spent on 400 hams to be given free to families in Lubbock. Future donations were to go to the university or athletic department. Following the 2008 Gator Bowl, in which Virginia scored twice on penalties against Tech for intentional grounding in the end zone, Leach joked, "I felt like we had a back there on the one safety, but I don't comment on officiating. I just give out hams is what I do."
That? Is awesome. Remember this about Leach, too: personality-wise, he could not be any more different from Nick Saban. He will hate Nick Saban as much as we do. (Probably.)

Cons

The biggest one by a mile: his teams really don't play defense. For all the talk about how this was going to be Tech's big year on D, they're 74th in yards-per-play allowed this year. They've been respectable in this category in previous years (ranking between 21st and 32nd the last four), but (2005 excepted) it hasn't translated into getting stops: they've ranked 69th, 49th, 76th, 18th, and 68th in scoring defense the last five years.

Why? Perhaps it's that Leach has no interest in it, or that the spread softens his team up too much, or leaves them on the field for too long, or that he hasn't been able to find a good DC. Maybe it's none of those things, says one Burnt Orange Nation diarist:
(1) offenses can be enginnered to take advantage of inferior athletes much more easily than defenses. (2) defenses require great athletes to be great. (3) it's very hard to recruit great athletes to Lubbock, Texas. (4) therefore, Leach's offenses have outpaced his defenses. Look around college football at the mid-level programs that have over-achieved in the past 10 years. What do they all have in common? Explosive offense; spotty defense. There's nothing inherent to Mike Leach's offense that makes his defenses bad; it's the fact that he coaches at Texas Tech and not Texas.
To which I respond: that probably has something to do with it. But some of it is also the trickle-down effect from having a head coach that, frankly doesn't care about it.

I'd also be willing to bet the reason he doesn't have those athletes for defense probably isn't Lubbock and Lubbock alone, since he managed to get the likes of Crabtree on campus--I'm not sure he makes the effort or has the eye for defensive recruits he has on offense. It's astounding what he does with the limited amount of talent he has to work with, but I have to wonder--as thrilling as his offense must be to play in (for everyone save the running backs), shouldn't have averaged better than 46th amongst BCS teams for the 2002-2007 period? Even in Lubbock?

Put it together and I think it's fair to assume you can't expect Leach to build a consistent defense from the ground up. The question is: Auburn's already built a consistent defense. All Leach would have to do would be to maintain it. Could he do that? Particularly if Rhoads sticks around? This is your $64 million question, if you ask me.

What's not as much of a question is how Leach will deal with the boosters and trustees: he'll ignore them, and as long as he's winning, they'll leave him alone. Neither is it the idea that Leach's offense "won't work in the SEC"; in 1998, just Leach's second year at Kentucky under Mumme, the Wildcats scored 35, 20, 33, 39, 26, 37, 55, and 21 points in their eight SEC games. Since then Leach has only refined his offense while the SEC hasn't seen anyone run it properly since Mumme got the ax. Leach is not Franklin, and he won't be trying to convince Hugh Nall and Greg Knox what to do with his players.

Two other things: what about the Auburn fans? The widespread reaction to having Leach's name floated has generally been ... well, it hasn't been positive, and that's about the best you can say for it. Winning would cure all ills, but what if Leach goes 5-7 his first year? 4-8? The circumstances of Tubby's departure make this already a volatile situation--is it necessary to bring in someone who'll make it only more volatile? The boos in J-Hare would (unfortunately) be long and loud, and would not be helpful in moving the program forward.

I can't say the timing of this gives me a ton of confidence in Leach's ability to judge the character of his recruits, either, but I don't think it's been a widespread problem for Tech as best I can recall.

Final endorsement? As I don't think the questions surrounding Leach's inadequate defense can just be explained away by saying "Lubbock" and that the atmosphere surrounding the Auburn program shouldn't be made any more toxic than it already is ... Leach would not be my first choice for Auburn's head coach.

However, as he's better than so, so many other alleged candidates I'm deathly afraid Auburn will be stuck with, would I be happy if Leach was announced tomorrow? Yes, yes, yes. Combine Leach's offense with Auburn's current defense and Auburn becomes perennial SEC contenders on that Florida/LSU/Georgia level; combine Leach's offense with a slightly worse Auburn defense and we're back to where we were in 2005/2006, at worst. It's only if Auburn's defense completely collapsed that we'd be looking at long-term failure ... and long-term, what Leach has done at Tech is take a Big 12 also-ran and turn it into a national title contender. It wouldn't be a slam dunk, but there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason he couldn't do the same at Auburn. And some of us who like pirates might have some fun along the way.

More tomorrow.

*I keep thinking I'm going to see this point expounded on somewhere else, but I haven't, so you heard it here first: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma St. collectively went undefeated this year against all other competition. 36-0. Pretty remarkable.

9 comments:

mark said...

You sold me on the idea.

bovinekid said...

Me too. One pirate, plz.

Ben said...

It would make me being an Auburn blogger much more interesting.

PowerOfDixieland said...

I was strongly against Leach until I read this. Now I'm warming up to the idea. I still would prefer to get Butch Davis at whatever cost...

Deano "aka" Jimmy Joe Meeker "aka" Fat Elvis said...

Although I don't like Leach, I love this blog and that was a great post! How the name for the blog came about is still my favorite. I would be honored if you get really bored and stop by the Nanner Stand. WDE

Hobbes said...

I would put it this way:

"However, as he's better than so, so many other alleged candidates I'm deathly afraid Auburn will be stuck with, would I be unhappy if Leach was announced tomorrow? No, no, no."

Of course I felt the same way about Dye, Tubs, Bowden. Only Bowden made me unhappy and that was after making me happy, very happy. Of course Dye and Tubs made me sad, but thats different from unhappy. I think.

Memo to Leach or whoever becomes Auburn's coach: Don't go undefeated unless you're Ralph Jordan or Mike Donahue ---- within 5 years you'll be gone. You can look it up.

tennessee tiger said...

Given that I have loved watching stellar Auburn tailbacks knife through gaping holes created by monster lines pushing people around for the majority of my football-watchin' days (which started during the Dye years), I am still a little uncertain about an aerial circus coming to town.

However, I must say, I would be a little excited by the possibilities it would bring. Moreover, I love the guy's personality. Have you seen the video where he gives dating advice? I don't think we've seen a guy as genuinely funny in the SEC since Spurrier was a Florida. I am pretty sure he would get under Saban's skin, and vice-versa, so I would be okay with the hire. Although B. Davis would still be #1 on my list, followed by W. Muschamp.

gerry dorsey said...

as a bama fan i truly fear auburn getting leach...which should be an additional ringing endorsement. i live in big 12 country and watch it only slightly less closely than i do the sec. i've been on track'em tigers all week shocked at the lack of support for leach. i don't give a damn about defense (which seems to be the biggest complaint), a win is a win whether its 3-2 or 63-62.

another ringing endorsement would no doubt come if you asked a texas/ou/a&m fan how'd they'd react if leach left tech. i'm here to tell you they'd be freakin' overjoyed.

he does is with less talent than his competition, and he does it at a place with a history of sucking hind teet before he got there. that's gotta count for something.

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