Many of you probably watched that incredible Texas Tech-Texas game Saturday evening like I did. The sheer entertainment value of the game alone was worth the time investment, with Michael Crabtree scoring the winning touchdown on a thrilling play with just 1 second left on the clock. Mike Leach is a story unto itself, definitely a man that follows the beat of a different drummer. On the Texas side of the ball, athletes abound and Mack Brown is a true gentleman, a modern statesman of the game.
The Youth Football Lesson in This
As youth football coaches what can we learn from Coach Leach? First let’s look for a moment at Coach Leach’s background. With the exception of one year of sitting on the bench of his High School football team as a Junior, he never played organized football. He got his Bachelors at BYU and then his Law Degree from Pepperdine. At age 25, married, with his second child on the way he decides he wants to be a College Football coach. Yeah right, After stops at College of the Desert, Cal Poly, Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, Finland and Kentucky he is now the head coach of Texas Tech, Not bad for a self described “Christian with serious obedience issues”. He seems to look at things from a slightly different perspective, maybe even a sort of an “outsiders” viewpoint.
He has amassed a 74-37 record at a school that rarely, no let’s rephrase that, never gets the top tier or even second tier talent in the state of Texas. Those players are reserved for Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Those kids go to the big money, big stadium, big tradition schools, not to Texas Tech and it’s tiny 57.000 seat stadium with a masked pirate Zorro mascot. Just getting to Lubbock is a major undertaking, like something out of one of those “Dead Zone” commercials, the place none of the Big 12 Media crews relish going.
Leach does it with quarterbacks no one else wants, 6 foot kids with offers to just Tech and maybe a mid major school. He has started a number of quarterbacks for just one season, many being fifth year seniors like BJ Symons, who passed for 52 touchdowns in his only year as a starter. The following season Symons was replaced by another fifth year senior, Sonny Cumbie, who passed for 4.742 yards, the sixth best in NCAA history. This season Cody Hodges a fifth year senior with four years of bench sitting experience is leading Tech’s quest for it’s first ever Big 12 Title and even a shot at the National Championship.
Now what does this all mean to us youth football coaches?
The Leach Formula
Mike Leach saw when he came to Texas Tech, that there was no way he would ever be able to match up with Texas, Oklahoma, A&M and the big boys by doing more of what they were doing. He was always going to have to settle for the second and third tier players. He focused on bringing in fast, smart kids that were maybe a bit undersized or odd shaped, kids that maybe didn’t look like football players. Certainly former bag of bones quarterback Kliff Kingsbury fit that mold. He looked like he would need weights in his shoes to hold him down when the stiff winds of West Texas blew around Lubbock. Listed at 175 pounds, this weight number was about as accurate as the weight listed on a 45 year old woman’s drivers license. Tech running back Taurean Henderson looked more like a skinny Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz with really bad hair than a Big 12 Running Back.
How do you win with talent like this? I’m sure that is what Leach asked himself 10 years ago when he started at Tech,
This is What He Did:
He widened the offensive line splits, so his diminutive quarterbacks would have lanes they could see and throw through as well as to make the edges so far outside that his quarterbacks would have more time against the incredible athleticism many Big 12 Defensive Ends have. Over the course of a game those long pass rushes tire out these monstrous defensive ends so by the fourth quarter his quarterbacks have all day to throw. The offensive line splits vary dramatically from 3 to 9 feet. This also gave his smaller offensive linemen nice angles for those big defensive linemen aligned in the gaps.
He committed to passing the ball first, with most seasons averaging over 55 throws per game.
He committed to throwing the ball with just a few concepts, All Curl, 4 Verticals, Y-Stick, Shallow, Bubble Screens and Mesh, The laminated play card for his quarterback had just 26 offensive plays on it for the Texas Game. Coach Leach does NOT have a huge play card filled with hundreds of plays and down and distance material, he has a simple piece of non laminated paper usually folded up into fourths, like some kind of crumpled up crib sheet, with about 30 plays on it. If a play works he writes an O next to it and runs it again, if it fails he writes an X next to it and doesn’t . In the Texas game, All Curl must have had an O next to it because he threw it least 5 times.
He committed to running those few concepts out of many formations and looks. So while Leach may be called the “Mad Scientist”, his playbook is relatively simple. Those TV pundits have no clue.
Why does it work?
How and why does it work? The precision of his receiver’s routes are second to none. Watch them sometimes, you will not see anything like it anywhere. The timing, the execution in uncanny. There is nothing revolutionary about these football plays, it is the execution that is flawless and revolutionary. The pass protection is equally as flawless, the Tech quarterback has been sacked just twice so far this season.
The Youth Football Equivalent
As a youth football coach we have to look at what we have to work with and how that compares to our competition. Can we afford to run what everyone else is in the league is running and expect the kids to have success? Should we run the exact same football plays and formations as our bigger and faster competition and expect to compete? Or do we have to be creative and run something different? Tech decided to run something different.
Do we need 40-50-60 plays in our playbook? Tech did it on Saturday with 26 football plays and Tech gets to practice 6 days a week nearly year round. They are masters of a few concepts run out of multiple formations.
Do We Throw in Our Chips With Leach?
When coaching youth football does this mean you should commit to throwing the ball 60 times a game and widening your splits to 6-9 feet with your football team? No, not at all. In youth football, we don’t get to practice 6 days a week nearly year round or cut anyone (most teams), Texas Tech doesn’t have to worry about getting every player into the game regardless of game circumstances or have squad sizes of 25 instead of 150. Your kids aren’t going to be able to widen splits out to 9 feet, when you are starting an nonathletic future computer nerd at one offensive line spot and the future tuba player of the marching band at another. Those kind of kids can’t fill a 2 foot gap let alone a 6-9 foot gap. Most youth football teams aren’t going to have 2-3 good well trained backup quarterbacks waiting in the wings for when the starter gets hurt or is sick. Even your best quarterback attending every QB camp known to man isn’t going to throw to a streaking wideout and hit him with pinpoint accuracy on the outside tip of his sideline shoulder on a 25 yard sideline streak route like Tech consistently does ( impossible to defend). But what we youth football coaches can learn from Leach is to compete, you don’t have the biggest and most athletic team in your league, but you have to be different. You don’t have to have 60 football plays in your playbook, but what you do need are complementary plays that you execute to absolute perfection. That’s why my teams run the Single Wing offense and why we have a limited number of 100% complementary play series we perfect every season.
Tech still has a tough row to hoe with Oklahoma State up next, but they are always fun to watch. Heck if Tech hadn’t converted on a 4th and 6 from their own 35 against Nebraska 2 weeks ago in a narrow win, we may not even be having this conversation. But Mike Leach thinks 4th and 6 is a makeable down even from his own 35. When his “no play” failed, Crabtree delivered with a “broken play” 65 yard TD catch, which was the difference maker in the game. Mike Leach is an enigma.