Mike Leach is even cooler than I thought

Dec 1, 2011, 8:48 AM | Updated: 10:41 am

By Mike Salk

I have been reading about new Washington State coach Mike Leach for hours now and I think I am becoming a little obsessed.

Let me be clear: I went into his hiring thinking the Cougars were scoring because they were getting a winning coach with a weird, quotable personality. Both characteristics were important, according to my rationale, because WSU needed wins (obviously) and getting into the press seemed like a great way to draw attention to a remote locale like Pullman.

I still think that is true.

But the more I read about him, the more I think Leach is going to succeed. Yes, he has a weird obsession with pirates. That obsession, however, makes more sense when you read Michael Lewis’ New York Times profile on him and realize that “each off-season, Leach picks something he is curious about and learns as much as he can about it: Geronimo, Daniel Boone, whales, chimpanzees, grizzly bears, Jackson Pollock. The list goes on, and if you can find the common thread, you are a step ahead of his football players. One year, he studied pirates. When he learned that a pirate ship was a functional democracy; that pirates disciplined themselves; that, loathed by others, they nevertheless found ways to work together, the pirate ship became a metaphor for his football team.”

Despite the fun and entertainment value of pirate analogies (as an aside, I can’t wait to pick his brain on the relevance of Daniel Boone or grizzly bears), Leach is primarily the exact thing I want in a football coach: a forward thinker.

To be a forward thinker doesn’t have to be political. It doesn’t mean he is a progressive liberal. It means that he is unwilling to simply accept the traditional line of reasoning as absolute fact. Rather than bowing down to tradition, Leach seems to question everything in order to find the right answers, not just the ones that everyone has always ASSUMED to be correct.

If that means glorifying violence, studying pirates or splitting his offensive linemen yards apart, he is willing to consider it if it can help him win. But that doesn’t mean that his approach is random or scattershot. His offense is called “Air Raid” and it seems to stem from specific philosophies. He believes in creating space and confounding/exhausting defenses. Much of his offensive strategy seems to focus on spreading out his players to force defenders to cover as much of the field as possible. Space creates running lanes and passing lanes for skilled players to run and throw through.

It’s a great goal to confuse your opponent, but the problem with many complex passing attacks is that they end up confusing their own teams! Leach claims to have simplified his attack to avoid that dilemma.

Look, Mike Leach may just be a weird guy who thinks he’s a pirate and that’s got value in and of itself. But the more I read about him, the more I think there is a darn good reason why he won 84 games in 10 years at Texas Tech. Anyone who is willing to do things his own thing and win the way Leach wants to win is someone that I want to follow.

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Mike Leach is even cooler than I thought