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Youth Football the Texas Tech Mike Leach Way
Many of you probably watched that incredible Texas Tech-Texas game on Saturday night like me. The sheer entertainment value of the game alone was worth the time investment, with Michael Crabtree scoring the game-winning touchdown on an exciting play with just 1 second left. Mike Leach is a story unto itself, definitely a man who keeps pace with a different drummer. There’s no shortage of athletes on the Texas side of the ball, and Mack Brown is a true gentleman, a modern statesman of the game.
The youth football lesson in this
As junior football coaches, what can we learn from Coach Leach? Let’s first take a look at Coach Leach’s background for a moment. With the exception of a year on the bench for his high school football team as a junior, he never played organized football. He earned his bachelor’s degree at BYU, then his law degree at Pepperdine. At 25, married, with his second child on the way, he decides he wants to coach college football. Yeah, after stops at College of the Desert, Cal Poly, Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, Finland and Kentucky, he’s now the head coach of Texas Tech, not bad for a “Christian with serious obedience issues” . He seems to be looking at things from a slightly different point of view, maybe even a kind of “alien” point of view.
He amassed a 74-37 record at a school that rarely, no, let’s rephrase this, ever gets top-tier or even second-tier talent in the state of Texas. These players are restricted to Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M. These kids go to big money schools, big stadiums, big traditional schools, not Texas Tech and it’s a small 57,000 seat stadium with a masked pirate Zorro mascot. Just getting to Lubbock is a major undertaking, like something in one of those “Dead Zone” commercials, where none of the Big 12 Media crews like to go.
Leach does it with quarterbacks no one else wants, 6-foot kids with offers to Tech and maybe middle school. He started a number of single-season quarterbacks, many of them fifth-year seniors like BJ Symons, who had 52 touchdowns in his only year as a starter. The following season, Symons was replaced by fellow fifth-year senior Sonny Cumbie, who threw for 4,742 yards, sixth-best in NCAA history. This season, Cody Hodges, a fifth-year senior with four years of experience on the bench, leads Tech’s quest for his first-ever Big 12 title and even a shot at the national championship.
Now, what does all this mean for us youth football coaches?
The leaching formula
Mike Leach saw when he came to Texas Tech, that there was no way he could ever compete 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 second and third tier players. He focused on bringing in quick, smart kids who were maybe a little too small or oddly shaped, kids who maybe didn’t look like football players. Certainly, former bonesack quarterback Kliff Kingsbury fit that mold. It looked like he would need some weight in his shoes to hold him down when the high West Texas winds blew around Lubbock. Listed at 175 pounds, that weight was about as accurate as the weight listed on a 45-year-old woman’s driver’s license. Technical running back Taurean Henderson looked more like a scrawny Wizard of Oz Munchkin with really bad hair than a Big 12 Running Back.
How to win with such talent? I’m sure that’s what Leach asked himself 10 years ago when he started at Tech,
Here is what he did:
He widened the offensive line splits, so his smaller quarterbacks would have lanes they could see and cross, as well as edge so far out that his quarterbacks would have more time against the incredible athleticism from many Big 12 Defensive Ends. Over the course of a game, those long passes wear down those monstrous defenses. In the fourth quarter, his quarterbacks therefore have all day to throw. Offensive line splits vary greatly from 3 to 9 feet. It also gave his small offensive linemen nice angles for those big defensive linemen lined up in the gaps.
He’s committed to passing the ball first, with most seasons averaging over 55 shots 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 rolled game card for his quarterback only had 26 offensive plays for the Texas Game. Coach Leach does NOT have a huge game card filled with hundreds of games and low and distance gear, he has a simple unlaminated piece of paper usually folded in four like some sort of crumpled crib sheet, with about 30 games on it. If a game works it writes an O next to it and rerolls it, if it fails it writes an X next to it and doesn’t. In the Texas game, All Curl had to have an O next because he threw it at least 5 times.
He is committed to executing these few concepts from many formations and appearances. So while Leach can be called the “Mad Scientist”, his playbook is relatively straightforward. These television experts have no idea.
Why does it work?
How and why does it work? The accuracy of his receiver’s routes is unmatched. Look at them sometimes, you won’t see anything like it anywhere. The timing, the execution in the strangeness. There is nothing groundbreaking about these soccer games, it’s the execution that’s flawless and groundbreaking. Pass protection is just as perfect, quarterback Tech has only been sacked twice so far this season.
The equivalent of youth football
As a youth football coach we have to look at what we have to work with and how it compares to our competitors. Can we afford to direct what everyone does in the league and expect the kids to be successful? Should we run the exact same football games and formations as our bigger, faster competition and expect to compete? Or do we have to be creative and manage something different? Tech decided to launch something different.
Do we need 40-50-60 games in our playbook? Tech did it Saturday with 26 football games and Tech can train 6 days a week most of the year. They are masters of a few concepts from multiple backgrounds.
Do we throw away our chips with leaching?
When you’re a junior football coach, does that mean you have to commit to kicking the ball 60 times a game and widening your gap to 6-9 feet with your football team? Not at all. In youth football we can’t practice 6 days a week most of the year or cut anyone (most teams) Texas Tech doesn’t have to worry about getting every player in the game , regardless of the circumstances of the game or to have teams of size 25 instead of 150. Your children will not be able to widen the gaps to 9 feet, when you start a future non-sporting computer nerd at a place of the offensive line and the future marching band tuba player to another. These kind of kids can’t bridge a 2 foot gap let alone a 6 to 9 foot gap. Most youth football teams won’t have 2-3 good, well-drilled quarterbacks waiting in the wings when the starter gets injured or sick. Even your best assistant quarterback in every QB camp known to man isn’t going to throw on a wide streak and hit it with pinpoint accuracy on the outside point of his shoulder from a 25-yard sideline like he does. regularly Tech (impossible to defend). But what we junior football coaches can learn from Leach is to compete, you don’t have the biggest, most athletic team in your league, but you have to be different. You don’t need to have 60 football games in your playbook, but what you do need are complementary games that you run to absolute perfection. That’s why my teams lead the Single Wing offense and why we have a limited number of 100% complementary play streaks that we perfect each season.
Tech still has a tough row to hoe with Oklahoma State next, but they’re still fun to watch. Heck if Tech hadn’t converted on a 4th-and-6 of their own 35 against Nebraska 2 weeks ago in a narrow win, we might not even be having this conversation. But Mike Leach thinks 4th and 6th are achievable advantage even over his 35. When his ‘no play’ failed, Crabtree delivered with a 65-yard TD catch on ‘broken play’ which makes the difference in the game. Mike Leach is an enigma.
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