Saturday, March 28, 2009

Q&A: Mike Leach, Head Coach, Texas Tech

Last season, did you ever want to pull a “Network” and open the window and say, “Hey, what about us?” when it came to all the hype of Oklahoma and Texas vying to play Florida in the National Championship?

Leach: We had as much of a claim to play Florida as anyone else. I look at it this way—the rules were set up before the season started and so there’s really nothing to be done about that. I think a good tie breaker would be graduation rate. I think that when you have a tie like that, I think a good blending of athletics and academics would be fantastic. Of course our graduation rate is 79 percent, Texas’ is 50 percent, and Oklahoma’s is 40 percent so we would have gone to the big game and that would have suited me tremendously. I think it would be wise if that change took place immediately, but I don’t look for that to happen. The thing is, ultimately, you had three great teams who really had good years and I think all of them deserved a lot of distinction and things like that. But I think all three had really great seasons.

Do you get into the NCAA Basketball Tournament or are you too busy preparing for spring football to really get involved?

Leach: I guess a little of both. Of course Pat Knight does a great job and we have a young team and they are fighting through some hard times and building up right now, but I thought they did a great job of coaching so I've always rooted for them to win. Right now I'm pretty well focused on spring football I guess, that’s really the priority, it’s the second most exciting part of the year and I’m really thrilled about that.

Speaking of Pat Knight, Bobby Knight was the former basketball coach there. While he was there, did you get a chance to talk to him or learn anything from him? As a coach are you always trying to learn from other coaches, regardless of the sport?

Leach: Well, Bobby Knight is a huge presence in athletics without question. He is the most successful and has the most wins of any basketball coach and I think that speaks for itself. The thing with coach Knight is, he is a great observer of people and his experiences and things like that. Just listening to him talk is fascinating. Don’t worry about the direction the conversation is going to go, just get him talking on a subject, hold on and listen, and it’s all worthwhile. Every time I ever had the opportunity to listen to him talk, I thought it was fascinating. He’s been out of town more than he’s been in town so I haven’t had the opportunity to do any of that lately, but he’s a fascinating individual.

Is it fair to call Graham Harrell a “system quarterback” considering that other quarterbacks that have come from Texas Tech have not been great NFL quarterbacks? And do you think any of those quarterbacks should be mentioned when talking about Graham Harrell?

Leach: Well, Kingsbury hasn’t done much except play every season at some different level of professional football since he left (Texas Tech). Sonny Cumbie was the franchise guy of LA’s Arena team. I think the other thing about it, in regards to quarterbacks, is that there’s only 30-some teams who are going to have a starting quarterback, so the notion that they’re not successful I think is false. Anybody that uses the word “system” right off the top, you know you’re talking to a bad football coach. Because anybody who says anything like that doesn’t understand the point of coaching. Anybody who calls plays has a system, so I assume their team calls plays, if they don’t they probably ought to start. I can’t think of any team that doesn’t call plays, so right there you have a system. This system quarterback stuff, all the guy is doing is acknowledging that he’s not a very good football coach because his quarterback doesn’t have the success that maybe (Cody) Hodges does or Graham Harrell or whoever; they want to call him a system quarterback and actually what they’re saying is they’re a bad football coach. The other thing that amazes me about it is in the NFL, most of the quarterbacks are playing in an offense that's similar to ours. They spread out, they throw it most of the time, and they operate from the shotgun, which is similar to what we do. So that immediately fits with the NFL model better than most of the quarterbacks from other systems. My favorite cop-out is those coaches that say, “Well, I don’t know if he can take a snap or drop back”. First of all, he’s (Harrell) done plenty of that. Second of all, how big of an insecurity that is as a coach, to feel like you don’t have the ability to teach somebody to take a snap and step backwards three, five, seven steps. We’re talking about a coach who is 30-50 years old dealing with a skill he can do himself and yet he doesn’t think he can teach it to a world class athlete?

So you’re saying you can’t be a college professor and say you can’t teach elementary school?

Leach: I would think. Send me a pile of nine-year olds and I'll have them taking drops and taking snaps from under center and I'll get it done in a couple of hours.

Your point of being in the shotgun formation seems to be trickling down to the NFL more and more. Even looking at the Patriots putting up record setting numbers, they were in shotgun more often than not.

Leach: Well Peyton Manning, how often is he under center? How about Denver? How about Seattle? How about Green Bay? How about Philadelphia? You can go on and on. It’s a bunch of foolishness. It's people afraid to think for themselves is what it is, and so what they do is they sit around and parrot what’s been infused in their head. I think just by definition, if you’re going to coach something you’re required to think, you’re required to teach. I think that failure to do that, how can you possibly call yourself a very good coach or a very good organization if you can't understand things that fundamental?

Another one of your players, Michael Crabtree is being scrutinized and you’re hearing things like, “He isn’t fast enough” or “He isn’t as tall as we thought”. Is that more foolishness to you?

Leach: Of course it's foolishness. The leading receiver in the NFL last year was Wes Welker, who came from our quote/unquote system. Two years in a row he’s led the league in receiving. He runs around a 4.8 and just had a happy experience at the Pro Bowl. And the fact that Michael Crabtree is only five or six inches taller and faster that means somehow he’s magically going to be a failure? I guess I’m not buying that either. And if our system is so flawed, you tell me how it is that simultaneously, for two years in a row, we had the leading receiver in the NFL and the leading receiver in college football.

Louis Vasquez, a guard, is starting to make a name for himself. Talk about him playing with those wide splits and do you think that will help him go into the next level?

Leach: Well, I think he’s got great technique, he’s real strong and he led the Combine in bench press. The thing is, he’s a great pass protector and that’s what’s required in the NFL. So yeah, I think he’ll do very well.

What are your thoughts on Brandon Williams' potential as a pass rusher at the next level?

Leach: Well we wish him the very best even though I think it was a mistake for him to leave early. I think he had more work to do and he could have improved his viability, but I think he’s a good player and has a lot of skills and I think if he continues to improve, he has the opportunity to do well.

Do your players normally come to you when they are in the process of deciding to leave early for the Draft or stay in college, or is that usually something they discuss with their agent or their family?

Leach: It varies a great deal. We never advised Brandon to leave and we stand behind that. As a matter of fact, I think the longer a guy stays the better off he is because I think that your chance of making the team is higher the more experience you have. A long story short, I think with rare exception you’re better off staying in school and then, certainly, the education aspect of school factors in there as well.

Would that apply to somebody like a Crabtree, who could be a potential top ten pick, or is he in fact that rare exception?

Leach: I think he’s somewhere around there. There’s personal choice in the matter too because everybody is going to be pressuring the kids and they have to decide which route they want to go and which way they want their life to proceed. Do they want to improve their chance of sticking in the NFL by staying put, or are they ready to roll the dice? The other thing is, with rare exception, players like the achievement of going to the NFL; they like the money in the NFL. Most of them cherish their college memories a little more than their NFL memories because the NFL has a business quality to it. So if you’re good enough, you’re going to eventually get to the NFL, so I don’t think there’s any real hurry. Sometimes the parents get stuff in their head and jump to silly conclusions and sometimes that’s aided by agents or friends or relatives or whoever, and I just think that people need to try to be smart and think first about the player that’s involved. There’s a certain amount of people out there that are thinking about themselves before the guy that’s doing the playing; all they want is the golden eggs, they don’t care about the goose.

Crabtree seemed to do such a great job at fighting to come back to the football and not letting the defender get through him to get to the ball. Is that something that was coached or is it just a natural instinct that he has?

Leach: I think all the above. Crabtree is one of the most competitive people I have ever dealt with. He believes he can get the ball and wants the ball virtually every play and we teach and encourage those types of things. The amazing knack that Crabtree had was continuing to finish plays and when they appeared to be over, making something happen.

What can you tell us about Taylor Potts, the expected successor to Graham Harrell? Is this his job to lose and how important is this spring for him being that he doesn’t have that much experience?

Leach: Well he’s got a little more than you think, he’s thrown a lot of balls. When he went in against Oklahoma State, he went 12-for-12 and had some very impressive throws and threw for over 100 yards in that stint. So I think he’s really good, I think he just needs to continue to improve like everybody. I think it’s important that he goes out and has a good spring, but I have a lot of confidence in him, too.

So does he have to earn the job in the spring?

Leach: You always have to earn the job and we will compare him with the others and obviously the guy that’s the best is going to start, but when we left the fall, he was ahead.

As far as recruiting, do you look for quarterbacks who run a similar offense you guys run at Tech or do you just go out and try and get the best football players you can get, regardless?

Leach: Well, I can’t talk about any commitments, but when it comes to recruiting quarterbacks in general, we look for guys who have some experience throwing the football.

Photo Credit: Texas Tech Athletics