Mike Leach at MIT Sloan analytics conference: 'If you can do it in high school, you can do it anywhere else'

Photo: James Snook/USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leach continues to be the pirate captain of renegade college football, and apparently he has designs on his methodology expanding into the professional ranks, too … with a huge tip of the cap to high school football.

First, let’s back up and take stock of precisely who Mike Leach is, and why he is the way he is. He was born in California but grew up and went to high school in Wyoming, where he emerged as a star wide receiver at Cody (Wyo.) High School. Perhaps frustrated by his lack of action in the grind-it-out era of high school football, Leach matriculated to BYU, met his wife and remained committed to offensive innovation in football.

Unsure of what to do with his life, he earned a JD at Pepperdine in case he wanted to become a lawyer but couldn’t shake the football itch. What followed was a mazy run through college coaching stops, with only one role on the defensive side of the ball (he was a linebackers coach at College of the Desert in 1988) and one truly unique head coaching position in Finland (no, really).

When he finally reached a level where he could exert more control — beginning with his time as the offensive coordinator at Division II power Valdosta State — he focused on expanding the literal and figurative scope of the passing game. His Air Raid offense has proven wildly successful wherever he’s been given authority as a head coach, first at Texas Tech and now at Washington State, where he has taken sagging programs to the verge of BCS and potentially College Football Playoff berths.

So where does an innovator like that look for new trends and ideas? In high school football, of course. And Leach, for one, isn’t listening when NFL coaches and others pooh pooh his offensive systems in the logic that the talent at that level is physical or athletic enough to mitigate the spacial advantages the Air Raid thrives upon.

Here’s what Leach had to say about naysayers when interviewed by Michael Lewis, author of The Blind Side, at the MIT Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference:

His point, as is usually the case when it comes to Leach and football, is logical. Just because pro players are better athletes doesn’t mean a brilliant and innovative concept can’t be operationally successful. And while he may be a bit too flippant about the talent disparity, it’s particularly worth noting that Leach is specifically not looking at NFL film to find his next offensive wrinkle. He’s looking at high school coaches and their systems to see if they’ve found something new that works.

Perhaps the most notable bit, and where Leach’s football brilliance verges into outright blasphemy for the football establishment, is his final line, where he actively calls into questions coaches who have shied away from experimenting with new offensive systems in favor of what they’re used to.

“It’s all just narrow-minded bunk for someone who wants to say you can’t do something because they’re too selfish or lazy to think about it.”

Mike Leach kissing up to high school coaches while calling NFL counterparts too selfish and lazy to adapt? We’re here for that. Someone start popping the popcorn.

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