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January 3, 2009

Football or P.R. Genius?

coach leach Richard Justice has already deemed him a genius.

Earlier this month, he visited President Bush in the White House and, on Sunday night, he will be profiled on CBS-TV's 60 Minutes.

Even Michael Lewis has bought in to the genius story.

But after a middle-of-the-road SEC program thoroughly manhandled his Texas Tech squad in the Cotton Bowl yesterday, Mike Leach looks more like a public relations genius than a football one.

Look, Leach is a reasonably good coach with an innovative offense. However, he is not close to being the savant that Tech's breakout season is leading some folks to suggest.

In fact, an objective evaluation of Leach's Tech career reveals that his teams run up big offensive numbers, but are not particularly impressive against teams with comparable or better talent.

After Tech's 11-2 record this season, Leach has a 76-39-0 record in his nine seasons at Tech, which works out to a salty 66% winning percentage. Although that is the best mark of any long-time coach at Tech over the past 70 years, a substantial part of Leach's success has been his 29-5 (85.2%) regular season mark against non-Big 12 opponents, which have been mostly sacrificial lambs.

Of those 34 non-conference games, only five have been against other BCS-conference teams -- Ohio State (loss), Mississippi (2 wins) and North Carolina State (2 losses). The last time that Tech even played a non-conference regular season game against a BCS-conference opponent was in 2003.

Meanwhile, Tech under Leach has feasted on such sacrificial lambs as Division 1-AA teams Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Indiana State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State, Eastern Washington and UMass, as well as undermanned Division I-A outfits such as SMU and New Mexico. Eleven of Tech's non-conference wins under Leach have been against SMU and New Mexico. Winning over 85% of those games isn't particularly impressive.

On the other hand, Leach's Big 12 conference record is another story. Even after this season's 7-1 Big 12 record, Leach's record in Big 12 play is 42-30 (58.3%). Leach-coached Tech teams are only 4-14 against Texas and Oklahoma, including this season's 65-21 embarrassing loss to the Sooners that removed Tech from any serious consideration for a BCS Bowl game.

Indeed, Leach's teams have had only a 4-4 Big 12 conference record in four of of his nine seasons at Tech, including two of the last three. With yesterday's loss in the Cotton Bowl, Leach's bowl record at Tech is a decent, but certainly not superlative, 5-4.

Finally, Leach has used extremely poor judgment in some of his public remarks about assistant coaches on his staff, and he has exhibited a selective memory in his comments about game officials, too.

So, given Leach's prolific offense, why aren't his teams better against big-time opponents?

The main reason is that the defenses on Leach's Tech teams have been generally dreadful, a quality that has not been helped by Leach's tendency to place his defenses in awkward field position situations by taking bizarre fourth-down chances and throwing high-risk passing plays deep in Tech's side of the field. This is genius?

Having said all that, Leach has done an admirable job at Tech. Producing a consistently winning team and going to nine straight bowl games is a noteworthy accomplishment at Tech.

However, Leach's record at Tech is simply not extraordinary and not indicative of the genius label that many are attaching to him. And it is unlikely that he will ever do better than he has this past season because the nature of his system makes it difficult for him to recruit the defensive talent necessary to compete at the highest levels of the big-time college game.

Frankly, my sense is that it's more likely that another innovator of offensive football -- Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson -- will get his team to a BCS Bowl game before Mike Leach.

Posted by Tom at January 3, 2009 12:01 AM |


** So, given Leach's prolific offense, why aren't his teams better against big-time opponents? **


As Barry Switzer once said, the more talented teams usually win.

Tech hasn't and probably won't ever have more talent than Oklahoma or Texas if Leach stays there another decade. That's why he should really try to move on to a school that has more of a shot at competing for its division. Of course, his personality is such that administrators at higher profile programs shy away from him, which is too bad. I'd like to see what he could do at a bigtime program. He's likely achieved all he can at a place like Tech.

Posted by: Kevin Whited Author Profile Page at January 2, 2009 9:29 PM

It's interesting that Leach's name is often bandied about in connection with big-time programs looking for a coach (this year alone, Washington, Tennessee and Auburn).

Could it be that the interview process is Leach's biggest obstacle to overcome in getting out of Lubbock?

Posted by: Tom K. Author Profile Page at January 3, 2009 12:53 AM

Leach also graduates players at higher rate than most Big 12 schools, particularly Texas, which is shameful in that regard.

Posted by: Don Mynack Author Profile Page at January 7, 2009 7:02 AM

"Leach also graduates players at higher rate than most Big 12 schools, particularly Texas, which is shameful in that regard."

That's because Texas has players leaving for other programs for playing time, and leaving early for the NFL. The NCAA counts these players as "not graduating," which is ridiculous.

Jevan Sneed and Vince Young are counted the same as dropouts. Imagine that.

Texas Tech doesn't have that problem. It's also not an academically competitive school.

Posted by: Spider Author Profile Page at January 7, 2009 11:15 AM

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