If Longfellow were to re-vamp his noted poem on Paul Revere by calling it “Mike Leach’s Ride”, he would probably say “One if by Air, Two if by Air.”
Make that “Won” if by Air.
Two things characterize a Mike Leach team at every one of his coaching levels. One, they throw. And two, they win.
As the offensive coordinator at NAIA Iowa Wesleyan from 1989-1991, Leach’s teams passed for over 11,000 yards and broke 26 national records
Leach was honored as the 1996 Division II Offensive Coordinator of the Year by American Football Quarterly at his next stop- power Valdosta (GA) State
In two years at Kentucky, Leach coached top draft pick Tim Couch and spearheaded a UK offense which set 41 SEC records.
Leach inherited an Oklahoma Sooner offense that ranked 101st in the country in scoring offense. In just one season as an offensive assistant, OU improved to eighth in Division I. Leach was nominated for the 1999 Broyles Award as the top assistant in the nation. His protégé- quarterback Josh Heupel- became a Heisman Trophy runner-up.
“We don’t have magic plays or magic schemes. I think the biggest thing is he completely believes in our offense,” says Texas Tech receivers coach Lincoln Reilly.
“I think it’s just that belief, that commitment and over the years refining your practice,” Reilly continues. “Because he is so committed to it, our guys are able to practice it so much. The repetition is so great that the belief and confidence trickles down to the players.”
In his nine seasons at Lubbock, Leach has posted a 76-39 record. The Red Raiders have won NCAA passing titles five times in his tenure. Tech’s special 2008 season- where they won 11 games while averaging 44 points per contest- earned Leach the 20th annual George Munger Award as College Coach of the Year.
“Coach Leach has never been a big individual award guy. I think the first thing that Coach would say is that this is a team and staff award,” predicts long time Texas Tech Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach Ruffin McNeill.
“Coach Leach is a tireless worker during the season,” McNeill continues. “He has a very, very distinct passion for the game of football.”
With just seconds on the clock and trailing archrival Texas by one on November 1st, Tech quarterback Graham Harrell hit All-American wide receiver Michael Crabtree on a vertical route called Ace Six. Crabtree broke a tackle and burst into the end zone giving the Red Raiders a dramatic win and elevating Tech to #2 in the country. It may be the defining play of the 2008 season.
“He has been able to build this program just like he wants. He had a plan, he stuck with it and now you’re starting to see the success…the real success come along,” observed Reilly.
Leach follows Kansas’ Mark Mangino as the second consecutive Big 12 coach to win the Munger. “Here is a guy that can talk to you about the European Union and Howard Stern in one conversation. He is that diverse,” is how Mangino described Leach to the New York Times this past November.
Leach graduated from BYU with an American Studies degree; he later earned a law degree at Pepperdine, graduating in the top one-third of his class. His unconventional background- Leach never played college football- may have aided the formation of his unorthodox offense. His strong personal education experiences flow through to his players.
“The first thing that we discuss at every staff meeting are academics,” emphasizes McNeill. “Before football is discussed, before injuries are discussed, before anything is discussed our personnel report to the staff and Coach Leach about our players’ academic progress.”
In 2007, 16 Red Raiders were named to the Big 12 Conference Academic Football Team, the second highest number in the league. Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, an All-Big 12 first teamer on the field, was named the Verizon Academic All-American of the Year in 2002.
Leach amalgamates winning on the field with success in the classroom. That combination is too strong to “pass” up when honoring a Coach of the Year.