Want a Rose Bowl? There’s one man for the job.
Formerly at Texas Tech, Mike Leach – who has expressed interest in the job - is a coach who has experience using the leftover scraps of other teams to win in a BCS conference. He’s accomplished. He’s innovative. He’s not more of the same old, grind it out system that can’t win in Minnesota as long as the rest of the conference is running the same offense.
Why is Mike Leach the only coach who has expressed interest that can get the Gophers that Big 10 title they so desperately crave? Here’s why.
Experience Winning In A BCS Conference While Using Lesser Recruits
The new coach at Minnesota will initially have to win using the scraps left over by Iowa, Wisconsin, the rest of the Big 10, and maybe even NDSU and SDSU. Sure, the Gophers may eventually be able to control the state of Minnesota and siphon off recruits from surrounding states, but it’s unrealistic to expect the new head coach to come in and pull off top 25 recruiting classes in the wake of the mess left behind by Tim Brewster.
Al Golden and Kevin Sumlin both have experience recruiting in areas of the country where they’re getting scraps left over by more prestigious teams. But neither has experience taking these scraps and winning with them in a BCS conference. Mike Leach has this experience.
Leach took QBs and WRs who were so naturally talented they went in the final three rounds of the NFL draft, if they were drafted at all, and turned them into key components on one of the top offenses in the country. With the notable exception of Michael Crabtree, Leach never had NFL talent on his offense at Texas Tech, yet he consistently put out one of the top offenses in college football and had a team that competed every year in the Big 12.
Leach took the recruits rejected at Texas and Oklahoma and beat Texas and Oklahoma with them. He has experience in getting the most out of lesser talent, and winning in a major conference with that lesser talent. Whoever is Minnesota’s next coach will need to get the most out of lesser talent until the program can be rebuilt. Leach has experience doing this, and he’s the only guy out there who has this experience.
Innovative - Won't Be Using Players Recruited By Wisconsin And Iowa
One of AJR’s main points in his piece is that Minnesota needs to go back to the formula that’s won at Iowa and Wisconsin and previously at Minnesota. In fact, here’s the direct quote.
When you look at Iowa and Wisconsin, the two programs most often compared with Minnesota's, the blueprint for success becomes clear: Run the ball, control the clock, and play stout defense. Both the Badgers and Hawkeyes are built with ball-control offenses and strong defenses which both caters to the talent pool of the Midwest, and also the realization that Ohio State, Michigan and now Nebraska will always have more athletes. Another factor working against an offense built on speed and a crafty passing attack is the climate. And as much as the Mike Leach fans would like to discount this dilemma, it definitely would create issues in a passing game in November. Thus, any offense that needs more than two or three pro-caliber skill players to be extremely successful should probably be taken out of consideration.
And, well, I’m going to disagree with that about as strongly as I can.
I’m sorry, but I’m not getting excited about going back to a formula that won Glen Mason 8 games a year and got him a Sun Bowl berth. Running the same offensive and defensive schemes as Iowa and Wisconsin is a terrible idea, especially when the new coach arrives.
Because if Minnesota runs the same kind of offense as Iowa and Wisconsin, they’re competing for the same recruits as Iowa and Wisconsin. And, ultimately, that’s a battle that Minnesota’s about 4-5 years away from winning, if they can ever decisively win it at all.
A team is most successful is when they’re ahead of the curve, not behind the curve. When they’re the one setting the new offensive trend, not following the same trends other teams have used. Urban Meyer found so much success in the SEC partially because he was the one setting the new trends in offense at Florida (and partially because he’s a hell of a recruiter). Meyer didn’t succeed by following what Georgia, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn were doing – he did his own thing, used a different type of player, and developed an offense that was different from the other teams in the conference and, thus, more difficult to prepare for. Same thing with Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia in the Big East and, now that he has a QB, Rich Rodriguez and Michigan in the Big 10, and Bo Pelini and Nebraska in the Big 12. See also: Oregon in the Pac 10 and the offense Chip Kelly has used since he came over to run the offense in 2008, what Chris Peterson has been doing at Boise St. since he arrived, and, to a lesser extent, what Gus Malzahn is doing with his veer option and Cam Newton at Auburn (Pelini uses similar concepts at Nebraska, where Taylor Martinez is having fun and being awesome).
Why these offenses are so successful is that they’re both different from what’s usual and they’re run by smart people who actually know what they’re doing. Leach’s spread offense would be unique to the Big 10 and much different than what teams prepare for week in and week out. And Leach is smart enough to design schemes that work with the players he has, as his time at Texas Tech proved.
If you want the same type of season as was here when Glen Mason was in charge – i.e. a season with a 6 win floor but a 9 win ceiling – then hire someone who runs a grind it out offense. If you want someone who runs an offense that can actually get you to the top of the conference based on the offense’s success, then bring in Mike Leach and his spread passing attack.
Leach can make an offense work with guys like Adam Weber. If Leach had a weapon like Eric Decker, Decker would have had Crabtree-like success. Leach knows how to get the most out of his players, most of whom wouldn’t start in a system run by Iowa, Wisconsin, or most of the other teams in the Big 10. His team doesn’t need two or three NFL caliber players to be successful. Most years, they barely had one.
Oh, and finally: yes, “extreme weather” is a concern for any spread offense, because it’s tougher to throw in the snow. But Joe Tiller had Drew Brees throw like 58 times per game when Brees was at Purdue, and his offense didn’t get bogged down in extreme weather. Northwestern’s wacky taffy offense doesn’t slow to a crawl when the snow hits either. Weather concerns, which may play a role in an average of one game per season, aren’t a valid reason to not run a spread offense.
Previously Rebuilt A Program
All three of the candidates AJR has mentioned have remade a program before, but none have remade a program in a BCS conference.
Leach took Texas Tech from a perennial bottom feeder into a team that contended for the Big 12 title on a yearly basis, and Leach did it with a Texas Tech program that doesn’t have anywhere near the advantages Minnesota has in terms of facilities or financial backing. Al Golden’s done a nice job turning around Temple, but I’ll take the guy who’s turned around a program in a BCS conference instead of the MAC, thanks. For the number of wins each coach has in BCS conference games, consult the helpful visual aid below:
Leach's System Doesn’t Require Five Star Recruits
As was briefly discussed, Leach’s offensive system doesn’t require a gaggle of NFL prospects for it to work, and that’s important for the Minnesota program.
Look, I’m sure we’d all love to believe, like our favorite sports fans do, that Minnesota is going to turn into an NFL hotbed in the near future, but realistically that’s not going to happen. Minnesota needs a coach with a system that doesn’t require NFL prospects for the system to work. Leach’s system is one such system. Troy Calhoun’s system at Air Force is another system that’s the same way, but it’s more difficult to find a QB on the recruiting trail who can effectively run an option offense than it is to find a QB who can run Mike Leach’s offense.
Leach has turned chicken shit into chicken salad before at the QB position, and he can surely do the same with guys of Adam Weber’s talent level.
Entertainment Value And Buzz Factor
Yes, some of this buzz would be of the bad kind, because of Leach’s problem with locking Craig James’ kid in a closet. As someone who really only cares about winning and has locked his fair share of kids in closets, trunks, vans, and other dark areas, Leach’s past doesn’t bother me, but I’m sure a number of Negative Nancies in the Minnesota community won’t like him. And I suppose it wouldn’t be difficult to negatively recruit against him by using the “hey, don’t send your kid there, because Mike Leach will lock him in a closet,” but most coaches can overcome negative recruiting. Hell, Lane Kiffin still pulls in top classes. If that asshole can do it, so can Leach.
That said, fuck all the dipshits who don’t want Leach because of his past. Leach’s kids at Texas Tech didn’t have a reputation for raping or cheating or any of the other off the field transgressions that have plagued the Minnesota football team in the past, and that’s really what’s most important for the power brokers at Minnesota – how the program is presented, not how the coach irresponsibly punishes one kid who’s probably a huge twatwhistle but still doesn’t deserve to be locked in a closet.
Want a team that’s entertaining to watch and will get people in the seats? Bring in Leach and his Texas Tech offense. Leach’s Texas Tech teams would throw the ball 50 times a game, put out 500 yards of offense, and light up the scoreboard. Sure, Leach’s teams would sometimes give up 500 yards of offense and 50 points a game too, but if there’s a choice between a 55-45 game and a 10-6 game, most paying customers would rather see the 55-45 game.
Leach may not be able to work his magic in year one, but his losses would be much more entertaining than a grind it out Big 10 offense would. And when Leach has players with a few years of experience in the offense and the unit gets clicking? Hoo boy. Just find the man a defensive coordinator, and the Gophers are suddenly contending in the expanded Big 10.
Al Golden and the others are all fine candidates who may be able to turn the program around, but who also have a high likelihood of flopping, considering their lack of success in a BCS conference and with a big program. Leach has a higher ceiling – with Leach, the Gophers can legitimately dream of one day playing in a Rose Bowl. The Gophers don't know what they're getting with Golden, Sumlin, or Calhoun. They do with Leach. And what they're getting is a coach with the experience and knowledge necessary to turn a lesser program in a BCS conference into a contender for the conference title.
Leach has more experience in a BCS conference, a better track record, an offense that would be unique to the Big 10 and thus more difficult to prepare for, and has had proven success with a group of athletes that are less talented than the teams they’re facing. Leach is the only coach on the market who has both expressed interest in the job and has all the qualities to bring Minnesota to the top of the Big 10. And he’d be a hell of a lot more fun to follow.
The Gophers will be too cheap and chickenshit to offer Leach to job, but until they make a move to grab someone with Leach’s track record, they’ll be stuck spinning their wheels in mediocrity.