AFM RSS Feed Follow Us on Twitter       

   User Name    Password 
      Password Help

Article Categories

AFM Magazine

AFM Magazine

Traveling Man

Texas Tech\'s Mike Leach took a long (and unconventional) path to get to the top
by: Brent Schrotenboer
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
© More from this issue

Click for Printer Friendly Version          

Somewhere on the road between 19 cities in 11 states, Mike Leach found a way to climb the rope from the small time to the big time.

Call it the back-road plan for future coaching success. Leach, the new head coach at Texas Tech, never played college football, never coached at the Division I level until 1997 and never even really knew he wanted to be a football coach until after he earned his law degree from Pepperdine in 1986.

After law school, his path was filled with job after job of part-time tasks and secondary incomes on the side. Consider his early career track. His first real coaching assignment came at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo for $3,000 a year in 1987. Having worked as a substitute teacher that year to make ends meet for his family, he later took a better job as the equipment manager, sports information director and offensive coordinator at Iowa Wesleyan, an NAIA school that finished 0-10 the year before he got there in 1988.

"I never doubted it was possible to make it to a job like this,'' said Leach, who was hired by Tech to replace Spike Dykes on Dec. 9. "I knew it was a long shot, but it's a long shot for everybody. The greatest coaches in the entire world aren't necessarily Division I head coaches. There are great coaches at every level.

"There's a certain amount of luck involved to make progress, and you have to be willing to move a lot. I just told myself that I had to be making progress, and I had to be able to make a living."

Before he made a commitment to pursue his coaching dreams in 1986, Leach had banked his future on making his living as a lawyer. After graduating from Brigham Young University in 1983, Leach wanted to go to Pepperdine, get his law degree and go to work.

Two years later, he had changed his mind completely.

He says law school was difficult and tedious and he was put off by the idea of wearing a suit for the rest of his working life. When he started doing book work as a law clerk in Los Angeles, he started disliking the job so much that he described his feelings in a letter to famed trial lawyer Gerry Spence near the end of his second year at Pepperdine.

According to Leach, football, not law, was something he thought about "between the refrigerator and television, in the parking lot and in the car.''

Spence's response then crystallized the future for Leach, the son of a forest ranger and the oldest sibling in a Mormon family of eight.

"If you're not consumed by law,'' Spence said, "don't be a lawyer.''

And so it happened. Leach finished in the top third of his law school class, packed his boxes and moved to Alabama. At his current pace, Leach had lived in 19 cities in 11 states, including two countries, since being born in Susanville, Calif., on March 9, 1961. His father, Frank, was forced to move his family eight times between Mike's birth and graduation from Cody High School (WYO.) in 1979.

According to Frank, the constant moving taught his son a knack for adjustment, paving the way for a coaching career in which he started at ground zero and climbed his way up to the Big 12 Conference in a span of 13 seasons.

Lyle Setencich, the defensive coordinator at California-Berkley, says Leach's unique resume helped him stand out.

"It's kind of difficult to rise in this business unless you have something unique,'' said Lyle Setencich, the head coach at Cal Poly who gave Leach his first coaching job in 1987. "Bill Walsh has the West Coast offense. Other coaches have played at Tennessee or Michigan. I just liked how he was trying to get it done with his background.''

Leach approached Setencich as he worked to get his master's degree in sports science/coaching at the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Ala. Besides his education, the only other coaching credentials Leach had came when he coached little league baseball as a student at CHS.

Leach, a high school receiver and linebacker, suffered a career-ending broken ankle during his senior year at CHS. He spent most of his free time in high school and college playing rugby at BYU, playing semipro baseball at Pepperdine and thinking about coaching strategies nearly all the while in between.

The more he thought about it, the more Leach realized he had always wanted to be a coach. Even as far back as high school, he had started a practice of keeping notes and filing items from newspapers that would make him a better teacher on the field.

"He was always on a continuous program to make himself better as far as football is concerned,'' said Bill MacDermott, offensive coordinator for the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos and former offensive coordinator at Cal Poly during Setencich's tenure.

"He did everything that could be asked of him to make himself a better coach.''

Setencich hired Leach to coach the offensive line at Cal Poly, a Division II school that had just hired a new staff featuring a pass-heavy offense. It was one of several jobs Leach had tried to get that year as he worked to earn his master's degree in Alabama.

Searching for his first job, Leach had called nearly every major coach in the book, including Bobby Bowden at Florida State, BYU's LaVell Edwards, Washington's Don James and Pittsburgh's Mike Gottfried. None of them may remember his call, but Leach says he offered to do just about anything at any price to get a chance to join their staffs.

There was only one problem with his offer, though, Leach recalled.

As bad luck would have it, the NCAA had just enacted limitations on the number of assistant coaches allowed on a Division I-A staff. Today, for example, the NCAA allows nine full-time assistants and two graduate assistants.

As a result of the tightened limitations, just about every coach he talked to told him the same thing: "We'd love to have the extra help, but you'd count against our limit.''

So Leach looked to Division II, where limitations on the number of assistant coaches are nonexistent.

Setencich, saying he liked Leach because he was "quiet and very bright,'' hired him for $3,000 a year.

When Leach returned home to tell his wife, Sharon, about his new job, she asked him how much money he was going to make.

"Three thousand,'' Leach said.

"Per month?'' she asked.

"No,'' Leach said. "Per year.''

To help support his wife and first child, Janeen, Leach was forced to moonlight as a substitute teacher before getting a better paying job in 1988 at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif.

Leach earned a $10,000 coaching stipend at College of the Desert as linebackers coach. He earned an additional estimated $13,000 by teaching classes in physical education, marking a significant increase in salary for him while he continued to send out resumes for better jobs.

One of them went to Pori, Finland, which had been advertising a head-coaching position in the Finnish American football league. Another resume went to Iowa Wesleyan, where Hal Mumme had just been hired to take over a team that finished 0-10 the previous season.

"Iowa Wesleyan was so bad, we had only two applicants for the open position,'' said Mumme, now the head coach at Kentucky. "It was Mike Leach, a guy with a law degree and a cum laude graduate of BYU, and this other guy, a semipro football coach who said he'd bring along all of his players.''

Needless to say, the decision was an easy one for Mumme, who needed someone to fill an "eclectic'' position for $12,000 a year.

Mumme needed someone to be his offensive coordinator, equipment manager and sports information director.

Leach, who had always wanted to be an offensive coordinator, told him he was interested, and the two of them arranged to meet that spring at BYU's football camp in Provo, Utah.

Mumme and Leach then spent four or five days together talking at BYU before Mumme offered him the job, starting a 10-year relationship between the two that lasted through stints at Division II Valdosta (Ga.) State and Division I-A Kentucky, where the two were hired in 1997.

Though the move created a decrease in salary for him, Leach started his new job at Iowa Wesleyan in the fall of 1989 after getting another job in Finland for the summer.

Together, they marked the third and fourth coaching jobs Leach held since he entered the business two seasons earlier.

He earned $25 a day as head coach of the Pori Bears, which turned out to be his only other head-coaching job before Texas Tech. He also received several perks, including airfare and an apartment.

According to Leach, his record that season was "probably'' 6-4. If he can't really remember the record exactly, it might have been because he was having too good of a time being a head coach of a team whose players wore large advertisements on their jerseys and smoked cigarettes on the sidelines.

He quickly earned a reputation for himself as a player's coach in Finland, fitting in with the crowd and returning to the roots of his family. Leach's father is half-Finnish. His mother, Sandra, is part Norwegian and English. Both now live in Payson, Utah, and have been married since 1959.

When he came back from Finland at the end of the summer, his work was cut out for him at Wesleyan, to say the least. Mumme and Leach inherited just three returning players from the winless team in 1988 but soon created a trend of making something out of nothing under the creative designs of their new "Air Raid'' offense.

In their first season together in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Mumme and Leach coached a team that went 7-4 in 1989. By the time they left for Valdosta together in 1992, Iowa Wesleyan had gone 25-10 in their three-year tenure, establishing a record-breaking, rebuilding pattern that continued throughout their relationship.

"The main thing I remember about him then was how much the offensive line liked him,'' said Dana Holgorsen, who played under Leach at Wesleyan as a receiver and is now the inside receivers coach at Tech. "That carried over to Valdosta, where I got to know him a whole lot more (when Holgorsen was hired there as coach). His philosophy is that his door is always open. He finds out what makes players tick and uses it to make them play hard.''

The evidence was in his record. At Valdosta, Leach and Mumme concocted a monster with their pass-based offense, helping the team set 66 school records on offense in 1993. One year later, Valdosta set seven national records and 80 school records on the way to a Division II playoff appearance. He was named Division II offensive coordinator of the year by American Football Monthly in 1996, the last season of a five-year tenure for Mumme and Leach in Georgia.

Their record at the school was 40-17-1, including five straight winning seasons and the Blazers' first conference championship in 1996.

Such credentials helped Mumme get hired at Kentucky before the 1997 season, when the Wildcats were mired in a typical funk and hadn't registered consecutive postseason appearances since 1984. In a span of 22 games, the Mumme/Leach offense set six NCAA records and 116 school records. The team won five games in 1997 and went 7-4 in 1998, earning Kentucky's first bowl appearance in 14 seasons.

With Leach as his primary mentor, quarterback Tim Couch became a first-team All-American that season before going on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in 1999.

Mark it down as another feather in the cap of Leach, who had started to become an increasingly hot head-coaching candidate at Valdosta and Kentucky under Mumme.

From 1993-98, Leach interviewed for head-coaching jobs at New Haven, Sacramento State, Middle Tennessee State, Southwestern Louisiana and Key West High School in Florida. Most of the time, they turned to somebody else either because of his youth, relative inexperience or the perception that he was a more of a product of the Mumme offense than he was mastermind of the game plan.

"He could coach at any level and be comfortable,'' MacDermott said. "He called me up one time, and we talked about the possibility of him being a high school coach in Key West. He was at Valdosta at the time. I said, If you want to go there, fine.' At Kentucky, I told him to stay there as long as (Mumme) was there. Mumme was a commodity with him and was a good wagon to hitch up to.''

It wasn't until 1999 that Leach finally unhitched himself from Mumme, ending a 10-year relationship with his acceptance of a prime-time job at Oklahoma as the team's offensive coordinator. According to Leach, he wanted a new challenge. Bob Stoops, the former defensive coordinator at Florida, had just been hired as OU's new head coach. He then called Mumme, telling him he wanted to combine the top offense and defense of the Southeastern Conference at Oklahoma.

Florida ranked ninth in the nation in total defense with 286.6 yards a game in 1998. Kentucky ranked third nationally with 534 yards a game in total offense the same year.

"Every time he got close to getting a job, they said that it was Hal Mumme's offense,'' Mumme said. "Well, what's true is that the quarterback calls the plays, and the whole staff is in on it. I hooked him up on the phone with Stoops, and it was a done deal later that day. I didn't want to lose him, but it was a wonderful job for him.''

During his one season in Norman, Okla. under Stoops, Leach helped the Sooners improve from 101st in total offense in 1998 to 11th in 1999 at 427.2 yards a game. Quarterback Josh Heupel, who was recruited by Leach, went on to become the Big 12's Newcomer of the Year last season as the Sooners won seven games, earning the school's first bowl appearance since 1994.

As fate would have it, one of the team's four losses that season came against Tech in Lubbock on Nov. 20, when Dykes announced his retirement after 13 years at the helm.

Leach interviewed for the job later that day as one of two prime candidates for the job along with Clemson offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez. He got the job less than three weeks later, having been tapped as the man charged to take Tech to a new level of power in college football.

"He's always been highly motivated, goal-oriented and persistent about reaching his goals,'' Frank Leach said. "I think Mike will work hard enough that Tech will be a good team right out of the box.''

Since his hiring that day in December, his impact has been nothing short of drastic. Not only has Leach installed a new offense and defense, he hired an all-new staff of assistants with a combined assistants' salary of $900,000, ranking Tech third in staff pay in the Big 12.

Under his direction and input, Tech also has upgraded its facilities, expanded its recruiting base beyond Texas and started to think with Leach's new vision for the future.

Leach, a bright, down-to-earth night owl and movie buff, showed his team movie scenes before each spring practice at Tech, hoping to establish a new way of motivating players in the age of computers and video games.

Some might call it innovation. Others, who know him better, call it classic Mike Leach.

"Coach Leach just gets right in the huddle with us in practice,'' Tech offensive lineman Matt Heider said. "I've never had a head coach get right in the huddle like that. He gets everybody ready to go and calls the plays. That's just how he is.''
Mike Leach


by Brent Schrotenboer
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Time and time again since he entered the coaching business in 1969, Greg McMackin found himself paired with several of the most innovative masterminds of offensive strategy.

McMackin, the new defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, spent the last seven years working as the defensive coordinator under former NFL head coaches Dennis Erickson and June Jones. Before that, he had worked as defensive coach under Jack Elway at Stanford and San Jose State, Ron McBride at Utah and Mouse Davis with the USFL's Denver Gold in 1985.

The new Red Raiders' assistant said the more he learned from these gurus of offensive football, the better he was able to develop a cutting-edge scheme for himself on defense.

Take the last two years, for example. In 1999, McMackin worked under Jones at Hawaii, helping the Rainbows finish 8-4 after going 0-12 the previous season. In 1998, McMackin's defense with the Seattle Seahawks set a league record with 14 defensive touchdowns. It also marked McMackin's sixth straight year under Erickson, whom he credits for being the "greatest influence'' on his defensive philosophies.

"It's interesting because offensive people have been as influential in my defensive thinking as anything,'' McMackin said. "I had a chance to spend a lot of time with those guys and ask them what hurt them and the things they do to hurt other defenses. It's helped our defense stay at the leading edge.''

If things go the way he hopes they will at Tech, McMackin's defense will continue to become a cutting-edge monster under head coach Mike Leach, a brain of offensive philosophy in his own right.

While serving as Leach's associate head coach, McMackin has added a pro-style 4-3 defense with zone-blitz packages and "match up zone'' pass coverage. His defense, which he likens to the cult of schemes seen with the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, "evolved and grew'' under Erickson's tutelage in Seattle.

After that, McMackin was faced with several opportunities but chose Hawaii because of Jones' dream of reviving the struggling Rainbows. One year later, he wasn't looking to leave but Tech's administration lured him away with their vision of the future.

"It was impossible not to be aware of him,'' Leach said. "It speaks well of Texas Tech and our situation here that we were lucky enough to get him.''


by Brent Schrotenboer
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Among his many roles and jobs in college football, Manny Matsakis has become the subject of an old NFL trivia question.

The question: Who was the last straight-on kicker drafted by the NFL?

The answer is Matsakis, the jack-of-several-trades and new assistant head coach at Texas Tech.

After making a name for himself as a ninth round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1984, Matsakis went on to use his special teams expertise as the special teams coordinator at Kansas State in 1994 and the head coach at Emporia (Kan.) State from 1995-98. Somewhere between kicking and teaching, he founded American Football Monthly magazine, served as administrator for a program, ran an offense and tutored future NFL players.

Such diversified talent helped him become a sought-after commodity at Tech, where he'll double as the special teams coordinator for new head coach Mike Leach.

"He'll advise me in running a program, the strategies that make every program go,'' Leach said. "He's my off-field adviser, helping with all those huge things it takes to promote a program that people don't see.''

Matsakis came to Tech from Wyoming, where he served as the team's offensive coordinator in 1999. The Cowboys finished second in passing in the Mountain West Conference, rolling up 247.8 yards a game. The high-octane offense continued a Matsakis trend that began at Emporia State, where his team set 22 NCAA offensive records. He left Emporia with a 28-16 record, highlighted by the performance of running back Brian Shay, who set the NCAA career rushing mark with 6,958 yards.

As it happened, Shay had become one of several Matsakis products to gain prosperity.

Wayne Chrebet (New York Jets), Dave Fiore (San Francisco 49ers) and DeMingo Graham (San Diego Chargers) played under Matsakis when he served as Hofstra's offensive coordinator from 1991-93. At Kansas State, Matsakis then returned to his kicking roots to coach place-kicker Martin Gramatica, now with Tampa Bay.

"[The Hofstra players] had to pay to come to school, about $25,000 a year,'' Matsakis said. "Does that mean we're good recruiters? Mike is a tremendous developer of talent, and he understands that. I think that's where he and I are very much similar.''


AFM Videos Streaming Memberships Now Available Digital Download - 304 Pages of Football Forms for the Winning Coach


Copyright 2023,
All Rights Reserved