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AFM Magazine

Mike Leach Q & A

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Q: You didn't reach the Division I-A level until 1997 at Kentucky. Before that, you had coached in Division II and the NAIA. What did you learn from your experiences at small colleges and how did you reach your current level?
A: When you work at small colleges, you have to know a little bit about everything involved in a football program. A lot of things at major college that are done by someone else, I've actually done myself. I've actually been an equipment guy while coaching. I've actually been a recruiting coordinator while coaching. I've actually been a sports information director while coaching. I've taught classes while coaching. It's a wealth of experience as far as what you get out of it. As far as how did I get this far, I've been lucky to work with great coaches each step of the way.

Q: There aren't very many high-level football coaches with law degrees besides yourself, Washington's Rick Neuheisel, former Auburn coach Terry Bowden and Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. Have you found that an education in law is useful in the football coaching profession?
A: Law school is as much an initiation as it is an education. It's difficult, tedious work. It's hard to say exactly. But in many ways it is a way of thinking. You learn all the facts. You learn all the laws. You learn different sets of problems and circumstances. You learn about analyzing problems and addressing them. You learn all the variables that affect a problem like coaching. You understand the different things you do have implications six months later.

Q: You've never been a head coach in the United States before getting hired at Texas Tech. Your only other head coaching job came during the summer of 1989, when you served as the head coach of Pori, Finland in the Finnish American Football League. During your first six months on the job as head coach, what have been the biggest adjustments?
A: I don't think any of it is new, really, except for the volume of it all. For example, the cell phone rings all the time. The time is filled with getting everything accomplished, making a lot of little decisions you didn't make before, some significant, some not particularly significant. There's stuff like where to move everybody's desk (during renovations). Where do you want these plants and where do you want this sofa? When do you want this meeting to start and where to do you want such and such to recruit? Somebody's got to decide, and it's got to be your decision.

Q: You developed a trademark system of play-calling during the 10 years you spent as an assistant under Hal Mumme. How does it work and why do you do it that way?
A: We go down a script of about 60 plays, but they're not etched in stone. They vary and apply to zones on the field and situations: red zone, middle of the field, goal line, third-and-long, third-and-short. You rehearse in practice exactly what you're going to run in a game that week. We try to have the exact formation, motion, down, the whole thing. They're not just plays. They're exact formations of what we're going to run in a game. Then it becomes a three-way conversation between me, the spotter upstairs and quarterback, who can check and call plays any time he wants. I think it's pretty uncommon, although I think everybody has their own little idiosyncrasies. Most teams don't script, but quite a few do, more than people might realize. We run our script a little tighter than some do.

Q: You're sort of in the mold of Neuheisel: a young coach who's perceived as a player's coach. You're a guy that doesn't scream and yell during practices. If someone wanted to criticize you when things started going wrong, they might say this means you're soft on discipline, like they did to Neuheisel at Colorado. How do you feel about this?
A: It works both ways. The bottom line is winning football games. You've got the Dallas Cowboys' and Oakland Raiders' images from back in the day. If the Cowboys lost, they were too soft. If they won, they were disciplined gentleman. If the Raiders lost, they were savage and undisciplined. If they won, they were incredibly tough people who knew how to get it done. You have to have discipline in football, yeah. We have rules here, but we don't go public with it all.

Q: At Texas Tech, you've given two of your assistant coaches the titles of associate head coach (defensive coordinator Greg McMackin) and assistant head coach (Manny Matsakis, the special teams coordinator). Titles like these mean different things at different places. You have your own philosophy about this. What do those titles mean under you?
A: For lack of a better description, they're my top advisers. Greg's my top on-field adviser. Manny would be my top off-the-field adviser, the trouble shooter for the whole pile of things that surface around football that you don't have time to address. Greg is the head coach of the defense. Manny is the head coach of special teams. Greg is the head coach of the team when I'm not there.

Q: Who and what shapes your coaching philosophy?
A: All the head coaches I've worked with have influenced me. Mumme was probably the biggest. We were together for 10 years and grew together a lot. We had good times and bad times. Then there was Lyle Setencich (Cal defensive coordinator) who hired me at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Another guy on that staff was Bill MacDermott (offensive coordinator of the Edmonton Eskimos). Ray Adams influenced me at College of the Desert (Adams is deceased). Of course, Bobby Stoops did, too, at Oklahoma last year. There's a whole lot of coaches who I'd study what they did: LaVell Edwards (BYU), Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers), Bobb McKittrick (49ers). Montana, when they were throwing the ball a lot with Brent Pease as offensive coordinator. I'd watch a lot of their stuff. Besides the people I've worked with, the 49ers and BYU have been most influential as organizations.

Q: As the offensive coordinator under Mumme for 10 years, it was sometimes perceived that it was Mumme's offense, and he was calling all the plays. Did this affect you when you interviewed for head coaching jobs earlier in your career at places like New Haven, Sacramento State and Middle Tennessee State?
A: There might have been a little of that. Most of the jobs I interviewed for, the candidates I interviewed against were older. Whether I was the youngest candidate or not, it was pretty darn close. I'd ask what I could do to make myself a better candidate and stuff like that. One guy said, "Get older.'' (Leach is now 39).

Q: Your playing career was ended by a broken ankle in high school. Having never played the college game and with limited playing experience, how did you gain the tools necessary to become a major-level coach?
A: Coaching is entirely different than playing. It's knowing everybody's strengths and weaknesses. It's getting the most talented people you possibly can and then mastering the fundamentals. I just immersed myself in it. A lot of it came to me when I coached little league baseball in high school. It was taking advantage of people's skills, knowing what motivates them and things like that. I had a good grasp of what was too much for them.


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