“The Pirate” isn’t perfect.
But the fact that Mike Leach is a little rough around the edges makes him my kind of guy.
My affinity for Washington State’s head coach goes back well over a decade and actually has little to do with the awkward, yet hilarious press conference clips that get tossed around Twitter.
My first recollection of being so interested in Leach came via a conversation I had with Dan McCarney, I believe back in the year 2004.
For a reason that is still unknown to this day, I was invited to an event at then-President Geoffroy’s house that was filled with big boosters and folks from the academia world.
Mac and I were fish out of water, me more than him. While entertaining ourselves over a cocktail, Mac told me stories about Texas Tech’s quirky head coach.
“He’s a dandy,” McCarney once famously said in a press conference describing Leach.
Mac described Leach’s affinity for pirates and how during every offseason, the law school graduate turned Big 12 football coach would find a different topic to immerse himself in.
“What an interesting concept,” I thought at the time.
I’ve since adopted Leach’s offseason ritual.
Over the years, my areas of study (to name a few) have consisted of the stock market, ghosts, Mars, the life of Jesus Christ and most recently, the American Revolution.
Digging deep into obscure topics has been therapeutic for me. I enjoy the challenge and getting my mind away from Cyclone athletics from time to time is a positive thing.
Why do it?
I recently asked Leach about this on 1460 KXnO.
“I just worry about making the most of each day, really,” Leach said. “The biggest thing is being the best that you can today. Try to make the most of your opportunities today.”
A few other Leach characteristics have stood out to me over the years.
He’s innovative: The tale of Mike Leach, among others, inventing the Air Raid offense at little Iowa Wesleyan College back in the early 1990’s is one of my favorite football stories ever. Along with head coach Hal Mumme, Leach, a young offensive coordinator, transformed Wesleyan’s program from an 0-10 mark in 1988 to 7-4 in 1989. In 1991, with a standout wide receiver named Dana Holgorsen (yes, that Dana Holgorsen), the Air Raid was born and the Tigers finished 10-1.
It all happened right here in Iowa.
He’ll stick it to the man: Being an independent web publisher for nearly a decade will do this to a man. I appreciate people who are willing to cut against the grain.
For years, I woke up feeling disrespected with a drive to stick it to the mainstream media. That’s why I resonate with Leach, whose two head coaching jobs have been in Lubbock, Texas and Pullman, Wash.
I haven’t done the actual research, but Lubbock and Pullman might be the two most remote college towns in all of Power 5 football.
Nick Saban is great. But I tend to appreciate the Bill Snyder’s of the world a little bit more. Win where nobody else can. Do more with less. Think outside of the box.
That’s Mike Leach in a nutshell.
This brings me to…
A dream coaching matchup
Matt Campbell is a little more polished than Leach but deep down, these two actually have a lot in common. So do their teams, which will face off on Dec. 28 in San Antonio (8 p.m. on ESPN).
“We are both very scrappy teams we are both teams that are achievers,” Leach said. “Our guys play extremely hard and elevated. We are also two teams where people didn’t expect us to be here right now. Basically, we defied a lot of doubters to get to where we are at.”
Spot on: The Cougars were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North this season. Meanwhile, the Cyclones were tabbed to finish seventh in the Big 12. Both programs vastly exceeded national expectations.
Also, Ames is more similar to Lubbock and Pullman than any of us want to admit. Being 30 miles north or Des Moines, Iowa State isn’t as remote geographically but it isn’t like any one coach has had a ton of success coaching football here.
When people ask me about Matt Campbell’s future in Ames, I always give a similar answer: Just look at his background.
Campbell cut his teeth at the Division III level as a player, and as a coach. He was a grinder in the MAC for nearly 10 years before landing at Iowa State. You don’t take the Iowa State job – one that has been referred to as a “coaching graveyard” for decades – without knowingly embracing a massive challenge.
Campbell looks up to guys like Bill Snyder, Gary Patterson, Kirk Ferentz and you guessed it, Mike Leach. Guys who aren’t job hoppers, but program builders.
“I can’t think of two teams honestly more similar than us and Iowa State in a lot of ways,” Leach said of the Cyclones.
For Iowa Staters, that’s as strong of a compliment about your football program as you can get.
MORE MUSINGS ON THE 2018 ALAMO BOWL
ANALYZING WASHINGTON STATE’S OFFENSE: Because of my love for Leach, this is actually a football team I’ve watched a lot of this season.
I think it’s important to point out that not all “Air Raids” are created equal. So it isn’t as easy to say that “Iowa State shut down West Virginia so the Cyclones won’t have any problem with Washington State.”
There is a difference in what the Cougars do compared to Dana Holgerson in Morgantown, Texas Tech or even Oklahoma State. It all has to do with patience.
Watch some Washington State film and you’ll see a team that rarely takes shots downfield. This is very different than the Air Raids in the Big 12. This is why Iowa State generally has had some success defensively against those teams. They take risks and Jon Heacock has generally made them pay.
The “bend but don’t break” isn’t as effective against patient football teams. I’d be willing to bet that this is why Iowa State has struggled against Iowa and Kansas State over the Campbell years – even Texas to a degree.
Leach isn’t going to take many chances on Dec. 28. He is content with taking four yards here and five yards there.
In my opinion, Iowa State getting pressure up front with three defensive linemen is the key to this entire game.
BAD IN BOWL GAMES: For some reason, Leach’s success as a head coach has not carried over to bowl games.
He’s coached Washington State to four bowls during his tenure. The Cougars are 1-3 in those games and were notably outscored 59-29 the last two (to Michigan State and Minnesota). The Cougars somehow only scored 12 points in the 2016 Holiday Bowl vs. Minnesota.
In the last 13 seasons, Leach-coached teams are 1-12 against the spread in bowl games.
Does the extra time to prepare for the Air Raid give an advantage to the opposition?
I honestly don’t know the answer. But those numbers are at least a little disturbing.
For what it’s worth, Campbell is 2-2 against the spread as a head coach in bowl games.
Some additional trends to consider…
Washington State went 10-2 against the spread in the regular season.
Iowa State ended the season 0-4 against the number after starting 6-2.
PERSPECTIVE: The Alamo Bowl could very well be the last time that we see David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler in a Cyclone uniform, but don’t get discouraged.
It’s incredible that of the 37 players who have started a game for Iowa State this season, only 30 are non-seniors.
Seventeen underclassmen started games this season for the Cyclones.
Offensively, wide receiver Matthew Eaton is the only senior that has started more than nine games.
Regardless of the important decisions that will soon be made by Butler and Montgomery, Iowa State will be bringing back a boast of talent and experience back in 2019.
SACK CITY: Iowa State needs one sack in the Alamo Bowl to tie the school record for 32 sacks in a season, which was set back in 1998. Meanwhile, junior JaQuan Bailey is one sack away from tying the school record (Shawn Morehead) at 18.5.
SIGNING OFF: Team Cyclone Fanatic will arrive in San Antonio in the afternoon on the 26th. We will have plenty of coverage from the Alamo Bowl at that time.