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Re-evaluating Mike Leach

It's still not entirely clear as to exactly what transpired between former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and Adam James. 'Twas a mutiny on the bounty, James's concussed noggin the precious slavery-facilitating breadfruit cargo. Any coach who puts the health and safety of his players at risk should immediately be fired. The net is naturally sympathetic to Leach, owing to his status as schematic innovator, and his generally loopy demeanor. Leaked emails indicate that the TT administration was not fond of Leach, and probably looking for any excuse to can him.

Owing to the requisite Michael Lewis profile, Leach is a figure of national veneration, and that's worth considering in detail. Specifically, I remember saying offhand about a year ago that I considered Greg Schiano to be Leach's equal, only his expertise fell on the defensive side of the ball. IIRC some commentors here didn't agree, but I think it's a good analogy on two levels.

Central to the Leach mythos, more than any pirate captain talk is the idea of Leach as Air Raid coordinator-cum-genius. Smart Football, more than any site that I've come across, is at the absolute epicenter of this school of thought. Now Leach by all accounts has done an excellent job as a coach, overcoming a perceived talent disadvantage compared to other Big XII South foes, and getting the most of available personnel.

The Leach-worship doesn't stem solely from the sheer novelty of his approach. Not every guru out there can spout a quote like our beloved pirate captain, and offense is seen as far more compelling than defense. Everyone seemingly complained when teams like the New Jersey Devils or New England Patriots won with defense in recent memory, but Tech winning by a 55-52 margin seems just as unsatisfying to me. In both situations, one whole fundamental aspect of football has been completed tossed to the wayside.

Now, let's be clear about one thing: I'm not necessarily positing that Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is an unparalleled genius or anything of the sort. However, I do believe that he is a very good defensive coordinator, and his personnel choices on defense over the past half decade have been, if anything, nonconventional. The old Jimmy Johnson coaching tree theory of bulking up players (i.e., corners to safeties, safeties to linebackers, linebackers to defensive line) in order to increase team speed is nothing new, but Schiano, if only spurred by roster necessity, bit the bullet and took this mentality all the way down the slippery slope.

Can't recruit any blue chip, three-hundred pound defensive tackles? Fine. In order to get the best players on the field, Schiano will not only line up his 250-lb defensive end opposite the center, he'll make that "tackle" that damnedest, fiercest, twisting-and-stunting pass rushing terror an offense ever did see. It's weird, since Coach originally cut his teeth with defensive backs. Furthermore, when it comes to play selection, Schiano veers off the Johnson/Wannstedt/Davis tracks entirely. All three generally counted on superior team speed to generate a pass rush, content to drop other defenders into coverage.

The front four can pressure QBs when they're nearly as big as the OL. The Rutgers defensive line can be very effective at times, but it's not always enough. Even if they don't need the help, any additional blitzers can serve to augment and multiply this existing strength. Schiano essentially threw his old playbooks out the window in favor of a blitz-heavy attack. That approach has been popular in the NFL as of late under the late Jim Johnson and Steve Spagnuolo. Off the top of my head, John Tenuta and Steve Shafer are the only other college DCs who have similar reputations. The problem being, of course, that there are undoubtedly others, but the press doesn't tend to celebrate their exploits. I can't recall anyone blitzing as much as Schiano's teams, but it's not a theory that can exactly be tested owing to the lack of interest in the topic. In fact, the only influential writer that I can recall who's actually tackled Schiano's approach was Brian Cook in his Hail to the Victors 2008 Michigan annual.

Shifting gears, how much exactly has Mike Leach accomplished as Texas Tech? They hovered around .500 under his predecessor Sonny Dykes. Leach has clearly elevated the Red Raider program, just as Greg Schiano has done at Rutgers in recent years. However, one major knock on Schiano is that while his relative accomplishments are impressive, finishing 8-4 every year against a middling schedule is less so. That may be true, but it's interesting how there's a bit of a double standard at play here. Texas Tech scheduled two FCS opponents on route to 11 wins last year, and had a fair chance to play for the national championship before losing to Oklahoma.

Leach has essentially averaged 8.5 wins a year against one of the worst non-conference slates in the country. They did play a great schedule in 2002, and a decent one in 2003, but after that, it's zilch outside of TCU. Yes, Texas Tech under Mike Leach has not scheduled a BCS conference opponent out of conference in six years. For all the grief that Rutgers got over their 2009 schedule, even RU has played more than that, which does a fair bit to bridge the competitive gap between the Big XII and Big East. Those eight and nine win seasons don't look as impressive when you consider that Leach didn't have any good OOC victories, and was usually beating up the Big XII North dregs in conference before losing to Texas and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, no one seems to care about strength of schedule.

In light of all this, it's clear that there's at least a decent case that Schiano is roughly at the same level as Leach. His teams may not be as flashy, and he may not give as good quotes (Coach's pressers are downright banal). If not for some downright hideous Big East conference bowl tie-ins, which are so disproportionately weak that the Big East has done very well in recent Decembers, the gap in the record books would be even closer.

Now, Greg Schiano is a pretty intense guy, and can have a reputation for being stubborn and controlling, but I can't really forsee any future scenario occuring along the lines of the ongoing Leach drama. Maybe, just maybe, he'll pull an Urban Meyer at some point. Gregs a good coach; not Lombardi re-incarnate, but a good coach, and a good fit for Rutgers. A little over one more season and he'll have been on the sidelines for more games than anyone else in program history. Our coach has entirely remade the program in his image, a process that has had some bumps along the way, but everyone can pretty much agree has been an overwhelming net positive.

Greg Schiano at Rutgers is now an institution, which is why he'll likely stay at Rutgers for decades to come. It helps that, unlike Leach, he's curried a good relationship with the university and athletic administrations. Arguably, he IS the athletic department, with no other remaining independent power bases with their own agendas. Which, probably is not a bad thing at all, and a good indicator of future stability and progress. Hence, nothing we'll assuredly never see anything like the ongoing Tech drama, although I'm certain the Rutgers community would unleash a similar outcry of fury and indignation in the face of any perceived threats to the coach or the program's continued well-being.