10 Questions With: Washington State head coach Mike Leach
Mike Leach is a man that needs no introduction. He was an early-adapter of a style of play that has now permeated football at every level of the game, and his personality has been a nation-wide fascination for more than a decade. After spending two years off the sidelines, Leach took over a Washington State program looking for its first winning season since 2003. The Cougars went 3-9 in Leach's debut campaign, but with close calls against Pac-12 division winenrs Stanford and UCLA and a season-ending upset of Washington, plus a passing offense that ranked in the top 10 nationally and a defensive front that placed among college football's top dozen in sacks and tackles for a loss, good times are on the horizon.
We caught up with Leach to talk about the best way for out-of-work coaches to use their time between jobs, the similarities he has with a well-known option coach and which foreign country he likens to Pullman in the latest installment of 10 Questions With. To review other editions of 10 Questions With, please click here.
1) For a coach taking a year away for the game, what do you think is the best use of their time?
Staying close to the game is the biggest thing, I think. In my case, I did three things that kept me constantly thinking about football. I broadcast for CBS, I wrote a book and was on the radio every day so that kept me pretty active.
2) Your teams have always had a good track record of graduating players. Do you think that's been overlooked when people talk about your career?
I imagine. We've led the nation of all public institutions several times. This last winter we had the highest GPA for football in the history of Washington State.
3) Though your styles of attack may have different modes of attack on the surface, we've noticed that you have a lot in common with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. Is that something you've noticed as well?
I think one of the things that's key to that is that, in both cases, we make sure everybody touches the football and we attack the whole field. If you've seen what he does, there's kind of a false point of view. Clearly the wishbone attacks sideline-to-sideline really well, probably better than we do although we're pretty good sideline-to-sideline. But he goes downfield more than you think when you consider the transition from that triple option. They are pushing it upfield as they go. But the biggest thing we have in common is we make sure everybody touches the football.
4) How much film study do you devote to upcoming opponents considering your offense is your offense and isn't going to change much no matter what an opponent throws at you?
I'll watch every team they've played once and if there's not much in common I'll watch it fast. The less they have in common with us, the faster it'll be. And we'll break down several games and make up cut-ups, down and distance, situational, we'll pore over that. I do watch a lot of film.
5) Are there any defensive coordinators in particular that gave you trouble last season?
All defenses present their problems, and then you attack and address them. Typically after a game the evaluation tends to be more what we did and how we could have improved our game rather than the opposing defense because you don't have any control over what they do, so you try to make your side of the ball and your product the best you can. Talented players are a little more troublesome than defensive schemes.
6) How important was it for your program to close last year with that win over Washington?
We were on the brink of one of those all season long. We played Oregon well for two and a half quarters. We outplayed Stanford and UCLA, should have beat both of them. (We had) more yards and all that stuff, lost to them by a touchdown. A game like that, we were on the brink of it all year, we just finally had one. That's really key to springboarding us into the offseason.
7) How long did it take for your roster to buy in to you and your coaching staff?
First of all, our young guys had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. They have a vision of doing big things and being successful. There is a group that, I don't know, you can call it what you want, had gotten beat down by the lack of success or they were maybe the kind of guys to begin with that just didn't necessarily love football. It was okay, they're nice people but just not really pushing the wheel as far as expecting success, dedicating themselves to the offseason. We have had a certain addition by subtraction.
8) What will define a successful season for you this fall?
Play the best you can. Steady improvement and do the best you can.
9) What is more gratifying, seeing your former assistants move up in the coaching ranks or seeing your former players get into coaching and have success?
Both. A little of both. I'm happy for them. I'm excited for all of them. I spend a lot more time on focusing on the team I'm coaching, though.
10) You've had quite the variety in living locations lately between Lubbock, Key West and Pullman. Have you enjoyed the variety?
I think the variety is good. What's great about here is it's a true college town, it's not one that just talks about being a college town. It's one where there's a real closeness about the student body. It's a gorgeous spot, rolling green hills and everywhere here has got a view because of the hills. It's funny, it's almost a cross between the Rocky Mountains and England, you know? It's real pretty and we're close to some of the prettiest country on the entire continent.