October 29, 2009

Behind the scenes: Film study with Mike Leach

LUBBOCK, Texas - Mike Leach is walking quickly, weaving through players on the way to the line for the training table. If Leach is going to eat, it must be quick. It's Sunday night, and there's film to watch.

On this night, Leach isn't in a good mood. His Texas Tech Red Raiders got ripped the night before across the street in Jones Stadium. Making matters worse, rival Texas A&M did the ripping: Aggies 52, Red Raiders 30.

Afterward, Leach fumed as only he can fume.

"... I would like to have a dollar for every time somebody said something about how many points we were going to score or how bad we were going to beat them. ... How great we are, and how good everything looks," he says.

"Well, it's all a bunch of crap."

That brings us here, to Texas Tech's football complex. It's almost 6 p.m., and it's time to get to work. A visit from Kansas looms, and it's time to watch film with one of the nation's most innovative coaches and his crew of quarterbacks.

Tech quarterbacks have led the nation in passing six times in nine seasons under Leach, and this season's group is assembled in a meeting room adjacent to Leach's office to watch film of the A&M debacle.

Taylor Potts, Seth Doege, Steven Sheffield, Garrett Riley and Jacob Karam sit at a long conference table. Most slouch or recline, feet propped on a nearby chair and necks craned at a big screen.

X's and O's are scribbled on a nearby greaseboard. A phrase is scrawled along the top of the board: "Reads = QBs. Have your eyes in the proper place and deliver the ball to the right player at the right time."

Wearing a black "Texas Tech Football" pullover and cargo shorts, Leach sits at the head of the table like a pigskin CEO, in front of a paper plate that once was covered with pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw. His gray hair mussed, Leach surveys a schedule for tonight's 8 p.m. practice as he sips iced tea. The room is silent, then Leach flips the lights and the show begins.

This is the official start of game week and the first of several film sessions for Leach and his quarterbacks, who already have watched film with the rest of the offense.

Tonight, though, the quarterbacks will review clips from the previous day's game with just Leach. The players are given Mondays off. On Tuesdays, the quarterbacks watch film cut-ups of the upcoming opponent's defense. On Wednesdays, the quarterbacks watch more film of their foe along with film from the previous day's practice. That's repeated on Thursdays and Fridays.

By the numbers
You better like watching film, or you won't be a quarterback for Mike Leach. "I would say Kliff [Kingsbury] and Graham [Harrell] liked it the most of all of my guys," Leach says. "Those two were sons of coaches, so I think they came by in naturally. They really enjoyed it and were like gym rats." Here's a look at Leach's starting quarterbacks at Texas Tech
YearPlayerKey stats
2008Graham Harrell442-of-626, 70.6 pct., 5,111 yards,
45 TDs, 9 INTs
2007Graham Harrell512-of-713, 71.9 pct., 5,705 yards,
48 TDs, 14 INTs
2006Graham Harrell412-of-668, 67.1 pct., 4,555 yards,
38 TDs, 11 INTs
2005Cody Hodges353-of-531, 66.5 pct., 4,197 yards,
31 TDs, 12 INTs
2004Sonny Cumbie421-of-642, 65.5 pct., 4,742 yards,
32 TDs, 18 INTs
2003B.J. Symons470-of-719, 65.3 pct., 5,883 yards,
52 TDs, 22 INTs
2002Kliff Kingsbury479-of-712, 67.3 pct., 5,017 yards,
45 TDs, 13 INTs
2001Kliff Kingsbury365-of-529, 69.0 pct., 3,502 yards,
25 TDs, 9 INTs
2000Kliff Kingsbury362-of-585, 61.9 pct., 3,418, yards,
21 TDs, 17 INTs
"This is where the scheme meets the reality," Leach says before the film session. "On Mondays, when the players are off, the staff pores over film of the opponent and develops the game plan. It's a long day. I probably end up watching about 30 hours of film a week. The quarterbacks probably watch about eight."

The formula works. Since arriving in west Texas in 2000, Leach has become the face of this school, making Texas Tech one of the country's most dynamic - and talked-about - offenses. You think of Texas Tech, you think of Leach, his mad-scientist attack and his fascination with pirates.

In the film room, the video has rolled for less than a minute before Leach spots something he doesn't like from Potts. This will happen often on this evening. Potts was seeing his first action since suffering a concussion against New Mexico on Oct. 3; he ended up being benched at halftime and replaced by Doege.

"What did you see here?" Leach asks. "[Wide receiver] Detron [Lewis] really wasn't open. You should have gone to this guy. You had leverage and he was open there for a moment. You can't hold the ball that long."

Potts' final numbers didn't look bad, as he completed 25 of 36 passes for 310 yards with two touchdowns. But he also had two interceptions and lost a fumble, and after the game, Leach described Potts as "statue-like."

On the screen, Potts is getting sacked.

"You have to feel this and step up," Leach says. "It's only one guy and he's not on your blind side. You need to step up and avoid this."

As Leach runs the play back - again and again - he lobs critiques at his pupils in a conversational manner; he doesn't raise his voice, though he occasionally curses. It's essentially a one-way exchange throughout the entire session, as the quarterbacks either offer a "yes, sir" or a nod.

On the screen, Potts is throwing an interception in the end zone.

"No, we can't have that," says Leach, using a laser pointer to highlight an open receiver that Potts missed. "We don't practice that, do we?

"We have an entire offense that needs to listen better. If you see that the group is anxious, huddle them up to calm them down. Make sure your messages are delivered with confidence. You need to relax. For whatever reason, you are struggling."

Still, Leach doesn't want to harp on the negative too much. It's important to inject a positive message. There's still a lot of football to be played this season.

"What did you see on that play?" Leach asks.

"I thought the receiver in the boundary was covered, so I looked to my option cutting over the middle," Potts answers. "It looked like he was open, but their defensive back closed quickly."

On the screen, the Tech offense rolls on.

"I think we are playing at a pretty high level here," Leach says. "Go through your progressions. Nice job here, Seth. But I know you guys can do better."

History has told us that. This offense has had a knack for producing numbers that would tilt a pinball machine, no matter who is under center. From Kliff Kingsbury to B.J. Symons to Sonny Cumbie to Cody Hodges to Graham Harrell to the quarterbacks sitting in this room, it hasn't mattered who has taken the snaps. The offense has soared. And the Red Raiders have won, posting a 76-39 record under Leach and going to bowls in each of his nine seasons.

Last season was Leach's high point, when he led Tech to an 11-2 record, its first Big 12 South title and a berth in the Cotton Bowl. The season also included Leach's signature victory, a heart-stopping 39-33 victory over then-No. 1 Texas.

"When I was younger, I wanted to play at Nebraska because I liked Eric Crouch and was more of a running quarterback," Doege, a redshirt freshman, says later. "But after my dad brought me here to a game, I fell in love with this offense and wanted to pass the ball."

Doege is soaking it all in on this Sunday night. He watches and listens as the second-half tape continues to cycle by with him under center. This is his big chance. A quarterback controversy may be brewing in Lubbock, and Doege may end up starting this week against Kansas. He wants to be ready.

"That check is good, but we have some guys who are trying to do too much," Leach says. "You did a good job on your reads. You found the hot receiver."

Doege nods and says, "Yes, sir."

"Good job moving your feet and staying out of trouble," Leach says. "But when the safety went here, you should have gone here with this throw."

On the screen, Doege drops back and fires a nice pass - which is dropped.

After about an hour, Leach has seen enough.

"Someone hit the lights."

The first film session of the week is finished. Leach has Potts wait in the film room and tells Doege to wait in his office. Leach wants to talk to each quarterback in private, presumably to tell them who will start against Kansas.

The one-on-one sessions last about 10 minutes before the quarterbacks leave to get dressed for practice. Leach scribbles some notes on his practice agenda. There's lots of work to do, and Leach will be back in his captain's chair later.

Now, he pulls on a jacket and heads toward the stadium for practice. It's cold out, about 40 degrees. The door closes behind him. The next game is six days away.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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