July 24, 2007

Big 12 Notebook: Leach turns up heat on stars

SAN ANTONIO - Mike Leach isn't one to let his players get too comfortable.

The Texas Tech coach spent the spring trying to light a fire under his top two offensive players - quarterback Graham Harrell and running back Shannon Woods - saying their jobs were open for competition.

For two players who combined for more than 5,400 yards of total offense, Leach's announcement came as a surprise. The Red Raiders coach hopes it left an impression.

"I think that's just human nature. Somebody has success, there's a tendency to relax," Leach said at Big 12 Media Days. "And I think that sometimes as a guy has success and there's the temptation, as a coach, as a player, as anybody, to feel like I've got this figured out. And then, of course, they say it's what you learn after you know everything that counts."

Leach's words notwithstanding, Harrell and Woods are unlikely to lose their jobs. Harrell was third in the nation in passing last year, and Woods finished the season with more than 1,800 all-purpose yards.

As far as Harrell, Leach acknowledged his quarterback's success last year gets lost in the numbers of Tech's prolific signal-callers who came before him.

Red Raiders quarterbacks have passed for at least 4,200 yards in each of the last five seasons. But postseason accolades didn't follow Harrell even though he passed for 38 touchdowns and completed 66.8 percent. His 11 interceptions (in 617 attempts) last year were the second-lowest total for a Texas Tech quarterback under Leach.

"In most settings I think Graham would clearly be regarded as easily one of the handful of best quarterbacks in the country," Leach said. "It's funny, because as people talk about quarterbacks, they have a funny way of dismissing the additional 2,000 yards that he threw for. So I guess his don't count. If he's not one of the better quarterbacks in the country, I'd like to know who is. I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the conference."

Chizik ignores critics

Why Iowa State? Why not wait for a bigger job?

First-year Cyclones coach Gene Chizik has heard all the questions and understands some of the doubts.

Iowa State isn't in the strongest recruiting territory. The Cyclones don't have the tradition of his last two posts as defensive coordinator at Texas and Auburn. Chizik could have waited until a more established program needed a coach.

All Chizik can say is, "Trust me."

"I've been doing this 21 years and if I look back at every decision I made in terms of making a change would I do anything different," Chizik said. "In 21 years I haven't made a wrong decision. I've got to go with my gut. I have to go with what I believe in."

Chizik once won 29 games in a row as part of undefeated teams at Auburn and Texas, and he hopes to bring some of that magic with him to Ames.

It started in January with early-morning workouts. He stunned his players by beginning workouts at 5:30 a.m., forcing players at times to walk through the snow from the locker room to the indoor practice facility.

"I don't know if anyone agreed with it, but I think it was something our team needed," Cyclones receiver Todd Blythe said. "It brought us closer together, puking up no breakfast."

Chizik has at least excited coin collectors in Iowa. Community State Bank of Des Moines has issued a limited edition coin with Chizik's likeness on one side and the Cyclones logo on the other, a promotion that amused the new Iowa State coach.

"My son said, 'How did they put your face on a coin and you haven't won any games yet?' " Chizik said. "He's 6, by the way. And I thought he worked for the newspaper at one point. I think the value of the coin will be in proportion with how many we win or lose, eventually. But I don't know what they're going for right now. Probably not very much."

Missouri adds curfew

After a couple of incidents last month with the Missouri basketball team, football coach Gary Pinkel isn't taking any chances with his squad.

Pinkel instituted a curfew Monday where players are prohibited from being in any clubs or bars after 9 p.m. The curfew will be in place at least until the start of fall camp.

Missouri basketball player DeMarre Carroll was shot in the ankle on July 5 and Kalen Grimes was dismissed after he was charged with a second-degree felony for assault following an altercation in Columbia, Mo.

Pinkel mellows

Despite the new curfew, this has become an all-new Gary Pinkel over the last two seasons, at least according to his players.

Tight end Martin Rucker said Pinkel has mellowed in the last two seasons, giving players a little more say in the coaching process. The team is a little freer than in seasons past, and it helped the team to its eight-win season last year.

"He's become more of a players' coach," Rucker said. "He's a lot more visible. He listens to our ideas and suggestions. Before it was a dictatorship. Now we've gotten a bit more freedom."

Pinkel, though, won't go so far as to say he's "mellowed."

"I would see how they would think that," Pinkel said. "Mellowed is not the right word. I'm probably as competitive as I've been in my life right now. What I did a few years ago is I let my guard down a little bit, and I did that more as I trusted them. It's hard to do that when you get there."

Blythe on the rebound

One of the most unexpected names dropped on the first day of Big 12 Media Days on Monday was that of Iowa State receiver Todd Blythe.

Nebraska receiver Terrence Nunn called him one of the best receivers in the conference, and Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib went so far as to put him in the top three in the Big 12.

Clearly, his opponents are just as happy to see him at full strength as Blythe is. The Cyclones receiver was a coaches' All-Big 12 first-teamer in 2005 before he sat out three games last year because of mono. Blythe slipped to only 484 receiving yards in nine games as a result of the illness.

In the process, he missed a rematch with Talib, a preseason all-conference cornerback. Now healthy, Blythe will have the Nov. 17 game at Kansas circled on his calendar.

"I was upset because I owe him one," Blythe said. "I caught a 40-yard touchdown over him when we played at Kansas. It was ruled a touchdown, but they reviewed it and said my foot was out of bounds. I told him he got the day off last year."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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