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Fire Mike Leach? A Response

Kevin Donahue from Fanblogs wonders if it's time for Texas Tech fans to question whether or not Leach is the right man for the job in Lubbock. I've got a ton of thoughts running through my head and I doubt that I'll be able to be concise enough to get them organized in a coherent manner, but I'll try.

I usually like to take items one at at time and I'll do so here too, but here are the negatives: that Leach has not won a division title; that he averages almost 5 losses a season despite winning 63% of his games; that other than Baylor, the Big 12 has outscored Leach's Texas Tech teams by 52 points; that the elite teams have outscored Leach's Texas Tech teams by 245 points; and that Leach is 2-12 against UT and OU. On the plus side, Donahue notes that Leach does run a clean program and he does graduate his student-athletes. Donahue bring to the table, all valid points, but let's see if I can't counter each one of the negatives. Let's go:

  • No division title: In the 11 year history of the Big 12, Nebraska won 4 North Division titles, Colorado also won 4 while Kansas State has won 3. In the Southern Division Texas won 4, Texas A&M has won 2 and Oklahoma won 5 division titles. That means that there's only been a handful of schools that have won a division title.

    Not to mention OU and UT have dominated the Southern Division the last 8 years, it's been a 2 horse race. So does this mean that the remaining 4 Big 12 South teams are failures? Not necessarily, but I think that more importantly, is that it's just friggin hard to capture a division title with the resurgence of UT and OU. And of course, those two programs begin to improve just as Leach became the head coach at Texas Tech.

    I know, that's a damn convenient excuse, but let's consider a few things. From a pure athlete standpoint Tech doesn't have the athletes as the UT's, OU's and A&M's of the world (personally, that's what makes beating those programs so much more delicious). That's probably not a popular opinion, but I think it's true. UT and OU don't have 4.69 Robert Johnson playing wide receiver for the Red Raiders (I don't want to disparage Robert, but there are a number of examples where Tech was over-matched athletically in comparison to the competition). Much of Leach's success is that he's been able to take players who normally would have very little success on the offensive side of the ball and generally the spread offense allows for lesser athletes to exploit more talented defenders. Where this offense really falls apart, as demonstrated by Kevin's numbers, is when Texas Tech plays uber-talented teams (i.e. elite teams).

    I've posted these numbers before, but how many successful programs had two starting wide receivers run 4.7 40 yard dash? Not many, but Tech does, and I consider Tech to be a successful program. I think that's a testament to Leach and his ability to get the most out of his players.

    But here's the genius part of Leach's system, slowly but surely Leach is attracting more and more gifted athletes and I believe the gap between the talent at UT, OU and A&M and Texas Tech is slowly but surely closing. Tech does not have the advantage of Dallas being 3 hours away or Houston being in your backyard. Kevin mentioned that Lubbock isn't a bad gig, and it's not, but like a said, if a kid has to choose between going to Austin, a centrally located college, College Station which is only an hour or so away from Houston and Norman which is still also only 3 hours away from Dallas (depending on traffic) then the kid has to really want to come to Lubbock. Also, each one of those schools have a fairly long resume in terms of their football tradition.

    Historically, there have been relatively fewer great athletes at Tech compared to the aforementioned big three. Don't get me wrong, this program isn't devoid of talented players, but the program just isn't on the same level. That being said, I believe that the talent that Leach is gathering at Tech will really start to take hold next year and the year after. Consider the following numbers:

    • 2007: 2.73
    • 2006: 2.88
    • 2005: 2.66
    • 2004: 2.24
    • 2003: 2.60
    • 2002: 2.45

    Those numbers are the average stars for Texas Tech's most recent recruiting classes. Slow and steady improvement. For those who have been following Texas Tech recruiting knows that there has been a significant upgrade in the overall talent at Texas Tech. For me, the key of course for me isn't necessarily the average, but that the number of 2 star athletes is slowly but surely decreasing. In 2007 there were 8 2-star athletes, 2006 had 7, 2005 had 8, 2004 had 14, and in 2003 and 2002 there were 12.

    Building a program takes time.

    There will be a line drawn at some point where Leach will have the talent and he'll be expected to win a division title and I'll be the first in line to have those types of high expectations. But I just don't think that Texas Tech is just quite there yet.

  • Leach wins 63% of his games, and averages 5 losses a season: I don't think the casual football fan realizes the dismal state that the Texas Tech program was in before Mike Leach and Spike Dykes showed up. I've posted these before, but let's look again at the previous 8 seasons before Spike's arrival:
    • 1978: 7-4-0
    • 1979: 3-6-2
    • 1980: 5-6-0
    • 1981: 1-9-1
    • 1982: 4-7-0
    • 1983: 3-7-1
    • 1984: 4-7-0
    • 1985: 4-7-0

    That's the definition of a horrible program. I've said that Spike deserves a ton of credit for getting this program back on it's feet, but as successful as Spike was, he also only had 5 winning records in 13 seasons and a career 55.4% winning percentage. Leach, in 7 seasons has had 7 winning records. Let that sink in for a moment and take a look at those numbers in the previous paragraph again . . . . Coach Leach has done more for Texas Tech in 7 seasons than in the past 30 or so years at Texas Tech.

    Coach Leach is also one of the most successful coach at Texas Tech in the modern era who has been at Texas Tech more than 5 seasons:

    • Pete Cawthon (1930-1940): 69.3%
    • Steve Sloan (1975-1977): 65.7%
    • E.Y. Freeland (1925-1928): 64.9%
    • Jim Carlen (1970-1974): 64.4%
    • David McWilliams (1986): 63.6%
    • Mike Leach (2000-2006): 62.9%

    Pete Cawthon and E.Y. Freeland coached in eras long ago and although I appreciate their longevity at Texas Tech I don't think that we can consider their records as part of today's discussion. The other 3 coaches on the list were short-timers and at Texas Tech for 4 seasons or less. Although I am still learning about Texas Tech football history, Sloan and McWilliams used Texas Tech and quickly moved on to other programs. Coach Leach has stuck around and been successful and I think he wants to see this thing through, despite is flirtations with Miami, which may or may not have be nothing more than a casual conversation.

    You can have your successful mid-major coach who get hot for a period of time, but I'll hitch my wagon to Captain Leach's star. I believe the long term success is coming. I guess there are other programs who experience instant and quick success, but if that success isn't sustainable (see Colorado and more recently Kansas State) then was it really worth it. I think success comes from having a coach who is committed to the program and wins and as far as I can tell, Coach Leach is doing just that.

  • Other than Baylor, Big 12 has outscored Leach's Red Raiders by 52 points: One of my biggest faults with Leach is that despite some very poor defensive seasons, he's refused to let go of defensive coordinator, Lyle Setencich. I don't know what it is, but as a Texas Tech fan it's been incredibly frustrating. Of course, you can look at this another way, Leach is incredibly loyal to his coaches, perhaps to a fault, but if there's one guy you want in your foxhole as an assistant coach, it's Coach Leach.

    But let's consider something else, I mentioned the improving recruiting numbers above that I think that from an offensive standpoint, Leach is improving the athletes on the team. I for one readily admit that there is a tendency to gloss over the defensive numbers, but the athletes there are improving as well. It's a process, just as it is on the offense, and I know that 7 years is quite a bit of time to give a coach, but I believe that Leach is recruiting more talented defensive players at Texas Tech too.

    Let's not forget too that Tech can play fun and aggressive defense (see the Insight Bowl for evidence), but perhaps the bigger question I have is who made the call to be more aggressive in the second half? Was it Lyle who told Leach, "Let's go for it, let's be aggressive, what do we have to lose?" Although I don't know Setencich personally, that doesn't seem like his personality, but it does seem like Coach Leach's. I'd be willing to be the farm that Coach Leach told Lyle before the start of the second half that it was time to let it all hang out and see which players have a pair. Leach gambled and won, but more than that we saw that Setencich can coach a defense. He knows when to blitz, he stopped an offense that seemed unstoppable in the 1st half, he's just got to stop being so conservative.

    I think if anyone realizes the disparity in the way the offense and defense plays it's Leach and as I said above, he can be loyal to a fault, but Leach has proven to be a pretty good judge of talent. Setencich probably knows defenses better than most, but I think it's getting Leach to get Lyle to step out of his comfort zone and gamble a little.

  • Texas Tech has been outscored by elite teams in conference by 245 points (UT, OU, and NB) and 2-12 against UT and OU: See the comments above regarding teams with more athletes. I believe that it's just a matter of time.

  • Leach graduates athletes and he runs a clean program: I appreciate that this was mentioned. It would have been real easy to not mention those two bullet points when talking about college football. I take great pride in the fact that the program that I root for graduates it's players with relative success. Not every school or every coach can say that. And the thought that Tech has been virtually scandal free for Coach Leach's tenure isn't a coincidence.

As I said above, I think Mike Leach is slowly but surely getting this program where it needs to be. Firing Mike would be nothing short of a disaster for the program. I think that Texas Tech will be okay in 2007, but I have those above-mentioned expectations in 2008, that Texas Tech will compete for the division . I think all of the pieces of the puzzle will be in place and there's no reason why Tech can't make it happen.