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Why It's Not the System

I'm not sure why this hasn't been written or maybe it has and I just haven't read it:  It's not the system.

While eating dinner with my wife last night I realized or figured out or finally put two and two together that it's not the system.  I'm guessing that my brain was subconsciously mulling this concept over while I was ignoring the Heisman Ceremony last week. In any event, I thought back to last year's supposed Heisman snub as both Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree couldn't even get as much as an invite despite having incredible careers that may not have been deserving of a Heisman Trophy, but at the very least a Heisman invite. I've moved passed any resentment that I might have had and the truth of the matter is that it's really the uninformed Heisman voters, some of whom admitted that they didn't even watch some of the Heisman candidates. As a personal aside, this is the same moral dilemma that I have when voting in the BlogPoll, which I started to do at the beginning of the season, but I quickly realized that I wasn't watching enough games to truly be informed. I could watch some scores and see some highlights, but I could never vote with a good conscious if I knew that I had watched one game that weekend, that game being the Red Raiders. 

In any event, I started thinking about Harrell and Crabtree's careers and how truly spectacular each of their individual and team accomplishments last year actually were.  When the question of whether or not Harrell or Crabtree were even worthy of Heisman consideration last year, there were many that thought that they weren't worthy because they were merely products of the system.  I wish I could go back and find those thoughts (I believe there is sufficient interwebs evidence that would point to this general perception) and it's easy to say that Harrell and Crabtree's success was not a matter of their mental or physical talents, but rather some goofy little system that that lovable and quotable Mike Leach scratched out on some notebook paper and told both of them to just go out and play.

If there was ever a year that Texas Tech fans all need to ingrain in your memories, it is the year of 2009, where the Red Raiders did still have offensive success (the second best passing offense in the country and the seventh best offense in the country), but to those that watched the games closely, it just wasn't the same.

About a year and a half ago, I had just finished up reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and I was truly inspired. Inspired so much as to write up what I thought was a fantastic post about Blink, and in particular, rapid cognition, i.e. the ability to make correct decisions in a very short period of time and how this related to quarterback play (I apologize for the video no longer working, it's not my fault). For those of you too lazy to click on over (you should, because I spent a lot of time writing that post and I think it's good) there are three main tenants that I took from the book:

  1. When talking about rapid cognition, experience may be the biggest reason for success, however, like anything else in life, that experience can fail you.
  2. Sometimes experiences and circumstances can keep you from making what are typically good decisions.
  3. Sometimes you can succeed more because you know less about your opponent, i.e. knowing too much information can impair understanding.

I could write and talk for hours about how I thought, and still think for the most part, that Gladwell thoughts regarding success of a player is highly dependent upon the repetition and physical ability that any certain player has. In fact, I think if you were to corner Leach prior to the season about his decision regarding Potts, I think he'd tell you that Sheffield, despite being a huge part of the program, that he didn't have the repetitions in the offense in order to be successful. It was no secret that Leach had been grooming Potts for the past three years to be Harrell's eventual successor and despite the fact that Sheffield having somewhat limited repetitions in practices, due to the fact that he was a walk-on, that he was playing better than Potts, which was on full display during the spring game. And this may be something to write about in another post, but Sheffield's ability to essentially take Leach's formula, repetition, repetition, repetition and more repetition (if you haven't read Hal Mumme's practice plan, then you need to do so to realize how true the fact that repetition is important to Leach and the Air Raid offense) and perform at a very high level is something that Leach hasn't experienced thus far in his coaching career. To say that Sheffield was an anomaly is an understatement. If Sheffield is given the reins next year, you might say that Sheffield's ability to recognize defenses without the hundred and hundreds of repetitions would make Sheffield a Leach-offense prodigy (again, this is probably a great off-season post).

This is the delicate balance in those three items listed above and to get back to the original point of this post, it's that 2008 was a culmination of those three factors from Blink coming together for Harrell and Crabtree (I do think it's humorous to look back what I wrote about Harrell in reviewing those Rice highlights, "In the Rice video, Harrell cannot throw off of his back foot. It's a disaster waiting to happen for any quarterback." Sound familiar?). As stated above, despite still being successful in 2009, it wasn't the same.

Perhaps Texas Tech fans are a bit spoiled, especially after what Harrell and Crabtree did in 2008, but maybe more than that I hope that writers, bloggers, and television commentators realize that the "system" is more than the system. Harrell wasn't blessed with a wicked arm or the ability to make every throw, but what he did have and what I think he perfected, was the ability to make very quick decisions and those decisions were right, especially in 2008, at an incredibly high rate. And for those that discount what Crabtree did on an almost every game basis for two years straight is undermining what an absolutely exceptional player and maybe even once in a generation type of player he actually was.  Both gentlemen had physical gifts, but it was Harrell's ability to make accurate throws, but even more than that make very quick decisions that made him successful, and as much as Crabtree was a physically dominant receiver, Leach has always maintained that Crabtree's recognition of space on the field was unmatched by any player he's ever coached.

Texas Tech fans can sometimes get caught in their own webs of whether to credit or blame the system. Was Crabtree a product of the system? Sure, he was, but being the product of a system and being a productive NFL player (at least thus far) are two completely separate questions. Was Harrell a product of the system? Again, yes, but it was probably those physical limitations that made it difficult for him to spend any real time in the NFL. Were Crabtree and Harrell in the same system? Again yes, each did things the other could not do and made the whole thing work and sometimes, credit needs to go to the incredible athletic and mental abilities of both.

Now we bring ourselves full-circle and we ask ourselves, where is Potts in this equation. I know that some Texas Tech fans will not go to games or support the team or support the player if Potts continues to start. Fine, whatever, you're entitled to your opinion and the right to support or not support the team, but I think the tough part, the part that none of us get to see is that Leach has probably always, and I mean always based his decision on those hundreds and hundreds of repetitions that a player takes during practice on who he thinks should start. Despite what we're seeing this year, Potts' performance during those three years he practiced the system, he was probably outstanding and the repetitions warranted him being the starter in 2009.

But things changed when the lights went on and the opponents were live.

If it was the system, then Potts would have been an All-American with 5,000 yards passing, 50 touchdowns and 10 interceptions because Mike Leach's system would have dictated that every quarterback be as successful as the last quarterback.

Again, this is something that Leach was truly unfamiliar with from the standpoint that his quarterbacks had almost always overcome those mistakes with stellar performances because of Leach's reliance on repetition in practice. Potts may be the exception to the rule and that's your problem with the quarterback position. Leach's system is nothing more than Leach trusting his eyes, and he did trust his eyes leading up to 2009, but the problem was that Potts' performance didn't match the repetitions he had in 3 years of practice. Meanwhile, Sheffield's lack of repetition in practice didn't match what Leach could have dreamed about in terms of production on the field.

And Texas Tech's 2008 and 2009 seasons are why either giving credit to or discrediting the "system" is not fair, either for writers, bloggers or fans . . . because it's just not true.  Sometimes it's the player and sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not as good as other years.

As I read this past, I realize that it's a rambling mess. For those of you who were able to stick through this entire post, thanks a ton.