Sports Of All Sorts Scattered Between The Dots……..Mike Leach Gone To Washington State But Not Forgotten………………By RC

Now you must understand as I write this piece that I am not a dyed in wool Red Raider fan but I do have a place in my heart for that school due to the fact that I grew up some eighty miles east of Lubbock. And for me the only daily reading that I could get my hands on was the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Both, yes both, television channels that we received were out of the Hub City, so knowledge of the Texas Tech athletic program was a strength of mine as a kid. Many of my high school buddies got their higher education at Tech and I made many visits over there from Canyon where I was going to school. I went to quite a few football games with my friends along with several other places that I still haven’t told my mother about…………….During my high school and college days the head football coach was a man named J.T. King who was a really good coach, yet highly criticized because during the sixties he brought the football program to a very competitive state after joining the Southwest Conference from the old Border Conference, but could never get them to the throne room of the old SWC. I watched other coaches come and go: some who had some nice records there but not able to win a championship either. Jim Carlen and Steve Sloan were a couple that comes to mind. And of course there was David McWilliams who came to the high plains from UT and had a fine year. But after one season his dream job came open and he went back to the Longhorns and as much as I loved the guy he just didn’t show a lot of class when he announced his departure by giving the big hook em’ sign before resigning at Tech……………………But as far as I was concerned it couldn’t have turned out better for the Raiders because they elevated a tremendous coach named Spike Dykes to be the new head man. The Ballinger native fell in love with Lubbock, Texas Tech, and had the personality that was so synonymous with that part of Texas. His quick wit and West Texas drawl made him an instant favorite. And the best part, unlike Carlen, Sloan, and McWilliams, he was totally committed to the Red Raiders and was not there temporarily to try and pad his record so that he could take another job among the football elites of the NCAA………………..Because I was reared in that part of the world and loved all those things about Coach Dykes, I began once again to pull for the “Wreck em” guys for all but one game a year. And he didn’t disappoint. His teams were always competitive and fundamentally sound. They didn’t make foolish mistakes and when given a level playing field they would always prevail. He took them to the Cotton Bowl while still playing in the Southwest Conference, a prize that had eluded them for 34 years. Sure he shared the conference title but it was well deserved and hard earned when the red and black made their first trip to Dallas on New Year’s Day to represent as the champs………………I was sad when he retired. I knew if the next guy wasn’t someone who could relate with all of the Dykes qualities then my renewed attraction to the Raiders would once again fade into the sunset. So needless to say my heart sank when, after a lengthy search, the decision makers selected an assistant coach from the of all places Norman Oklahoma. The offensive guru under Bob Stoopes was now the new boss in Lubbock…………………………I didn’t want to give the guy any chance at all. For starters, he was the polar opposite of Spike Dykes. He had little to say and when he did speak he assuredly lacked the affection that was so prominent in the personality of Coach Dykes. But hey, he was now the man and that adoration that I had for Tech, told me to at least see what the he had. After all, I presumed, he would be like all the rest; make a run at some point in the season at a chance to capture the league championship but find some way to lose it in the end. Yes his personality and coaching philosophy might be different but the result would eventually be the same………………………But as I watched the Raiders play in the early part of his stay in Lubbock, I could see that his offensive strategy and methods was something that had not been seen in Big XII even when he was an assistant at OU and not the head man. However, early on the Raiders would look like a million dollars on one series and then for a couple of possessions they would be three and out. Inconsistency was the name of the game for them but you have to understand that he was coaching kids who had been recruited to play in an almost entirely different scheme. I wasn’t overly impressed but what I had begun to realize was that he was setting a foundation for his program that would not see his team win less than eight games in a season for the next eight years………………I didn’t automatically become a Mike Leach disciple, but as someone who had coached for a number of years, I could appreciate his devotion to his approach to the game and his unwavering commitment to what he wanted accomplished. His offense and especially his quarterbacks were setting records and at times looked unstoppable. His genius as an offensive innovator was just leaving defensive coaches everywhere in the dust. His achilles heel which had been a strength under Dykes was the team’s ability to play defense and get the other team off the field to preserve what could have been some big victories…………………I think the most impressive thing about Mike Leach and his coaching ability was that no matter which quarterback he put in charge, they produced the same big numbers. Their comprehension of the offense and their ability to complete passes to a bevy of wide outs was just uncanny. They all looked the same and their accuracy was unbelievable. And those receivers and lone running backs were extremely interchangeable as well. Needless to say his offense was a well-oiled machine………………..The pinnacle for Leach and his program was the 2008 defeat of Texas in Jones Stadium. I won’t replay the game but will say that for one half of a ball game those very disciplined crossing routes, for which he was famous, and some timely runs kept the Longhorns off balance and his defense was finally keeping the other guys off the field. In the second half UT made a run but in the end it was another of his talented quarterbacks named Graham Harrell connecting with maybe the best ever receiver at Tech, Michael Crabtree, for a game winning score in the waning seconds of a Big XII classic. And then came the trip to Norman and the undoing of the Raiders by the Sooners that would not let Mike Leach escape what has happened time and again at Raiderland: coming up one game short. But that game may not have just cost Tech a conference championship, it could have cost them a chance to win the national crown………………..By this time, no matter what your opinion of Texas Tech football may have been, you simply had to respect the coaching ability of Mike Leach. As I said in my last blog, I for one, believe that he changed the entire landscape of how football in the state of Texas is played and maybe how football is played all across the land whether it be high school or college. And all those QB’s out of Texas, now enjoying unprecedented success in the NFL can at least thank Mike Leach, a little, for unleashing the wide open offense that allowed them to showcase their talents…………….Coach Leach’s coaching world came crashing down in the winter of 2009-10 when he was informed that he would be terminated as head coach at Texas Tech. Once again I won’t try to replay that whole process because without more knowledge than I have I would surely report something as an inaccuracy. But if you will remember earlier in this blog, I spoke of the differences of personality between Leach and Dykes. To that I will just add this: if Coach Leach had had just a little more of Coach Dyke’s personality, charm, and even humility, he could have looked for a burial plot in Lubbock. They surely would not have let him get away and he could have been there for life. But I do not fault Mike Leach. He is a free spirit, a free thinker, and for sure a guy who is going to do it his way. And trying to get him to become someone else for job preservation would have been so very wrong………………..And once again I won’t try to replay his accused mistreatment of player Adam James , either. But I for one think that there was far more to the termination than just that one incident. Mike Leach had brought an elite atmosphere to Tech and I believe that he thought that he should have been treated as one of the elites: both monetarily and with the clout of other coaches in the elite programs of America. Tech officials saw it differently and probably longed for that same relationship that they had with Spike Dykes. As they saw it, it was the South Plains way. Mike Leach saw it differently and after a number of lawsuits, most or all of which favored the university, he accepted the position as head football coach at Washington State…………………………….As for the state of Red Raider football, I have yet to be impressed by the Tommy Turbeville regime. I think that he wanted people to believe that he could come in and duplicate the offense under Leach. Like so many others, he has implemented the spread formations and wide open attack. But no one can do it exactly like Leach. I don’t see a sense of urgency under Turbeville. For Mike Leach there was and it was of his own doing. So, it will be awhile before the man dubbed as the “mad scientist” by Brent Musburger will be forgotten on the high plains of Texas……………………………….. I will be watching and can almost guarantee the members of the PAC XII that they had better be prepared. Washington State will no longer be a breather in a tough league. They soon will be contenders. Can Mike Leach bring home the hardware for the Cougars? Only time will tell! Stay tuned because things are about to get interesting in the PAC XII. ……………………………………………..RC

About Ronnie Clifton

Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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