Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Leach's return to Provo all about business
By Kevin Gemmell
Sure, Mike Leach would love to cruise around the old stomping grounds when he brings his Washington State Cougars to Provo, Utah to kickoff the 2012 season versus BYU. It might be nice to swing by the old King Henry Apartments where he met his wife when he was a student in the early 80s.
But Leach is going home for business, not pleasure.
"I have great memories there," Leach said. "I met my wife there. It's a great spot. But once the game starts your attention is kind of confined to the field and your sideline ... once it comes to the coaching part, you are occupied with your players and the opponent."
There's been a lot of attention on Leach this offseason. He takes over a program that has won just seven games over the last three seasons (four of them last year) and hasn't been to a bowl game since 2003. By bringing in Leach, Washington State sent out a warning shot to the rest of the conference that it was committed to football and serious about being a major player in the Pac-12.
That starts Thursday, when Washington State opens on ESPN at 7:15 p.m. PT as a nearly two-touchdown underdog.
Naturally, this game presents some mildly amusing confusion when you match the Cougars versus the Cougars. But the similarities between the teams go further than just the mascot.
"I think the argument can certainly be made that offensively -- we may look more BYU than BYU does if you reflect on the LaVell Edwards days," Leach said. " There are plays out there we're running that we got -- and maybe we don't run it exactly -- that we got from the Golden Age back then at BYU when LaVell Edwards was there and we run it just like they did back then except maybe we've adjusted this route or that route."
Leach frequently talks about his time as a student at BYU and how what the Cougars were doing offensively influenced much of what he does now with this high-powered Air Raid offense. He recalls early in his coaching career hanging out at BYU spring practices with Roger French and Norm Chow and watching the way BYU would spread the ball around on offense.
"Football-wise, it's very hard to imagine what football would be like without LaVell Edwards," Leach said. "And then also football in America, what it would be like without LaVell Edwards. I'm not the only person LaVell Edwards influenced on throwing the football ... It influenced me directly and specifically and it's the core of a lot of things we do offensively."
And offensively, Washington State should be just fine. The Cougars boast NFL talent at quarterback (Jeff Tuel) and wide receiver (Marquess Wilson) and Tuel has a bevy of options behind Wilson. Leach inherited a team that was geared toward a spread passing attack already, so transitioning to his style went smoothly in the spring and fall.
"I thought it went efficiently, I expected it to," Leach said. "Some of our guys have emerged and stepped up in a quicker fashion than I expected. It did install quickly and things went pretty well for us."
At question is whether WSU's shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense under Mike Breske can get up to speed quick enough and keep opponents off the scoreboard. Plus, Leach expects to play more freshmen than he'd prefer. How many?
"Quite a few," he said. "I think by some accounts an alarming number."
We'll know a lot more about the new-look Washington State team following Thursday night's game. And as for BYU's current coach, Bronco Mendenhall? Leach said they are casual acquaintances.
"He's a really good surfer," Leach said. "... I've seen all his football stuff. We've watched 13 games worth to the point where we're really not interested in seeing blue Cougars. We're only interested in seeing red Cougars. Bronco is an interesting guy and he does a lot of interesting things. But I'd be more interested about talking to him about surfing than football at this point."