Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach talks BYU as Season Opener Approaches

With the season opener against the Brigham Young Cougars quickly approaching, Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach held a conference call over the weekend to discuss his Cougars’ season opening game at BYU.

Leach called BYU “a good team,” as well as a team that “plays hard” and that is “well coached.” He recognized that BYU has a “great tradition, great setting.” As a 1983 BYU alumni, no opposing coach on the BYU schedule should know better than Leach that the blue Cougars are “a team that has a tradition of winning for several decades.”

Although this game creates a unique situation for Leach being against his alma mater and the fact that he “has been there several times,” he doesn’t think it makes his job much different.

“The biggest thing is you go through town and then you are in you routine, and then, once you do that, everybody presents you some problems on the field that preoccupies your attention,” Leach explained. “Once it comes to the coaching part, you are kind of occupied with your players and the opponent. Once the game starts your attention is confined to the field and your sideline.”

Leach, however, wasn’t shy to admit he had great memories from his time at BYU. He recounted, at length how he met his wife while living in the King Henry apartment complex. They became acquainted when his wife Sharon had a sister marry his roommate. A controversy over watching M*A*S*H versus Gun Smoke was one of the key pieces to their pre-marriage relationship that Leach remembers best.

While his relationship with his wife has lasted three decades, Leach doesn’t have much of a relationship with BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. When asked whether the “coaching fraternity” has enabled them to develop a relationship, Leach’s responded, “Bronco’s a good guy. I’ve known him over the years. I don’t know him real well. I have met him several times. … We know quite a few people in common.”

Leach and Mendenhall do share one common non-football interest: surfing.

“Probably one of the more interesting things about Bronco is that he is a really good surfer. Getting some points of view from him on that subject is interesting. … Bronco is an interesting guy who does some interesting things. I’d be more interested in talking to him about surfing than football at this point.”

Leach was prodded during the conference call to talk about the Mendenhall-led BYU defense. Despite having watched all 13 games from a year ago, Leach would only say, the BYU defense was a “good solid team, well coached, well executed. They want to make you execute as many plays as possible to score.”

The offensive guru was more willing to talk about the BYU offense and what it might do to his Cougar defense.

“You always worry about explosives and big plays,” Leach said. “You don’t want to put a bunch of good plays together on defense and then have them get loose on you. We want to get turnovers and put pressure on the quarterback. He moves his feet pretty good, I don’t know how fast he is, but he moves his feet pretty good. He is a guy that can get out of the pocket, and hurt you when you feel like you have him hemmed in a little bit.”

Leach thinks the important thing for his defense is to play good, consistent, and steady.

What about his “air raid” offense and how implementing it has gone at Washington State?

Leach said, “It went efficiently. I expected it to. Some of our guys have emerged and stepped up in a quicker fashion than I expected.”

Several of those players could be true freshmen. Leach expects some people to think he will play an “alarming” number of true freshmen in the season opener. His philosophy, however, is that if a player is on the two-deep depth chart, then he will find a way to play him. He does not have an “automatic redshirt” policy for any player.

When trying to forecast how good this Washington State team will be, it is common to want to use Leach’s first team at Texas Tech as the baseline. As a coaching staff, Leach feels they are ahead of his first year in Lubbock.

“We have a good cohesive staff,” Leach said. “I think our teaching has been at a little higher level just for no other reason than I have been a head coach before.”

Leach is uncertain how good his team will be.

“I have been asking myself that for over a month. I think that we are pretty capable,” was his first reaction. “Where are we at? I don’t know. We have had good, consistent practices. There is only one practice that I can think of that we’ve had that I am really ticked off about. I mean, I can think of a couple that maybe we were a little below average, but I have not had a team that I can say that about where we have had the quality and consistent level of practices that we’ve had. I feel good about it. I feel good about our progress, but we haven’t played a game.”  

No conference call with a head football coach and BYU graduate from the 1980s would be complete without talking about BYU legend LaVell Edwards. As you can imagine, Leach was very complimentary of Edwards.

“He is easily one of the greatest coaches who ever coached. I think that is indisputable,” Leach said. I know him a little. I would like to know him a lot better. He is one of those guys that is quiet enough that you know there is a lot of wisdom in there that you would like to draw from. I always thought of him as a great balancer. With all the forces from all the different directions he was great at balancing things. He was a guy who never overacted, didn’t panic, and just had faith in his system. He trusted good people, so in the end it was a product and environment of trust and focus. I think it was a foundation that still survives at BYU, to an extent. Football wise, it is very hard to imagine what BYU would be like without LaVell Edwards. Also, football in America what it would be like without LaVell Edwards. I am not the only guy LaVell influenced on throwing the football. … He’s had an impressive legacy.”

Some of Leach’s current plays are very similar to what BYU did in the “glory days.” Leach talked about hanging out at BYU spring practices with assistant coaches Roger French and Norm Chow while a student. He explained that his core philosophy to attack the whole field was taken from them.

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