Against the grain
"How about Nebraska firing their AD today?"
The most indelible character in this soap operatic league is Leach, who is coaching in a sling these days, having recently broken his left elbow in a wipeout on his road bike. This is the same man who once suffered severe shin splints while rollerblading during a recruiting swing through southern California; a man whose infatuation with pirates is such that he occasionally flies the skull and crossbones from the video tower at Tech practices, and on whose desk lies a Bluebeard-era flintlock pistol.
"When I first met him," allows junior quarterback
Leach's eccentricities -- he is also fascinated by
Led by Harrel, who also leads the country in touchdown passes (31), passing yards (3151) and completions per game (36.86), the Red Raiders are 6-1 coming off last Saturday's 35-7 neutering of Texas A&M, a squad Leach seems to take special pleasure in beating. ("How come they get to pretend they are soldiers?" he asks, referring to the Aggies' buzz-cut corps of Cadets, in a superb
The Red Raiders and their against-the-grain head coach travel to Columbia, Mo., there to take on a funhouse-mirror version of themselves. Mizzou quarterback
While Leach has A&M's number, beating the Aggies six of the past seven seasons, he is 1-for-3 against the Tigers. Two years ago, after Missouri clubbed the Red Raiders in Columbia, 62-31, Leach launched into one of the toxic rants for which he is renowned ("We lost this game because I'm not a good enough coach to get our offensive players to play in control when the other team scores a couple of points ... because I'm not a good enough coach to get our kickoff return team and our kickoff coverage team to play.") Leach reached new levels of snark Sept. 22, after the squad's sole loss of the season, a last-minute, come-from-ahead, 49-45 defeat at Oklahoma State. "We had an offense ... that probably sits and reads their press clippings and in arrogant fashion sat around the sideline with their arms folded for most of the second half."
Nor did he spare the defense, which, after all, had allowed 610 total yards. That unit had acted, he fumed, "like somebody took our lunch money. All we wanted to do was have pouty expressions on our face until somebody dabbed our little tears off."
Just because he's avante garde and a trifle wacky doesn't mean Leach lacks a mean streak. Or that he's incapable of brutally difficult decisions. The following day, defensive coordinator
To contain Tech's Airborne Carnival, teams throw their base defense overboard. "We tend to see the extremes," says Leach. "Either heavy pressure or dropping everyone. Teams either drop more than they would against most people, or they bring more than they would against most people."
Gazing at the screen where he has frozen a play Oklahoma ran against the Tigers last weekend, he laser-pointers an oval around an alley of unoccupied green behind Missouri's linebackers. You look at what they're in, what they're running. You try to figure out where there's space, and how you're gonna get the same piece of space, within the context of what you do."
This is Leach's gift: the ability to reduce the game to its most basic element, finding a piece of space. To his mind, that is something below the level of genius. "We're not that smart," he says of coaches, in general. "We practiced the play. We made the call. We threw it to the guy. He made a play. He broke three tackles along the way. We sure didn't anticipate that when we called the play.
"You call another play, the ball hits some kid in the chest, and now you're dumb. You've gone from brilliant to being a complete idiot. When the fact is, you're somewhere in between."
He will only talk football for so long before embarking on another digression. Did you know, he asks, that Colorado State head coach
From Cody High, Leach went to BYU, where he played rugby, not football. He still remembers every ebb and flow of an early-'80s 12-11 loss to the Cal Bears, who did not score a try in the match, but won it on the strength of four penalty kicks by
As long as he's talking rugby, Leach might as well revisit the subject of the upcoming World Cup final. (The match will be contested in Paris on Saturday, and televised Sunday on Versus.) While some tout England's flyhalf
A mention of France triggers a discussion of the Tour de France, which leads to Leach's own foray into road biking, and, not long after, the emergency room. Assistant strength coach
But I digress.