The Mike Leach Air Raid has taken over the Big 12. But the man who started it still does it best.
The fact that Washington State coach Mike Leach is an offensive savant is no longer news to anyone. Still, this stat really puts in perspective the influence he’s had on college football offenses: Seven of the 10 Big 12 teams run some variation of Leach’s Air Raid, first installed at Texas Tech 15 years ago.
As ESPN.com’s Max Olson says in this story about Leach and the Air Raid, in 2000, Leach “managed to assemble a veritable superstaff of rising offensive wizards.” Baylor coach Art Briles was one of those guys — he coached the Texas Tech running backs. Dana Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia, coached the receivers with current Cal coach Sonny Dykes. Leach’s offensive line coach, Robert Anae, is now BYU’s offensive coordinator. And of course Kliff Kingsbury, Leach’s quarterback, is now the head coach at Texas Tech.
Surprisingly, Baylor does not consider itself an Air Raid team. “I wouldn’t put us in that category at all” former Baylor OC and current Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery told Olson. Also, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops would like a little credit for giving the Air Raid its pathway to existence — he gave Leach his big break in the Big 12 by hiring him as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator in 1999.
Still, despite all the copycats and disciples out there, the original Air Raid guru still does it best. As Olson notes:
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Seven of the top 13 total offenses in FBS last season ran versions of the Air Raid. So did eight of the nation’s top 12 passing teams. Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and West Virginia all ended up among those dangerous dozen. But Leach’s Cougars still finished No. 1.
Two Pac-12 teams run the Air Raid — WSU and Dykes at Cal. WSU’s offense averaged 517.5 yards per game in 2014. Can the Cougs top that in 2015?
More on the Cougs’ depth chart
Washington State released its first depth chart of the season on Monday, but note the operative word: First. As in, things are still evolving. One position group that could continue to evolve over the course of the season is the receiving corps.
Receivers coach and former Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell told the Daily Evergreen last week that he thinks this is the most talented group of receivers he’s ever been around. Leach doesn’t quite agree… yet.
“I don’t know,” Leach said Tuesday morning when asked if he agreed with Harrell’s assessment. “It could be at some point. But a lot of them are very young. We’ll see how they develop. I think it’s still kind of evolving, we’ll play eight of them, so there’s still some battles out there. Daniel Lilienthal could figure in at some point, Kyle Sweet could figure in but it’s still kind of a battle.”
Leach also made it sound as if the quarterback position battle — where Luke Falk “or” Peyton Bender were listed as starters — isn’t a foregone conclusion.
“They’re still doing a good job, we’ll have to wait and see how that unfolds,” Leach said.
Now, for some Coug-related links:
— Speaking of offensive savants, Of course, Hal Mumme, Leach’s co-conspirator, also gets credit for the creation of the Air Raid.
— As the Sooners get more familiar with the Air Raid, SmartFootball.com’s Chris Brown dissects that offense and its strengths and weaknesses for The Oklahoman.
One interesting nugget from the Brown Q&A — he says the Air Raid is more than just an offensive style. It’s an entire offensive philosophy.
“You teach “What” first, and then you teach “How.” It’s one of the little genius insights of it. Typically, a lot of coaches say we want to work on fundamentals first, and then we’ll move along in installing new context as we go down the line. It in some ways takes it in reverse order because the system itself is pretty simple. Even though guys change the route concepts and change the wrinkles, they’re all pretty committed to having a pretty short play list.
The whole philosophy of being able to install the offense in three days, which basically means you can teach all the assignments in three days, so the importance of that if you get out there for the first three days and they keep doing it over and over, but you teach the X receiver and the Z receiver, “You’re gonna run a post; You’re gonna a curl; You’re gonna run an out,” whatever. Then you teach the quarterback, here are the basic concepts, then you teach the line and the running backs their assignments. You spend those days and it probably looks a little crappy, but they know what to do. Then you just spend the rest of the year getting better at it. It’s a remarkable kind of thing.”
–Here, ESPN.com’s Kevin Gemmell asks the question, “Is Luke Falk Mike Leach’s next record-setting Air Raid QB?”
— Jeff Nusser from CougCenter did this Washington State preview Q&A with SN Nation’s UCLA Bruins blog.