BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 11/23/2016

Thiel: Petersen likes the subversive in Leach

Cougars coach Mike Leach says and does stuff that Chris Petersen wouldn’t dream of emulating. Yet the Huskies coach loves to hang with the Screw-Loose of of the Palouse.

Mike Leach, perhaps Chris Petersen’s secret hero. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

When Mike Leach was coaching the offensive line at Iowa Wesleyan College nearly 30 years ago under his mentor and friend, head coach Hal Mumme, he was also the sports information director for the 600-student school in Mount Pleasant, IA. He was good at it, getting mentions for what would become the Air Raid offense in regional papers as well as USA Today.

The school’s public information officer, feeling a little threatened by Leach’s success, complained to the university president.

Leach responded by saying he believed her office “couldn’t get Iowa Wesleyan College into USA Today unless there was a mass murder.”

Leach was suspended from campus for three days.

Perhaps that was the beginning of his long, tempestuous relationship with authority, as chronicled in the new book by S.C. Gwynne, The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football.

Many years later, when Leach and the Air Raid came to prominence at Texas Tech University, a video was made of Leach’s locker-room tirade when he believed the Red Raiders had under-performed against Baylor.

This was the source of his “F— you, f— me, f— everybody” rant that rocketed Leach into the Lee Elia/Tommy Lasorda/Mike Gundy pantheon of sports figures Free of Fear of Recording Devices.

If you’re in the office or in polite company, headphones are recommended for the accompanying audio:

So it was with great amusement that I learned that Huskies coach Chris Petersen said in an ESPN video feature that Leach was among the coaches with whom he would like to take a road trip.

This year alone as head football coach at Washington State University, Leach likened his  football team after an 0-2 start to a “JC softball team,” called out the Pullman Police Dept. for discriminating against his football players,  and was fined $10,000 by the Pac-12 Conference (which he passive-aggressively mocked) after saying Arizona State University coach Todd Graham was a signal-stealing cheater, which Graham later told Leach, to his face, that the claim was “chickenshit.”

If you’ve paid attention at all to Petersen in his first three years in charge of the Huskies, you know he wouldn’t get within a continent of such remarks and actions. Leach understands that, too, which is why his nickname for Petersen is, “The Bishop.”

But that doesn’t mean Petersen doesn’t enjoy hanging with the Screw-Loose of the Palouse.

“He’s entertaining, there’s no doubt about it,” Petersen said. “I really like being around him, because half the time I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about, and the other half I think is really funny.”

Petersen sounds a bit like the little brother who admires the older brother who gets away with crap that mom and dad would never let the youngster do. Petersen has always colored within the lines but perhaps secretly wishes he could go all Salvador Dali like Leach.

Looking across the breadth of Leach’s surreal landscape, he certainly qualifies as a subversive.

Would you agree, coach Pete?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to study him too much. It might be scary if you study him too much. I just think he’s such a unique perspective on so many things. On football, on life. It’s awesome.”

His football reflects a lifetime of iconoclasm. Leach’s pass first-second-third-fourth Air Raid, which has roots with Mumme’s offense at the University of Kentucky as well as with coaching legends Bill Walsh and Mouse Davis, was the counter to the run-first tradition of large men slugging each other every three yards.

Leach’s novel ideas include the wide spacing of offensive linemen, who almost always work from two-point stances; a horizontal passing game to complement use of four vertical routes; and a simplified playbook that relies on receivers determining their routes based on the defensive alignment after the snap.

The developments have found their way into the mainstream. Maybe not all at once, but even Petersen admits to stealing bits and pieces at Boise State and Washington.

“We do,” he said. “I think everybody has some elements of what they do in the pass game. The routes that they put out there aren’t unique to just them. I think it’s how the whole system fits together — how he teaches it, how they game-plan.

“They’ve been doing the same stuff for a long time. He’s unique in his approach of his system. He’s trimmed and streamlined and they have (the system) completely dialed. He believes you score points and move the ball, and for his system, he’s right.”

Advocates of the Air Raid say it allows teams of lesser talent to stay with and beat superior foes because, when done well, it exhausts defenses mentally and physically. Few teams can practice it with scout teams.

“It’s so different,” Petersen said. “I think probably even simulating in practice is not the same thing, which is kind of unique. You think, ‘Hey, four wide and they’re throwing it and spreading out the field.’

“They operate with so much precision that that’s really what makes the difference.”

Petersen hasn’t been too perplexed. He’s won his first two Apple Cups against Leach, 31-13 and 45-10. The fifth-ranked Huskies are six-point favorites over the No. 23 Cougars for the 109th renewal Friday at 12:30 p.m. amid the lentil fields. And the Huskies have won six of the past seven by a combined average of 34-15.

It’s just the kind of mainstream establishment domination that Leach likes to spoil, particularly against a big brother that doesn’t understand him half the time.

Washington State 35, Washington 34


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YourThoughts

  • Diamond Mask

    I hope it’s a competitive back and forth game. My household is a mixed bag of Cougs and Huskies so the closer the better.

    • art thiel

      Mixed baggery is the blessing/curse of the T-day table. Blessing, because it’s not politics.

      • 1coolguy

        Oh, eventually the snowflakes will come around, even though for some it’s still too early.

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  • Paul Harmening

    Hate to say it but I’m with you on the pick-em, even though Vegas doesn’t agree. Just something saying that Cougs will not be denied at this point. Dawgs losing two key defensive guys has to hurt here. Leach’s owl is headed towards the barn for a warm winter of nesting in ecstasy.

    • art thiel

      Huskies lost a lot when Victor/Mathis went down. I think the O-line is a little vulnerable as well.

  • wabubba67

    Loved watching Leach’s F-you, F-me, F-eveyone tirade. He blamed his players while still holding himself accountable. Would have loved to play for him.

    • art thiel

      Some players certainly do, others have problems with his recklessness. It probably would help him to understand those who disagree with him aren’t contemptible.

  • 1coolguy

    “enjoy hanging with the Screw-Loose of the Palouse.”
    Since I haven’t read this moniker before, (I’ll attribute it to you and it is spot on perfect – gave me a good laugh.
    As to teh final score, are you a Coug? Granted it’s a home game for teh Cougs, the Cougs HATE us, we are always their biggest game, Falk is a stud, etc, etc, BUT the Huskies have the highest scoring O and the lowest points allowed D in the PAC-12, so we are legit. As with the SC game and the 1st qtr of the ASU game, it’s all about whether Browning shows up.
    Dawgs 42-28.

    • art thiel

      I will take full credit and blame. That happens even when I had nothing to do with something.

      I’m neither Coug nor Husky. Huskies aren’t the same team they were.

      • 1coolguy

        Take the credit, WTH?
        As to the Dawgs, without Mathis & Victor, I agree, especially with Browning regressing for some reason the past 2 games. Hopefully he gets it back for the Cougs.

  • bugzapper

    No matter what came earlier, this is the Cougs’ whole “F— you, f— me, f— everybody” f’ing season in 60 Minutes. Tick, tick, tick… They lose this one and all those earlier wins are just so much Alamo Bowl. They’ll throw everything at the wall.

    I still say: All Falk You, No Traction. Dawgs by two. Have fun in Texas, Cougmos.

    • art thiel

      Huskies have lost the two best guys when Leach throws full ordnance.

  • woofer

    To appreciate life in Pullman it helps to be crazy. It’s a good fit. I hope Leach has a long and rewarding career.

    • art thiel

      Long and rewarding and two terms rarely used to describe a subverisive.

      • woofer

        Times change. Subversion has become an honorable calling.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    I believe the USC game exposed a weakness for the Huskies, a very weak O-line, are the Huskies taking a page from the Seahwak play book on how to not establish the offensive line of scrimmage? The Cougs are not USC, but neither was ASU and they pushed us around in the 1st. half. Not sure the dawgs have the where with all to put the Cougs away. If they do get by the Cougs, I’m pretty sure they don’t look forward to playing USC again if Utah beats the Buffs.

    • 1coolguy

      The USC game simply showed when their team, which is always comprised of at least a dozen future NFL players, is led by a competent coach, they are a top 10 team. Not to take down Don James, but he benefitted from USC’s hiring two “gifts” in Ted Tollner and Larry Smith (’83-’92), SC coaches during James best years.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        USC coaches don’t need to recruit, they just sit in their office and wait for the endless calls from blue chip players calling to play for USC. Same goes for Alabama I’m sure. Other schools in the Pac 12 have to aggressively recruit to pick up what’s left over. Your analysis of the James era is that you think James only benefited due to the so called “gift’s” because of those USC’s coaches at the time. I vehemently disagree with your assessment.

        • 1coolguy

          When I posted this I wondered how long it would take for someone to not read my comment closely. “Not to take down Don James, but he benefitted” is what you apparently skipped over. There is no question James was a great coach AND that he benefitted from these two very average SC coaches.