Michael C. Leach is the current head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders football team. He is regarded as one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football.  With a budget a fraction that of other top teams (Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma) and with only limited ability to recruit top high school talent, Leach has taken Texas Tech to a #2 ranking in America, and ended last season as #7. Most of his players are from Texas.

Leach’s Red Raiders ended the 2008 regular season with 11 wins and 1 loss, the best in school history. The season also marked Tech’s first win over a #1 ranked team — Texas. Tech, along with Oklahoma and Texas, shared the Big 12 South division title. The Associated Press named Leach the Big 12 2008 Coach of the Year.  

Leach did by changing the paradigm.

Leach’s teams are intelligent. He stresses to his players that they are there to study and gain a degree, not to play football. An intellectual himself, he addresses his players on a vast array of subjects, including pirates and DNA — each of his mini-lectures or parables has a football moral at the end. Tech football players have among the highest graduation rates among all leading college football teams. They are very smart. They have to be.

On a recent segment of the CBS program 60 Minutes, interviewer Scott Pelly (himself a Texas Tech alumni) showed a very short videotape segment of Leach’s quarterback throwing a forward pass. Pelley asked the quarterback to describe what he was thinking and deciding. The response took three full minutes, for a play that took two seconds. 

Leach trains his quarterbacks in a potent passing offense. On any given play, there are five potential receivers. The offensive line is spread widely across the field. At half time, Leach asks the players, socialist style, whether they feel they have all been given equal opportunities to ‘touch the football.’ Why?  Fairness and efficiency. If one player gets the ball too often, the defense can ‘key’ on that player. If the ball is evenly distributed, the defense has no idea who will get it on any given play. This is at odds with standard coaching (for instance, the Super Bowl game in which star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald nearly won the game singlehandedly, scoring with only two minutes remaining;  Pittsburgh came back to score a touchdown just 32 seconds from the end.), which seeks to get the ball to the ‘money player’.

Most teams run 70 plays a game. Leach’s team runs 90 — a 28% increase. Why? Leach’s offense moves super-fast so that the defense cannot have time to organize and prepare.   

How do we know Leach has created a paradigm shift?

According to experts, all the leading American college football teams now use elements of Leach’s innovations. You cannot patent a football innovation. All Leach can do is continue to innovate, stay one step ahead of his opponents and emulate Texas Tech’s Masked Raider mascot (a masked rider on a black stallion): race onto the field and surprise and terrify his opponents.

By the way: Leach himself is one of the few leading American college football coaches who never played football himself. He is a lawyer who once considered public interest law. Right now, the public interest lies in his upsetting teams more wealthy, more powerful and less innovative than his.