New Grantland (Shootaround): Alabama’s Spread Offense and Requiem for Mike Leach

I participated in Grantland’s shootaround following week one of the college football season, and I wrote about Alabama potentially embracing the spread offense and the inauspicious start to the season by Washington State under head coach Mike Leach. Some excerpts:

But Saban also likes winning, and after troubling losses to Texas A&M in 2012, Auburn in 2013, and Ohio State in 2014 — plus limited sympathy for his public complaints — it appears that he’s settled on an “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. Alabama’s offensive transformation began two years ago and took a big step forward last season under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, with the Crimson Tide setting school records in numerous categories. But the Tide’s Week 1 win over Wisconsin was the best evidence yet that Saban is a spread offense convert in practice, if not entirely in spirit.

Henry and the quietly efficient Coker starred for Alabama on Saturday, but the offense’s tempo and design helped them both. One particular play caught my eye: a third-quarter design in which Coker had four options all built into the same play — a quick hitch pass to his left, a bubble screen to his right, a handoff up the middle, or a seam pass to his tight end.

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That’s modern spread offense stuff all the way (right down to the center arguably being illegally downfield when the ball was thrown).

And:

Washington State was supposed to be Leach’s reclamation project — both for the program and for himself following an ugly divorce from Texas Tech. When WSU hired Leach in the fall of 2011, I was thrilled: Yes, Leach is a fan (and media) favorite, and yes, his teams throw a lot, butlearning the intricacies of his Air Raid offense was in many ways my graduate school in football strategy. Many of his ideas regarding scheme and how to organize and practice offense have shaped the thinking of an enormous number of coaches at every level of football, and I was excited to see his offense back on the field.

But rebuilding Wazzu was never going to be easy, and some warning signs appeared early in Leach’s regime: Upon arriving in Pullman, Leach seemed more hell-bent than ever on throwing the ball nonstop, and despite all of his Air Raid protégés refocusing on running as well as throwing, the Cougars have finished dead last nationally in rushing for each of the past three seasons. Leach’s staff has also seemed to be in constant upheaval, with a revolving door of assistant coaches. Perhaps most alarmingly of all, Leach has seemed less an idiosyncratic football coach and more the character of “Mike Leach” — a caricature of the coach portrayed on 60 Minutes, in the New York Times, and in countless breathless profiles. Leach’s scattershot interests are part of his charm, and the early expectations for his WSU success may have been unrealistic, but regardless: Something has seemingly been missing since the start of his Cougars tenure.

That feeling was amplified considerably this weekend when Washington State, a 31-point favorite, dropped its season opener 24-17 to a Portland State team that finished 11th in the Big Sky Conference last season and still has an interim head coach. Now, Leach’s reclamation project seems less likely to succeed than ever. He probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, as firing him at the end of this season would cost WSU almost $5 million, but unless something changes fast, Washington State will be someone else’s rebuilding project before long.

Read the whole thing (plus all the great contributions from the rest of the crew).

  • Perry Kalmus

    Thought you guys would find this funny. Hilarious spoof on how in the world Pete Carroll could have passed that ball in the Super Bowl. Enjoy! https://goo.gl/dnL1Yi

    Happy opening NFL weekend! If you like it, tweet it out!

    Best,

    Perry

  • Mike Powers

    It’s funny that you mention Mike Leach, because I just found this blog through someone linking to this old article where you name-check Leach: http://smartfootball.blogspot.com/2009/04/more-thoughts-on-pro-scouts-anger-at.html

  • Rickey M

    And I too did not think my Cougs would enjoy a 9-win season after that loss to Portland State!