College Football's Billy Beane?

Michael Lewis writes in today’s New York Times Sunday Magazine about Mike Leach, the innovative coach of the Texas Tech football team. As Lewis describes it, Leach takes a totally different view of football and is on the cusp of revolutionizing the game.

It is a very interesting article, and beautifully written. As usual with Michael Lewis, there is a touch of not letting the facts get in the way of having a great story. For instance, Lewis makes a big deal in the article about how the the Texas Tech style wears down the other team and how Texas Tech offense learns and adjusts over the course of the game so that they completely dominate teams in the second half. Lewis highlights a series of games where this occurs to make his point. A quick glance at this year’s statistics shows, however, that Texas Tech this year has scored an average of 20.4 points a game in the first half and 21.7 points a game in the second half. Hmm…not so amazing after all. (Although in Lewis’ defense, in 2004 did do much better in the second half of games than in the first half.)

Like Moneyball, even though I am suspicious of parts of the argument, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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  1. bgriffs says:

    Ah, the irony of everyone’s favorite PhD and JBC Medal winner giving “college” a nice fat typo in the title.

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  2. bgriffs —

    Thanks for keeping us in line.

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  3. Ken D. says:

    While Leach’s approach is unusual, Lewis overstates how original it is. One example: Mississippi Valley State had considerable success in the early 1980’s with a nearly all pass, spread-the-field offense, featuring Jerry Rice as their No. 1 receiver. Maybe, just maybe, there are reasons why such schemes do not prosper in the win-prizing “economy” of college football except when they have novelty value.

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  4. Robert Schwartz says:

    But it is Texas, not Texas Tech that is in the Rose Bowl. And Joe Tiller has not taken over the Big 10, which is dominated by Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. I will continue to believe that football games are won the bigger, faster, stronger, teams.

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  5. RikkiTikki says:

    The success of Leach’s quarterbacks is, statistically, Leach’s most notable achievement. Leach is clearly an oustanding teacher of quarterbacks. But Ken D is right; the passing game revolution began long ago. Lewis could have written a very similar article about BYU in the 70s and 80s, and how guys like Norm Chow developed flexible and sophisticated offensive schemes to help compensate for lesser talent.

    For an example of what a creative and highly flexible offense with loads of talent can do, see Steve Spurrier’s Florida teams.

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  6. Wayne Cheeze says:

    Hawaii’s another team that’s all-pass, by the way. There are teams across the country that adopted the spread because they cannot compete for athletes with the major powers.

    I don’t think there’s anything magical about why pass-happy teams succeed at the college level. It’s extremely difficult to field defenses with enough fast, skilled defensive backs and linebackers to contain all the receivers. At the professional level these systems generally have failed because the skill level (and perhaps coaching ability) is so much greater.

    The challenge for spread offenses is to find ways to score when the defense has sufficient speed and skill. Few spread teams have decent running schemes–Northwestern being one of the exceptions. It’s a difficult problem to overcome because the best running backs and offensive linemen tend to go to schools more dedicated to running.

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  7. Urban Shocker says:

    “A quick glance at this year’s statistics shows, however, that Texas Tech this year has scored an average of 20.4 points a game in the first half and 21.7 points a game in the second half.”

    well, one could argue that as halftime is when most teams make their offensive and defensive adjustments, that 21.7 points in the second half is fairly impressive.

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  8. smili says:

    I loved the article. thanks for posting. Didn’t realize he was with the Hal Mumme KY teams. Turnaround was incredible there.

    Norm Chow -offensive coordinator for the Titans (former USC) also runs many identical plays from different formations and emphasizes speed in and out of huddle. Titans just don’t have much experience at the moment to run smoothly.

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