WEEK 15 CRYSTAL BALL - WEEKEND
Mike Leach's greatest gift
We lost a great one this week with the surprise passing of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, a man whose impact on the college football landscape will be felt for many generations.
Much has been written about Leach over the past few days with many of the articles focused on the man, instead of the coach, and that’s important because who Leach was, as a human being, was more important than who he was as a football figure. For some interesting reading, I highly recommend these articles from Outkick and Texas Monthly.
Of course, we know of Leach because he was a football coach so it’s important to look at how he expanded upon the offensive genius of LaVell Edwards and Hal Mumme to scare the daylights out of FBS defenses on a weekly basis. But there are lots of places where you can learn about his prolific offenses e.g., how he coached mesh routes, how he attacked zone defenses, and why he was partial to wide splits for his linemen.
Here, instead, we’ll take a different tack and talk about I believe was Coach Leach’s most endearing - and important - quality.
HE. WAS. A. THINKER.
That may seem simplistic but thinking - about everything - was at the core of Leach’s being. And, in my opinion, his approach to thinking is what made him the great coach - and man - that he was.
You see, Mike Leach never took things at face value or took someone’s word for it when they told him how things were or how they should be. He questioned the way things were done, questioned why they were done a certain way and thought about how to do them differently and better. As a result of that ability and willingness to think, he developed into one of the most influential coaches the sport of football has ever seen.
Leach’s biggest professional break came when he was hired in 1989 by Mumme, an unknown but brilliant football mind who had just taken the head coaching job at a nondescript NAIA school called Iowa Wesleyan University. The two men quickly realized that they thought similarly and, beginning in tiny Mount Pleasant, Iowa, population 9,000, they hatched a plan to change the way offensive football was played.
This week on the SEC Network, Mumme talked about his first days with Leach and how the duo set out in a university-supplied Ford Taurus to hit the recruiting trail.
Their mode of transportation was apropos as it was the automotive pioneer Henry Ford who once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
Of course, thinking was never an issue for Leach, who regularly offered his carefully considered opinions on topics from Halloween candy to mask policies to weddings. Heck, he thought so much - and so deeply - about the Native American icon Geronimo that he wrote a leadership book about him.
I think that’s a great lesson for all of us: T-H-I-N-K.
Find a time and place to be alone with our thoughts, as the famous author John Maxwell suggests. Think deeply about how things are done, question conventional wisdom and, if it makes sense, figure out how to do it better. That’s what Mike Leach did with the game of football and all of us, for sure, are better for it.
Take the idea of a “balanced offense,” which has long been associated with mixing the run and the pass equally, or close to it. Leach never bought into this idea and said so, as reported by The Athletic’s Chris Vannini.
Brilliant, like the man himself.
Rest in peace, Coach, and thank you. You were a great one.
Moving on to less important things, THE GURU is 1-0 for the week by virtue of San Francisco’s Thursday night win in Seattle. The season mark stands at 124-83 (.599) and there are no more byes to consider.
If it’s information you seek heading into the weekend, here is the schedule, including TV listings and broadcaster pairings; team standings; team and individual statistics; and the updated injury report.
Now, let’s make some picks.
We’ve got a trio of games today that’ll take us from 1 pm ET to just around midnight, extending my snacking window into Sunday morning.
I like Minnesota (10-3) to bounce back with a home win over Indianapolis (4-8-1) and the Ravens (9-4) and backup QB Snoop Huntley to topple the host Browns (5-8). For a team with nine wins, Baltimore isn’t being discussed a heck of a lot. I think they can do damage in the playoffs.
In the other Saturday contest, I think Buffalo (10-3) takes down Miami (8-5) in frigid upstate New York. Floridians can handle their drinks being cold but that’s about it.
SUNDAY - 1 PM GAMES
In tomorrow’s early window, I’m picking four road teams to win:
Dallas (10-3) against fast-rising Jacksonville (5-8). This one will be tighter than a pair of my sweatpants - “Hey, are those tights?” - but the Cowboys pull it out.
Philadelphia (12-1) at Chicago (3-10). Don’t tell Bears fans this is a “trap” game for the Eagles; Chicago fans have felt trapped for the better part of three decades.
Kansas City (10-3) at Houston (1-11-1). With Andy Reid in the area, H-Town’s barbecue joints are on high alert.
Dee-troit (6-7) at the New York Jets (7-6). I actually think Zach Wilson plays well but this Lions squad is on some kind of roll and I expect them to find a way to get the victory.
In the other 1 pm games, I’m going with home teams: stubborn Carolina (5-8) against Pittsburgh (5-8) and New Orleans (4-9) vs. the visiting Falcons (5-8) and rookie QB Desmond Ridder. Dennis Allen’s expertise is defense so look for him to dial up some things that’ll confuse the dickens out of the rookie making his first NFL start.
SUNDAY - LATE GAMES
In the 4 pm-ish window…
I’ll take Denver (3-10) to upend Arizona (4-9) in the Mile High City. Struggling Russell Wilson is on the shelf this weekend and maybe Brett Rypien provides a spark to go with the Broncos sturdy defense.
I like the Patriots (7-6) at the Raiders (5-8). Vegas is playing well but I think that Belichick will get it done against his former protege.
Cincinnati (9-4) wins in Tampa (6-7). The Bengals are peaking at the right time while every week is a struggle for the Bucs.
Tennessee (7-6) falls at the LA Chargers (7-6). I love Mike Vrabel and regularly back the Titans, but it just feels like the team is in a bad spot right now.
Tomorrow night, my beloved Commanders (7-5-1) host the New York Giants (7-5-1) and it should be noted that these two playoff contenders have a two-game lead in the loss column over the eighth-seeded Seahawks. That means the DC-NYG winner is likely to make the playoffs, but the loser will still have a good shot.
Like their 20-20 tie two weeks ago, I see this game as a bitter dogfight. Last time out, in New Jersey, I thought the Giants would win. This week, I like the boys from DC to do just enough to get the victory. Call it 20-19, Washington.
On Monday evening, I think the Packers (5-8) topple the Rams (4-9) at Lambeau Field. Last year these teams met in a hard-fought playoff battle and, now, both are relegated to playing for pride. Such is life in the National Football League, where it is a year-to-year league.
That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for reading and God bless!