Saturday, November 01, 2008

Underdogs and wonderdogs

Underdogs and Wonderdogs

Texas Tech

Few days in this year's college football season will be more decisive than November 1. And the two games that dominate today's agenda — #8 Georgia against #5 Florida and #6 Texas Tech against #1 Texas — offer in tandem a glimpse at managerial traits that matter, in higher education as in football.

Let's speak first of pure genius. Mike Leach of Texas Tech is probably the smartest coach in college football. He needs to be; Texas Tech historically draws talent only after Texas, Texas A&M, and perhaps other Big XII powers have had their pick among high school players from one of the country's most football-crazed states. And his innovation is a thing of beauty. Very traditional college football coaches treat the forward pass as a deviant play; Woody Hayes's "three yards and a cloud of dust" grew out of a suspicion that only three things could happen on a pass play, and two of them (incompletion, interception) were bad. Almost all coaches, when they do use the forward pass, set their players in predictable formations and then ask eligible receivers to run complex routes.

Not Mike Leach. He treats the pass as the default play, since the thrown ball usually travels faster than any player. He spreads his players as far apart as he can. They run very simple routes, but out of a stunning variety of seemingly improvised, unpredictable formations. Handoffs are for losers; Texas Tech football is all about players covering the entire field. He has literally changed the geometry of the game.

And then there is Mark Richt of Georgia. His challenge is to catapult Georgia, mired for a quarter century on the cusp of near-greatness, into the elite ranks. Today's game against Florida distills a lesson he learned during last year's Bulldog-Gator tilt:
In the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference, the difference in talent is so slight that games can be won inside the players’ helmets as often as inside the hash marks.

That is the defining lesson that Georgia Coach Mark Richt says he learned last season. His Bulldogs used a single motivational ploy to redefine their image and transform their program into a contender for the national championship.

In a search for more emotion, Richt instructed his players before their game last year against Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., to be sure to get a penalty for excess celebration after their first touchdown. They ended up being called for two after about 70 players stormed the field and danced in the end zone.

Georgia went on to a 42-30 victory, suddenly altering a rivalry in which Florida had won 15 of the previous 17 meetings.
In Leach and Richt, we see two faces of superior coaching. These two profiles in athletic prowess might as well be two lessons in academic leadership. Leach is innovation; Richt is inspiration. Their underdogs, the Red Raiders of Texas Tech and the Georgia Bulldogs, need all of that and more in rivalry games that are, for all practical purposes, elimination games for their respective conference championships, let alone the national title. Surely MoneyLaw readers will cheer Leach and Richt over established superpowers in Texas and Florida, in the belief that innovation and inspiration do matter and in the hope that these traits might yet prevail.

Texas TechUpdate: Georgia failed, so miserably that I now vow never again to mention that game. Texas Tech, on the other hand, won one of the most entertaining games I've ever watched. I wouldn't mind watching a rematch of the 2006 Cotton Bowl in roughly two months — for all the marbles in college football.

Texas Tech wins


Blogger Mark Osler said...

As I'm sure you know, Jim, Mike Leach has a J.D. (from Pepperdine).

11/03/2008 5:38 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home