When Mike Leach took over at Texas Tech, he inherited a program with a significant amount of problems, making for an interesting transition. Not only did he have to transform the team on the field, he also had a cleanup effort in front of him off the field. All he did was lead the team to 10-straight bowl games while consistently graduating players along the way, in addition to implementing hard-line discipline for players who ran into trouble off the field.
Leach walked into the Texas Tech job with a strong stance on disciplinary issues that he's continued to carry with him. Hit a woman, you're cut. Fail a drug test, you're cut. Miss a class, show up late to anything or fail to fill the basic responsibilities expected of any player on the team, and there were consequences.
The task at hand at Texas Tech was certainly not an easy one. And yet, Leach excelled while essentially rebuilding the program, at least in the off-field sense. He took a recruiting class of one -- that one, Clay McGuire, will join Leach at Washington State -- and quickly added talent, even picking up Wes Welker as a late addition to his first class. Grades went up, graduation rates went up and, as we all know, wins increased.
As Leach gets to work at Washington State, he does so in a healthier environment than he walked into at Texas Tech. Paul Wulff cleaned up the program and added talent along the way, leaving Leach with plenty of talent and very few off-field problems. In that regard, Leach should be able to jump into job head-first while building on what Wulff started.
But there are a few things that need to be done between now and kickoff on Sept. 1.
Lay out the ground-rules and expectations
This has basically already been done, but it's a key part of any transition. In his first meeting last week, Leach greeted the team, fielded questions and, presumably, laid out the rules. At Texas Tech, he then met with players who had previously run into trouble, giving them a do-or-die ultimatum. Play it straight and the players were fine. Slip-up, be it with a positive drug test or off-field incident, and they were cut.
Leach's discipline for those who slipped up but didn't break the cardinal rules at Texas Tech is the stuff of legends. Miss class and players would do the Tower of London, a cross-campus run with a cinder block above their heads that included a twist. The players would stop at different department buildings, answering questions along the way. At the math building, they'd be asked what pi is, and so on. These were some of my favorite anecdotes in his book.
Round out the coaching staff
This one is painfully obvious, but in the interest of being thorough, we'll include it. Leach's offensive staff is complete, but there's still the matter of the defensive side of the ball. The defensive coordinator hire is still a mystery, and all has remained quiet on that front. Still, we do expect to see a full announcement of his staff -- he won't confirm any of the reported hires and wants to announce them all at once -- in the next few days.
As far as guesses go, it's a shot in the dark at this point. However, it would seem that Leach intends to allow his defensive coordinator to essentially choose his own assistants, thus the delay in any news. The defense will not be neglected, so don't worry: Leach has plenty of money to spend -- $1.8 million for assistants was huge -- and he seems to understand the value of a strong defensive coordinator. In his final years at Texas Tech, Ruffin McNeill's work as a DC led to strong improvement overall, and it showed in the results.
The offseason strength and conditioning program
While much of the attention is focused on who Leach might bring in as his defensive coordinator, I'm curious about who the strength and conditioning coach will be. At Texas Tech, strength and conditioning, especially the offseason program, was a massive emphasis. Leach wanted his teams whipped into shape and able to run through and around an opponent, especially as the game wore on.
At Texas Tech, Leach employed one of the finest strength and conditioning coaches in the country. Bennie Wylie is well-respected and well-known in the world of strength and conditioning, and his work at Texas Tech was huge for the program. Unfortunately, Wylie has settled in at Texas, making him a long-shot to join Leach's staff. Who Leach will choose to lead the strength and conditioning programs is still unknown, but it will be an interesting storyline to watch.
Leach has already fired his warning shot, so to speak. In his first meeting with the team, he told them to be ready and that the offseason may be painful, but it'll all be worth it again. I highly recommend listening to Nolan Washington's interview with Ian Furness and Jason Puckett for his reaction to the meeting.
The receivers are going to be put through the ringer -- the amount of passes and types of routes run during a game require superb cardio -- and strength will be a clear point of emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines. No matter who Leach hires as his strength and conditioning coach, it's going to be a rough winter for the returning players, but in a good way.
Leach is in a good spot here, especially compared to his transition at Tech. Instead of a one-man class, Leach has nearly a full compliment of players verbally committed. It's up to him what he does with them all, but his staff is already reaching out to the commits to touch base and firm things up. Leach may pick up a few players and shake things up, but it's a far cry from having to completely build a class in less than two months.
Implement the scheme
The coaches won't have all the players on the field for full-team drills until spring ball, but the offense can start hammering down the scheme in the meantime. This means a ton of skeleton work for the quarterbacks and receivers, who must be on the same page for Leach's offense to work properly.
The work Jeff Tuel and the receivers put in now, in an effort to build a rapport while working within Leach's scheme, will be the foundation for the spring and fall camps. The receivers need to learn routes, the quarterbacks need to learn the timing, and repetitions are the only way to do it.
Unfortunately, Connor Halliday's liver laceration occurred at perhaps the worst time possible for his development. He'll be out until the spring, perhaps April, and will be unable to get his throws in while going through the offseason program as he waits to fully heal.
Transitions are rarely smooth, but Leach is in a position to immediately succeed at Washington State, thanks in large part to the previous coaching staff. But the offseason will still be a test, especially for the players. They're going to be pushed along the way, both physically and mentally. If they buy in, though, the immediate results have the potential to be tremendous.