Mike Leach has a gun, but nobody's quite sure how he's going to use it. The gun is a pistol and the trigger man is Jim Mastro, a former assistant at Nevada and, most recently, UCLA. It's the hiring Mastro that says a lot about what Leach may have learned during his time away from football and how he'll apply that knowledge to his job at Washington State.
Leach didn't hire Mastro, a pistol guru who worked under Chris Ault at Nevada before installing the system at UCLA, to teach the Washington State running backs how to run a basic draw out of a standard shotgun formation. A head coach doesn't hire an assistant with such a strong background in a certain scheme, only to leave his immense knowledge base untapped. In other words, there has to be some kind of end game with Mastro on the staff.
So how will Mastro and Leach team at Washington State? Smart Football's Chris Brown took a look at Mastro, Leach and what the two may do with the running game (click the link, if only for the video of Leach and Dana Holgorsen). We certainly don't know exactly how Leach will install his scheme, but it's safe to assume the same core elements and philosophy he's always used will remain. Think of the pistol as a wrinkle to it all.
As Brown notes, the pistol isn't just one thing. It can be anything from a simple alignment tweak to an entire offensive scheme. We've seen Washington State use the former recently and Nevada is the poster boy for the latter. The question is: how will Leach use this newfound pistol?
Leach consistently points out he doesn't believe in scrapping everything and making huge changes in his offense. It's a "jack of all trades, master of nothing" thing with him: instead of implementing a large playbook, Leach instead chooses to use an incredibly small -- by contrast to other offensive coordinators -- number of plays, allowing him to drill them to perfection.
However, Leach takes these base plays and runs them out of every formation possible. In his book, Leach writes about how it's easier to change where a player stands while keeping the integrity of the play than it is to have his players learn a completely new play. His receivers will drill routes and timing with the quarterback until the plays are second nature, then all that has to change is where they stand pre-snap.
Put it all together and the answer seems quite simple. It's highly unlikely Leach implements a wholesale change while incorporating the core elements of the pistol scheme. Instead, the pistol seems like a new look for Leach and a way to kick-start his run game.
The pistol is a different look, at least in the backfield, but it also allows a bit more freedom in the run game. By aligning the running back directly behind the quarterback, it doesn't tip the direction of the play and allows the offense to prevent the defense from shifting its alignment to gain leverage. When the Cougars installed elements of the pistol in 2010, these were the reasons.
Leach will almost certainly mix in pieces of Mastro's expertise -- the alignment of the running back, at the very least -- but don't expect a complete system revamp. Leach will continue to be Leach, and the Air Raid will remain alive and well. But Mastro's pistol concepts, if they are incorporated into the offense as expected, should provide Leach another element and another way to attack open space.
Be excited to see how Leach plays with his new toy and how his offense evolves, even in subtle ways. Giving an offensive mastermind another weapon is never a bad thing, and Mastro is the perfect man to teach the pistol.
Linking Chris Brown's story one more time. Read through it, click all the links about the pistol and learn something new today.