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Mike Leach's codewords, and what they mean

Listen carefully to Mike Leach when he speaks. Listen to any coach, in fact. You have to pay attention to what they're saying, how they're saying it, and also understand why they say what they do. Everything said to the media has a purpose, but perhaps not the purpose you think.

James Snook-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The fact of the matter is that coaches aren't talking to you, or I, or anyone else. They don't care what you think, or what the media thinks. Their message isn't for the public at large.

Leach wasn't talking to you on Saturday, just as he wasn't talking to you after every practice and during the numerous conference calls he does during the season. He had his fun all throughout the offseason, but now he's delivering a calculated message.

Instead of talking to you, Leach and just about every coach out there is talking through you. It's one thing to deliver a message inside the locker room, the friendly confines that might as well be guarded by a locked gate and armed guards. That's home, a safe place for players and coaches where everything stays within. It's a little more real when the message is taken to the public.

This doesn't necessarily translate to ripping players. Sure, it happens, but far more frequently coaches shy away from attacking individuals. Instead, it's the team's fault, the coaches' fault, or the equipment staff's fault. Football is still a team sport, and by taking aim at an individual a coach runs the risk of losing the respect of his team.

Leach wasn't ripping his players while acting as though the coaches were just fine and dandy on Saturday. No, he was using some coded language, but also clearly singled out the coaching staff as the people that have to make the adjustment -- "That's on us as coaches" -- as well as the players.

With that out of the way, what else is he talking about? It's quite simple, really.

Leach is going to talk about what he can control. That means there's no point bemoaning talent or injuries, or anything that is out of his control. He can't change it, so why bother? You didn't hear him talking about a lack of talent, an empty cabinet because that's not his problem right now, at this moment.

"Throughout the season I've learned that he's giving me the keys to the car"
- Jeff Tuel

During the offseason, Leach spent plenty of time talking about strength, conditioning, getting in better shape, being able to run a lot. Since then, he's stopped talking about it, focusing mostly on "mental fatigue." Notice the shift? It's because in the offseason he could control the conditioning and strength by pushing his players along, with words in the media, through the conditioning program. There was no point talking about the mental aspect of the game, because the mental aspect doesn't come into play until the season actually begins.

So he harped on not being big, fast, strong or conditioned enough. It was a message to his players, though it didn't come by way of a screaming strength coach. "You're not good enough. Put in the work and get better."

Now that the season is in full-swing, there's just no point harping on the talent or strength of the team. It can't be controlled. Players aren't going to suddenly get stronger and faster overnight, so Leach isn't going to waste his time moping around.

He can, however, control the mental aspects of the game -- something he talks quite a bit about. His theory is simple: If they're here, we'll coach 'em up; if we coach 'em up, they'll be able to step in at a moment's notice.

We're all used to press conferences and hearing excuses at this point. Almost every week, it felt like we were being told that the team wasn't talented enough, that the cupboard was bare, and that it'd take time. It conditions everyone, and it's a condition that's hard to break. This causes an immediate reaction after losses, even if Leach isn't throwing players under the bus or blaming talent -- in fact, he made it a point to say the talent-level was "pretty good" after Saturday's game.

But he's still going to use the language he does to get his point across to the team. Whenever he steps in front of a mic, he knows that his players are watching and listening. A head coach calling them out, however subtle, isn't fun, but it has to be done.

When Leach talks about being mentally fatigued, getting too high and low, or being afraid of success, he's not talking to you, dear fan. He's talking through you, to his team. And he's doing so publicly, reinforcing a message he's already telling the players. It's part of his coaching.