Monday, June 11, 2012

Mike Leach "Swing Your Sword" - my take

I read Mike Leach's book a little differently.  There's so much talk of leadership these days, and so little demonstration of it, that I'm always looking for examples.  Usually the easiest, simplest approach to something produces the best results, and Leach exemplifies that.  Coaches make coaching look hard, perhaps as a barrier to entry, perhaps it's an ego thing.  Most seem to like the idea of beating your head into a brick wall to try to knock it down.  Leach identified early on it's much easier and simpler to go around the wall or over it.

Work smarter, not harder.  Everyone says it.  Few people actually follow their own advice.  It takes an analytical mind and a little bit of time to identify a smarter way to work.  Most people dismiss this step.  The impatient always want to DO SOMETHING.  Leach writes that problems are solved taking small, smart steps that have a likely positive result.  His offenses might have racked up large numbers, but it was the small plays that got them there.  Simple routes, simple reads, lots of options.  Leach refuses to box himself in by down and distance.  If a play is good somewhere on the field, it's good anywhere.  It doesn't have to be difficult.  Apply the same solution to as many problems as possible.

Leach promotes an atmosphere conducive to creativity and sharing.  He discourages group solutions because group-think eliminates unique and novel ideas.  Again, every corporation and college and collaboration in between say they promote this through "entrepreneurship" and other catch phrases, but the safe approach is always the one done before.  Leach lets his coaching staff (and graduate assistants) know that not every idea will be used.  Unique ideas, just like tired, used ideas, aren't all great.  As long as the collaborators don't take this  personally and continue to contribute, this is indeed the most effective way to arrive at solutions.  In this way, Leach was molded by those he coached under.  Working with Hal Mumme in an incubator of ideas allowed Mike Leach the time to develop his own style and prove it before being absorbed by big boy old-school football at Oklahoma.  If he'd tried to make the jump sooner, maybe he would have been indoctrinated with three yards and a cloud of dust like too many other coaches.

Players are obviously the most important part to a coach's success and Leach has defined ways to get the most out of them too.  He writes of giving everyone a chance.  Seems obvious, but his example is especially impressive - Wes Welker.  Welker wasn't recruited out of high school, even though his tape was great.  Welker came to Tech but no one was a believer.  Pretty soon, his peers recognized he was the best on the team.  Because he was overlooked coming out of high school, Welker was determined.  Again, Welker was disregarded going from college to the NFL.  Pretty soon, he was the best receiver on the Dolphins and then the Super Bowl winning Patriots.  If Leach doesn't give this kid a chance, it's possible he isn't in the NFL.  What's amazing is this perennial pro-bowler wasn't even drafted.  Everyone deserves a chance.  Talent will show itself pretty quickly.  Looking at measurables and stats is easy.  Auditioning people in person is hard and time consuming, but it is the true show of skill.  Leach, like all successful leaders, found talent that others had passed over.  He had to.  But that he was so successful should demonstrate its importance.

Mike Leach is ultimately a true coach.  The difference between coaching and teaching may seem trivial, but teaching implies starting from scratch - giving someone completely new information.  Coaching involves identifying talent, improving that talent and ultimately applying it to solve a problem.  This is Leach's gift.  He's taken every difficult situation and succeeded, often spectacularly.  He didn't do it through the most gifted athletes but through a system that preached simplicity and execution.  Anyone can coach - teachers, supervisors, parents - and be successful by being open to all people and ideas.