He knew how fast each player was and where they could steal. He memorized the numbers. He had a memory like an elephant. This translated into how he coached football. If a quarterback could see a receiver get to a certain point in the right time, they couldn't be stopped. —Tim Leach
When Mike Leach steps onto the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Thursday to face BYU as Washington State's new head coach, his arrival in Utah will be anxiously anticipated by his parents and siblings — in particular, his only brother.
Tim Leach, who lives in Spanish Fork, is six years younger than Mike Leach. But he was the first lab rat his brother used to put out feelers as a football coach.
Coach Leach's parents, Frank and Sandra Leach, live in St. George. Sister Lindsey Andrus lives in Salem. His sister Mary Clackenbush, who lives in Las Vegas, has a daughter, Pattie, attending BYU. Another sister, Laura Pexton, resides in Salt Lake City and another, Tara Williams, in St. George.
In other words, this is a homecoming of sorts for the Leach family.
"I couldn't be more excited; it's good stuff," said Tim, who has watched his older brother go from a student at BYU to law school at Pepperdine and then get into coaching. His big brother ended up as the offensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma and author of Air Raid at Texas Tech University before becoming a national sports celebrity, author and personality known across the country.
"It's been a heck of a good ride for us," said Tim.
I first met Tim in 1996 watching a football game in his basement in Spanish Fork. I gave him a call earlier this week.
"It's a little-known fact," said Tim, laughing. "Who do you think trained him to be a coach? It was me."
When Mike was a teen and Tim just 8, his older brother drew plays in the sand and had Tim run pass routes over and over again. Mike demanded exactness and perfection and Tim ran the slants, the outs, the post-flags. "I'm the one that had to do all of that — with my own sweat and blood, mind you," said Tim.
Mike had Tim mix up three-step and seven-step routes, told him to do specific things with his footwork and then threw him the ball. "He's 14 and I'm 8 and my practices ended when he got tired. The last pass was always a three-steps and a cut and I knew what was coming; I was the little brother and he was going to throw it as hard as he could. If I caught it, we could be done. Maybe."
Tim said Mike's first coaching experience wasn't football; when he was in high school and at BYU he coached Little League Baseball. "I don't remember him ever getting a summer job; he coached baseball instead."
This is where Mike developed a penchant for exactness. He'd take out a stopwatch and notebook and record how fast every player could run the bases. He'd have a pitcher and catcher on the mound and plate and time how fast they reacted to each player trying to steal from a given point. He loved for his guys to steal bases, steal home. He'd scratch in the dirt a mark for each player where, if he led off that far from the base on a pitcher, he had the green light to steal.
"He knew how fast each player was and where they could steal. He memorized the numbers. He had a memory like an elephant. This translated into how he coached football. If a quarterback could see a receiver get to a certain point in the right time, they couldn't be stopped."
Tim remembers much later when Mike was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma that the two were talking about former Snow College quarterback Josh Heupel, who could get rid of the football but was small in stature.
Mike told Tim an NFL receiver could run 40 yards in just over four seconds. But if a quarterback took four seconds to throw the ball, he'd get sacked. "In a passing offense, if your quarterback is going to take four seconds to throw, he's going to do it on the run. The pocket starts to collapse in two or three seconds. So the quarterback only has to throw the ball 20 yards. The most important thing is he has to be accurate; you don't have to be John Elway."
The point was, Mike said, that Heupel, an OU recruit at the time, had special abilities. "I don't know if Josh Heupel will sign with Oklahoma," the coach told his little brother, "but if he does, he'll win a national championship, might win the Heisman Trophy and won't take a snap in the NFL."
That's about what happened.
"The thing is, back in Little League, when Mike was coaching, we stole home plate every game and nobody could stop us." It all came down to time, space, accuracy and the law of physics. Heupel proved Mike's instincts about the game were right on.
Tim said his brother went to law school, but while he was working at an internship he realized suing and filing briefs didn't turn his prop. He asked himself what was it he thought of most when he got off the couch and made it to the refrigerator. It was coaching. It was designing plays.
"It's actually a good lesson for anybody who's trying to decide what to do in life. Do what you really want to do, not what you think you have to do," said Tim.
This week's picks:
Northern Colorado at Utah: A good hit-somebody-else exercise for Kyle Whittingham's squad. His offensive line will get some good film to look at and his defense should punch the clock early, rest and protect against injuries by going deep in the bench. Utah 35, Northern Colorado 3.
Southern Utah at Utah State: This is a great matchup of two very talented quarterbacks in Brad Sorensen and Chuckie Keeton. Look for USU's improved defense and Keeton's extensive weapons to push the Aggies to victory. USU 28, SUU 10.
UCLA at Rice: If the Bruins are to take a step forward in the Pac-12 with a new coaching staff and direction, it all begins in Houston. This is not an easy road trip to Texas. We'll see if UCLA has toughened up and is in more control. I'll bet they have improved. Bruins 17, Rice 14.
Washington State at BYU: This game will be decided by BYU's defense. You'd expect the Provo Cougars to move the ball with Riley Nelson and experienced skill players in the backfield and at the receiver slot, and Leach will put the ball in the air and people will get burned. But the difference will be the Cougar defense, getting stops and turnovers. BYU 27, WSU 21.