Tony DeMeo

Swing Your Sword by Mike Leach

Swing Your Sword
By; Mike Leach
Mile Leach has to have one of the most creative, innovative offensive minds in college football. Swing Your Sword is one of the most entertaining and informative sports autobiographies that I have read. In the age of political correctness Mike Leach is a breath of fresh air.
The first part of the book deals with Mike growing up and how even at an early age he was an outside the box thinker. What I found very interesting was his law school experience. Mike took some acting classes and he later used those acting classes in coaching. I also found it interesting that Gerry Spence gave Mike the advice that “you must be consumed by what you are doing”. Mike was consumed by football and chose to coach.
Mike relates about his climb up the proverbial coaching ladder starting with Iowa Wesleyan. It was here where Mike Leach and Hal Mumme started putting together the “Air Raid Offense”. Mumme & Leach took over a team that was 0-10 the previous year and had to develop a system that could give them a chance against their opponents. Mumme loved making pilgrimages to BYU & made the Cougar Offense the core of the Air Raid. They also took Montana’s screen game to use as a run game to wear down and demoralize the defensive line. After year one, they decided to pare down their playbook and simplify their attack. They also widen their offensive line splits to eliminate line twists and create passing lanes for the QB. The tweaks worked and Iowa Wesleyan went to the NAIA Play Offs in year three.
In 1992 Mumme and Leach were off to Valdosta State which was a .500 team. They tried to do too much their first year and struggled. The lesson Mike learned is that technique is more important than scheme and that the success of a play lies in the details. Their new objective was to out execute not out scheme their opponents. In 1992 they averaged 25 points per game but that number jumped to 41 points per game in ’93 and ’94. In 1994 Valdosta went to the DII playoffs. Three days after losing to Carson Newman in the Playoffs; Hal Mumme was hired at the University of Kentucky!
The Muume/Leach Air Raid continued to evolve at UK and the lesson of keeping it simple and being detailed oriented paid off in a bowl appearance in their second season with the Wildcats. I really believe this is one of the most important lessons a young coach can learn. The detail of a play and the amount of reps the play is practiced is key to its effectiveness.
Mike Leach left Hal and hooked up with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma in 1999. Mike talks about evaluating a Quarterback and lists these key ingredients:
1. Is he accurate?
2. Does he make good decisions?
3. Is he tough?
4. Is he a leader?
5. Does he have good feet?
Being an option coach, you would think my evaluation would be much different but it really is pretty close. The most important ingredient for a QB is – Can he move the team. The quarterbacks that can move the ball do it by making good decisions and executing those decisions. I always felt decision-making is important but the execution after the decision was also important.
Another interesting note was while at OU; Mike studied the Wishbone! Barry Switzer likened the Air Raid Offense to the Wishbone except throwing the ball.
In Stoops second year the Sooners won the National Championship and Leach was on his way to Texas Tech. Mike had a great recruiting class including Wes Welker and emphasized discipline in the program. Graduation rate was an important goal. He rid the squad of “I” and “me” guys and built a team.
It was at Texas Tech where his infatuation with pirates was introduced to the team and where the title of this book originated. Mike likened the players’ bodies as their swords and they must be poised and focused not frantic. “Swing Your Sword” became the team mantra.
Mike Leach is much more than a guy who can create an outstanding passing game; he’s an outstanding leader and does a great job of team building. He still calls his own plays and why wouldn’t he? Who knows the Air Raid better than Mike Leach? (Maybe Hal Mumme) His philosophy of calling plays is to know what the defense is doing and attack that. The chapter discussing his first team meeting at Tech is a classic.
At Texas Tech Mike really developed the “Four Verticals Concept” which brought the Air Raid Attack to the next level and was the main pass play in Tech’s super win over the Longhorns in 2000. Leach developed the concept of throwing to an open space. There are many spots the vertical route can be open – the QB throws the ball to a space and the receiver adjusts to it.
I really enjoyed this book and especially liked the way Mike described the evolution of the “Air Raid Offense” which has being copied by many other coaches in recent years. I didn’t go into the Craig James incident; you can read about that in detail in the book. I will say I was very disappointed in ESPN’s coverage of it. To say it was one-sided is like saying the ocean is wet. I’m also glad to see Mike Leach on the sidelines again this fall; he’ll do a great job at Washington State. There will be a lot of West Coast teams that will be walking the plank when Leach’s Cougars launch their attack this fall.
I strongly recommend this book. Swing Your Sword will entertain you and educate you. It’s a very well written book that is hard to put down. I’d have to raise the Jolly Roger on this book.