Provo • Legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards knew that Mike Leach had a “great mind” for the game, just by the questions the new Washington State coach would ask when he visited the Cougars’ spring practices in Provo early in his coaching career.
“Very inquisitive, very detail-oriented,” Edwards said this summer, about his first recollections of Leach. “You just knew he was going to move up through the ranks. Just an incredibly intelligent guy.”
Leach, who graduated from BYU in 1983 — but never played football for the blue Cougars — returns to Provo on Thursday night when BYU plays host to his red Cougars at 8:15 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Much of Leach’s “Air Raid” offense, which he used so successfully at Texas Tech until being dismissed in 2009 in a cloud of controversy regarding his treatment of a player with a concussion, will be familiar to BYU fans who were around in Edwards’ early days. Leach acknowledges that’s where he got some of its key elements.
“I think offensively, we may look more BYU than BYU does, if you reflect on the LaVell Edwards days. You know what I mean?” Leach said. “I mean, there are plays that we run … and we don’t run them exactly, but we got them from the golden days back there at BYU when LaVell Edwards was there.”
Bronco Mendenhall and BYU’s defensive coaches believe WSU might try to throw the football on every down Thursday in the game to be televised nationally by ESPN.
“The ball could be in the air all night,” the coach said.
Edwards says the Cougars didn’t throw the ball every down, like many people believe, but tried to attack all parts of the field and utilize as many receivers and running backs as possible. He thinks that is what Leach does best with the Air Raid.
“During that time, we had quite a few people come and visit, and hang around and observe, and that’s how a lot of that got started with Hal [Mumme] and Mike Leach and other guys,” Edwards said. “We shared a lot of information in those days.”
Leach said Edwards is “easily one of the greatest coaches that has ever coached. And I think that’s indisputable.” He said he would hang out at BYU spring practices with offensive line coach Roger French, Norm Chow and Edwards and soak up all the knowledge he could get.
“They were throwing the ball all over the place,” Leach said. “It influenced me directly, specifically. It is the core of a lot of things we do offensively, the philosophy of attacking the whole field, and then you take it a step further … when Boston College beat Miami, they talked about LaVell Edwards and his group influencing them to throw the ball.”
Due to his many quirks — his fascination with pirates is well-known — Leach isn’t close to resembling the typical BYU graduate. But he says he flourished in Provo, aside from often running afoul of the Honor Code office due to the length of his hair — as chronicled in the book Swing Your Sword, which he co-authored with Bruce Feldman.
In a teleconference Saturday, he told reporters that he met his wife, Sharon, at BYU. He also lived in the Helaman Hall dorms, and his daughter, Janeen, attended BYU. Then he shared a classic Leach ramble.
“I would hang out at her apartment,” Leach said when asked how he met his wife. “I would go there and they would be watching “M*A*S*H,” and I would change the channel to watch “Gunsmoke.” I mean, can you imagine watching “M*A*S*H” or even “Saturday Night Live” when “Gunsmoke” is on? It is almost sacrilegious to anything American.
“I tried to get them back on track, which I think I did successfully. Sharon was a bit of a tough case, so I had to marry her where I could keep an eye on her a lot more frequently.”
Mike Leach’s Provo ties
• Graduated with honors from BYU in 1983 with a degree in American Studies (played some rugby for Cougars, but no football)
• Met his wife, Sharon, at BYU; his daughter, Janeen, also attended BYU
• Returned to BYU often during his early days in coaching to study LaVell Edwards’ offense
• Former BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae was Leach’s offensive line coach for several seasons at Texas Tech; Anae’s son, Famika, plays OL for BYU
Washington State at BYU
P Thursday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN