Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategy: A Class in the Football Mind of Mike Leach | Mississippi State

STARKVILLE — Former Washington State Senator Michael Baumgartner has met with the brightest minds in national security. He has met and confronted some of the best politicians to cross the United States, and he has seen firsthand the masterminds behind some of America’s most important battles in the Middle East.

Yet as he leans forward from his chair inside Missisippi State’s Old Main Academic Center, fascination crosses his face. His smile stretches further and his eyes continue to widen as he watches a man in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans speak.

Through all of the most complex minds, perhaps his favorite lies between the ears of his close friend and MSU football coach Mike Leach. And this mind, so fascinating and immensely filled with an abundance of knowledge, is so painfully simple.

” It’s this way. That’s how it is,” Leach told Baumgartner as the man who once worked at the US Embassy in Baghdad during the surge in Iraq struggled with his PowerPoint selector.

The pair were back together Friday night in Starkville to give a talk titled “Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategy,” as they did in Washington state.

It started with a trailer for Operation Mincemeat and a cover of 1999’s Cotton Bowl Caper. It ended with a look at Leach’s footballing spirit – a look rarely seen in press conferences in interviews. .

A piece of paper is not a corpse

Working as an offensive coordinator in Oklahoma, Mike Leach had perhaps his most difficult assignment of the season ahead of him. It was 23 years ago, and the Sooners were preparing for a battle with No. 23 Texas.

Leach was spending a typical late night preparing a game plan, and with every hour of sleep he lost, Operation Mincemeat kept gaining traction in his head.

Before becoming a Netflix sensation, Operation Mincemeat was one of the most memorable deception operations in world history.

The British plan: attach documents describing false tactics to a corpse and wash it off the Spanish shores. Once this corpse was found, the documents were forwarded to the German forces during the Second World War. They suggested that the Allies would invade Greece.

In reality, the Allies were invading Sicily, Italy. It is unclear whether Operation Mincemeat was the reason for the success, but the liberations of Sicily went faster than expected.

So the idea was born at the Oklahoma meetings. Why not write up a fake game plan – making sure it looks as believable as possible – and drop it on the Texas sideline before the game. Maybe a coach or player would pick it up, take it to the Longhorns defensive staff, and come up with a Texas game plan for a complete error.

“We figured if the Allies could drop corpses, it was relatively harmless to drop Xerox game sheets,” Leach said. “…We started out joking, then we were like, ‘Well, why not?’ It was against Texas, we didn’t like them anyway.

The plan worked perfectly. They watched as a graduate assistant from Texas picked up the discarded game sheet, looked around to make sure no one had seen him, and rushed to his staff.

Shortly after, Oklahoma itself had a 17-0 lead.

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers sat front row and could only laugh and shake his head as his coach relived the experience. The man he helps lead a one-of-a-kind aerial attack has taken a tactic of warfare from the 1940s and applied it to one of the greatest matches he has coached.

Don’t let this sound complex. It’s common sense for Leach.

Grass = good

Mike Leach takes no pleasure in his team leading the SEC in possession time in his two seasons at the helm. There are few metrics he hates more.

“These guys want to monopolize the ball,” Leach said. “The quarterback stands there, tickles the center (behind) and watches the tick.”

The statistics he is interested in: points, first downs, third downs and total number of games. Controlling time of possession usually comes with success, but that’s not the point.

How is it going ? Find the area of ​​the pitch with the most grass and throw the ball there. So, Leach created an unconventional offense to make it happen.

Think of Winston Churchill during the First World War. Perhaps one of Britain’s worst defeats came in Churchill’s missteps as he sought to eliminate the Ottoman Empire. Churchill thought it best to attack Istanbul. It was an early decision by the opposition.

Enter Lawrence of Arabia. He was an archaeologist who worked in the Middle East and basically became a spy for the British against the Ottoman Empire. Rather than attacking Istanbul, he encouraged an attack in the middle of the land.

This would split the opposing forces in two – creating space. And they attacked in what Baumgartner called “unconventional” attacking the railroads.

The Ottoman Empire, in this case, is the SEC. When Leach began his Power Five coaching career as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator in the late 1990s, the conference was already a juggernaut.

His approach was to make sure his opposition faced something they would only see when facing Kentucky.

“They’re going to play a team like us all year,” Leach said. “After that everyone will play a much more conventional attack… The same thing happened with the triangle. Even though the triangle works all the time, it’s probably the offense that I identify with the most, in a way.

Rogers joined Leach on stage to demonstrate how these simple concepts work during games. With highlights from last season’s wins over Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Auburn, they shattered plans that proved crucial.

Using a green laser pointer, Leach circled before the snapshot where the most open grass was. Rogers explained what it takes to get the ball there.

Leach says it irritates him when people treat each game as a different episode of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. His attack is unconventional enough that he doesn’t feel he needs to set up various traps.

“There’s a point where you have to decide, whether you’re on offense or defense, what you’re going to be good at,” Leach said. “You have to do it over and over and over and over and hone your skills and do it all with precision.”

Don’t try to make it too complex. It’s common sense for Leach.

Getting the most out of Toyotas

Culture is perhaps more important than tactics, says Baumgartner. A group with the same goals, values ​​and mindset functions as a unit capable of defeating any force.

Think of the Toyota war – where Libya, a country awash in resources such as tanks and planes, went against Chad. The latter country relied on Toyota.

“Toyotas are real reliable cars,” joked Leach.

Similar to what Leach did in Washington State and hopes to do at MSU, he finds an ability to get the most out of fewer resources.

This comes from his constant desire to create coherence within his culture. It starts with midnight maneuvers – something Leach says Geronimo would like.

MSU is setting up nine stations over eight days during the offseason with various physical activities. It’s a horrible stretch, even for the best athletes in the country, but solidarity is formed through collective effort.

Different jerseys are distributed each day with colors symbolizing the effort. If you receive a black jersey, you are someone your teammates should look up to.

Leach would make the midnight maneuvers last longer than the eight days, but it would start to eliminate the weight gain – that’s also laborious.

But when Mississippi State is down 28-3 at Auburn, it’s part of the culture that Leach and Rogers rely on.

“The process is about building strength and toughness and identifying who won’t engage in the process when it comes to hard work,” Leach said. “(You see) who will wither when the pressure is on.”

Don’t think about it too much. It’s common sense for Leach.

Edward K. Thompson