Mastermind. That was the word Commissioner Greg Sankey chose to describe Mike Leach as part of a longer, unique introduction of the Mississippi State coach Tuesday at SEC Football Media Days.
The descriptives were many and varied. Former professor of insurgent warfare and football strategies. Author. World traveler. Barbecue expert. Mastermind behind the NCAA record-setting Air Raid offense.
"Appreciate that," Leach said. "Any questions?"
Leach, true to his offbeat self, was the only coach to not make an opening statement and dive straight into Q&A. A number of those questions focused on Leach's signature offense. Perhaps the most relevant inquiry had to do with the challenge of continuing to post record numbers as his tenure in the SEC extends and rival defenders and coordinators grow more familiar with his plan of attack.
As with most subjects, Leach's answer landed at the corner of bemused and unfazed. As he noted, "so many people are adopting Air Raid concepts," and "spread controlled passing games" similar to his have spread throughout college football and the NFL.
And then he said a curious thing - in his controlled comedic way - for an acknowledged "mastermind."
"Football has always been a game of execution," Leach said. "There's not a lot of Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote, who you ambush, fool the other guy, then you walk away laughing like Muttley after the rock fell on the guy or something like that.
"It's always been a game of execution."
Not many football coaches can execute a sentence that includes three different species of cartoon animals. Leach just did.
His career demonstrates that giving him, his staff and their players more time to perfect their execution outweighs giving opponents more time to familiarize themselves with his scheme. It took him three years at Texas Tech and four years at Washington State to construct a nine-win season. At each stop, there would be more.
His first two Mississippi State teams finished 4-7 in the COVID-altered 2020 season and 7-6 in 2021 with bowl trips both years. Despite playing the nation's toughest schedule last year, the Bulldogs became the first team in school history to beat three opponents that finished in the final rankings.
Hat tip to quarterback Will Rogers for putting the air in the Air Raid. Now a junior, his 4,739 passing yards last season as a sophomore ranked third in the nation and third in SEC history. His 73.9 completion percentage ranked second in the country. His 36 touchdown passes broke a school record held by current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
"I think Will's going to get better and better," Leach said. "The better he synchronizes with the other offensive players, the better everybody is."
And the better the Air Raid executes, the less it matters that opposing defenses have seen it before.