Kevin Sumlin to USC: What Mike Leach Skeptics Would Say if They Were USC Fans (Gasp!)


Oct 26, 2013; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A

Kevin Sumlin is a hot ticket right now. After his meteoric rise in Houston and now at Texas A&M, it’s no wonder why a lot of teams on both the college and NFL levels will ask with their pocketbooks for his services come the Spring.

Sumlin’s primary offensive attack is the air raid, used of course by at least three different coaches and teams in the Pac-12 Conference. Each has their own variation of it, Arizona’s Rich Rod and Arizona State’s Todd Graham have two of the best backs in the country so they are very ground-conscious as well. Washington State’s Mike Leach employs the offense that takes to the air more than any other team in the nation.

When you think back to Sumlin’s first head coaching job at Houston, you think air-raid. In many respects, that team was very similar to the Washington State team with Leach in charge over these past couple years, putting the ball up on almost every occasion. Sumlin has changed the offense a little bit at A&M, but not much. The Aggies still average a healthy number of throws.

Because their quarterback is Johnny Football, they average an even healthier number of scrambles, which is a main component of the offensive change for Sumlin. But I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

At any rate I wonder what the Washington State faithful would say about his hiring to USC, should the Trojans be able to pull that off this upcoming offseason? In only year two of the Mike Leach era here at Wazzu, many Cougar fans have been unreasonably critical of the air-raid, in particular Mike Leach’s systematic and ever-constant use of the arm of Connor Halliday.

Oct 31, 2013; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars coach Mike Leach (left) and Arizona State Sun Devils coach Todd Graham talk before the game at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

They have asked questions such as, “will Leach change(?)”, “when will we get a run game(?)”, “is the air-raid viable in the Pac-12(?)” and plenty more like those. I know, for you non-Cougars out there that are reading this that know Washington State will be a force in the very near future because of the Leach attack, that may come as a shock that WSU faithful have given up so early on the best thing to happen to them since Mike Price, who started out somewhat similar to what Leach is, coincidentally.

But yes, at least some Cougs have become so used to losing over the past decade after a five year run of success that they have already given up on the Leachster and his ways. Some have even gone so far as to say that the air-raid will never work in the Pac-12, nevermind that it is working just fine in the state of Arizona and a version of it is working  pretty well right now in Eugene and Seattle. Some fans have pulled the plug on any sustained future success with it in Pullman because Leach likes to throw it more than those coaches do.

Again, I wonder what they would say if Kevin Sumlin was hired at USC? He employs much the same offense that Leach does and regardless what his running back talent was when he took over, he wouldn’t use them as much as their talent ‘called for’.

But his method of attack has worked at two different schools (as a head coach, more as an OC) and most importantly is tearing up the SEC, a once “smash-mouth” football conference. Fans were skeptical that his attack wouldn’t work against the athletic secondaries of the SEC, but it has succeeded with flying colors. Would these WSU fans be skeptical if they were instead part of the USC fan base?

I wonder.

Then again, I don’t really. They would most certainly be skeptical and eventually try to start a rally for a vote of ‘no-confidence’ in Sumlin and his air-raid. “Running Back U being turned into some sort of aerial freak-show… are you kidding me? NO! We are USC! When we don’t make a national championship game in the first two seasons he’ll be fired!”

November 10, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel scrambles

Funny how probably over-the-top that is to the normal, rational college football fan when consuming the facts; throwing the football has taken over the college game. Sure, the Stanford’s and Bama’s and LSU’s of the world still run the rock, nothing wrong with that with the right athletes and under the right coach.

But, for example, the Navy’s and Army’s and Air Force’s still run the rock too. I mean that’s the other extreme but the point is that some can do extreme’s and be successful. Only Navy has been recently relevant, but we know they’ve all had their times. BYU’s still old-school, Nebraska’s still a version of old-school, Michigan State is definitely still old-school.

LSU beat Alabama with a combo of running the ball and defense three seasons ago. It can work in today’s game, even with the evolving offenses. But who’s responsible for the other one of Bama’s two losses over the past three seasons? Kevin Sumlin…

“But that would NEVER work at USC!”

Get real. Just like it would work for the Trojans as it does for A&M, it will eventually work for Leach and Washington State, taking the program to heights it hasn’t seen in over a decade. USC isn’t that far removed from it’s glory years, but the idea is the same.


Fun little factoid, did you know Sumlin played football for WSU and then served as an assistant under Dennis Erickson and Mike Price at Washington State from 1988-1990? The Cougs basically kicked off his career while he served as a graduate assistant on the staff. He would leave for Wyoming, following Joe Tiller, who served as the offensive coordinator for the Cougars for the 1989 and 1990 seasons when Price brought him over.

Tiller liked to throw the ball too, he was the modern day Mike Leach of the Big 10. Don’t remember? Drew Brees’ first season under Tiller in 1997 produced the setting at Wisconsin for the record for most throws in a single football game (83) until Halliday broke the record this season with 89 against Oregon. Both records were made in losses.

By the way, that 1997 season was the same year Price’s Cougs were setting college football passing records with Ryan Leaf at the helm, on their way to a Rose Bowl.

I know WSU fans remember the 2001 Sun Bowl, when the Cougs beat Purdue on their way to three straight 10-win seasons. Anybody remember the Boiler’s in the Rose Bowl in 2000? Kevin Sumlin had rejoined Tiller as the wide receivers coach.

In fact, Purdue reached Bowls in 10 of Tiller’s 12 seasons in West-Lafayette, mostly while Leach was taking Texas Tech to 10 straight.

Erickson (Sumlin’s college coach and first coaching mentor) is coaching the top passing game in the country right now at Oregon State… yeah, it all came together like that.

September 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Tre Madden (23) is brought down by the Washington State Cougars defense during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The only Sumlin connection to USC and Mike Leach at the same time? Well, the Cougs beat the Trojans at the coliseum earlier this season, beginning to open the door for this conversation to even take place with the firing of Lane Kiffin. I know, I’m reaching now, but I’m having fun!

The point is that Coug fans must be more patient. Be not skeptical of Leach, for he will get it done here with the air-raid, just as Sumlin would get it done at USC if he were to be hired.

The system is proven.