Mike Leach talks quarterbacks, philosophy

It's a rare moment when Mike Leach is asked a question about quarterbacking and he doesn't know the answer.

Ask him who was the best he ever worked with and he'll rattle off four or five names. Ask him about the origins of his philosophy and he'll go into detail about the wishbone roots and his days as a student at BYU. Ask him what he looks for in a quarterback and he'll hammer on how accuracy and decision-making are the primary characteristics.

But ask him about the current quarterback competition at Washington State, and suddenly he's grasping for a response.

"I wish I could answer that," Leach said. "I know that question might be rolling around some other people's heads. But trust me, it's not rolling around in their head as much as it's been mine ... I'll be able to answer that better after about three days out there."

As the Cougars head into spring football next month with their new head coach, all eyes will be on the competition between veteran Jeff Tuel and upstart Connor Halliday. The winner of the job is destined for big numbers and a sore arm. No quarterback in the history of NCAA football attempted more passes in a season than B.J. Symons when Leach was his coach at Texas Tech. No player threw more times over a two- and three-year period than Graham Harrell when he played for Leach. Look at the NCAA record book for passing and it's littered with Texas Tech quarterbacks from their time with Leach.

Now Leach is bringing his style to Washington State -- a team that ranked ninth nationally in passing offense last season. Tuel and Halliday each enter the spring coming off of significant injuries. Tuel suffered a broken clavicle in the season opener last year and saw action in just two other games. Halliday appeared in four games before suffering a lacerated liver in a gutty loss to Utah.

"We'll split the reps with both of them," said Leach, whose job title also includes offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "They both throw pretty good balls. Connor is pretty accurate. Jeff has real good feet and Connor's aren't bad. They are both tall guys. I'm excited to work with both of them."

And if you are a quarterback, it's hard not to be excited about the prospect of learning from Leach. It might come as a surprise to hear that Leach's offense grew out of the run-oriented wishbone. But when he breaks it down to the simplest form, it makes perfect sense.

"I know it sounds strange that it came from the wishbone and everybody says we're different because they run and we throw," Leach said. "Well, we're not that different. Both of our offenses value, first and foremost, distribution. Making sure all of our skill positions touch the ball. You want to attack space. The wishbone does a pretty good job at that."

And so do Leach's offenses -- which more often than not ranked first nationally in the pass during his time at Texas Tech. You need guys to haul it in, but it all starts with the quarterback.

"When I evaluate a quarterback, I look at if he makes good decisions and if he's accurate," Leach said. "And I don't compromise those two things, no matter what. I won't recruit a guy unless he can do those two things. That's the very minimum. And I think too often people do compromise those.

"I think it's very difficult-to-impossible to take a guy that is not accurate and make him accurate. You can improve accuracy, but you can't take a guy -- at least that I've seen -- take a guy who is not accurate and make him accurate. People say 'this guy is big and fast and all you have to do is work on his accuracy.' I say 'good luck,' because I don't see that happening."

While the schematic concepts of Leach's style derive from the wishbone, his philosophical approach to the game was borne out of his time as a student at BYU -- an era he calls the Golden Age of BYU football under LaVell Edwards' pass-happy offense.

"That was the single biggest influence," Leach said. " ... It was a great time to be there and it had a big influence on me. I've always credited LaVell and his group for having a major impact on me. He's what inspires a lot of us to coach and you hope you can stack up on some level with him when you finish your body of work. Very few people ever have. He's one of the bench marks and role models for all coaches."