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Mike Leach dishes on Kliff Kingsbury, the Air Raid in the NFL and aliens

Washington State head coach Mike Leach watches from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Washington, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Kliff Kingsbury is a controversial hire for the Arizona Cardinals for a handful of reasons.

Just on paper, his resume doesn’t stand up with a losing collegiate coaching record and no NFL coaching experience.

But Kingsbury’s ties to successful NFL quarterbacks and to Washington State head coach Mike Leach, the creator of the Air Raid offense, is the main reason why he became the risk that GM Steve Keim felt was worth taking.

Several of Kingsbury’s college quarterback mentees — Patrick Mahomes, Case Keenum, Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel — played in an iteration of Leach’s Air Raid offense.

How Kingsbury, who himself played for Leach at Texas Tech, brings that offense to the NFL remains to be seen.

Yet, 2017 changed the narrative and, apparently, NFL teams’ thoughts about the Air Raid and its quarterbacks. Teams are taking concepts and molding them to fit the pro game. And they’re realizing quarterbacks trained in the Air Raid can succeed at the highest level. Keenum, Jared Goff and Nick Foles all put together their best seasons to that point in 2017.

So here we are.

Leach joined Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Friday to discuss the Air Raid, where the name came from, how it might work in the NFL and some important non-football-related questions.

Tell us: Kliff Kingsbury in the NFL, how is this going to work?

“I’m kind of curious myself. He had a tough go at times there at Texas Tech but he’s a smart, sharp guy. I always enjoyed coaching him. He’s a very dedicated fellow and watched all kinds of film, would work out extra, come early, leave late, so he’s extremely dedicated. I always wish Kliff the best so I hope it works out well.”

Are there such things as pillars of the Air Raid offense?

“I wouldn’t say there’s pillars. The two things that I always try to focus on is you want to attack the whole field, you know, sideline to sideline, and about 30 yards downfield. You also want to get it in everybody’s hands. I think within that — I think that’s what you’re trying to scheme your way through. I think that’s just efficient, good offense.

“If you want to have a good offense, you utilize all your resources, which is your space and your personnel.”

Do you even like the phrase Air Raid offense? Do you use it?

“Well, I actually invented it. This was back at Iowa Wesleyan College.

“We all talked about what to call it. Should we call it this or that? This guy came in with this air raid siren and he would actually play it at games. I can’t really imitate it very well, but just this kind of loud, sort of drone-y, air raid siren. At Iowa Wesleyan games, there’s not a lot of people, there are a couple of thousand. Once in a while he’d go on the road and play this thing. One time on the road, they made him shut it off — the refs or somebody came after him and got tired of hearing it because he played it every time we scored. Sitting around in the staff room in the basement of what we used for a football complex in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, as we’re going around the table, I actually came up with it one day.”

Talk to me about how the hash marks in the NFL might change the Air Raid offense or concepts of the Air Raid offense.

“They actually kind of help. Might do a combination of things. Sometimes I look at the hash and try to scheme around it but generally I’m more content where I’ll run it anyway. There’s a few plays that I don’t like to trips to the boundary (side). You don’t even consider it in the NFL, everything is from the middle of the field. Your efforts are pretty simplified that way.”

For you, from all the way back to Iowa Wesleyan, from Valdosta State, Kentucky, wherever you’ve been, how much has the Air Raid changed? How has it adapted under your tutelage all these years?

“Of course you see people spreading it out to run the ball, nowadays, too. Part of it was is we just couldn’t find ’em — a tight end, a true tight end. A lot of people are real stubborn about, they have to have a true tight end. The trouble is God only made a few true tight ends and most of them are playing defensive line. The last thing I want to do is sit there and try to throw the ball to the third-team guard. So then we started using guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola and just put them in like inside receivers, that were quick, shifty guys, low center-of-gravity guys … and throwing it to them instead. That was more out of necessity.”

How would you feature a running back in your offense? How have you when you have a talented guy like David Johnson, by way of example, for the Arizona Cardinals?

“They almost always have the most touches. They’re the closest to the quarterback, they’re the easiest to get the ball to.

“You get it in the air and on the ground. You need a versatile guy. He’s got to be able to block and he’s got to be able to catch and he’s got to be able to rush the ball. You just want to get the ball in their hands. They’re the best athlete on the field, generally.”

What’s your official alien stance?

“My suspicion is there are. First of all, we know there are galaxies beyond ours. We don’t have a very thorough knowledge of our own. I’ve always found it to be just a crazy, incredible, incredible coincidence that we would be the only planet of all the specks out there that has life on it. I don’t really think it was an accident that our planet does. Betters would say, ‘Well it’s impossible. How can there possibly be life on another planet?’ Well if there’s life on ours, how could there possibly not be life on another planet?

“The notion that we’re so unique and so lucky that something like a bolt of lightening hit a pile of mud or something and all of a sudden something started wiggling around in it … No. Somewhere I think there is life on another planet.”

Do you believe in bigfoot?

“That’s big in Washington, the bigfoot stuff. I would like to. I wish there was bigfoot, you know, and then I think go out there and stop the family vacation car, ‘Oh, look children, there is a bigfoot.’ I wish there was bigfoot, but I don’t believe there’s bigfoot because I think you’d find bones at some point, I think there would be bones. I think, you know, ‘This is a bigfoot thigh bone’ or something. They haven’t even found bones.”

Doug & Wolf

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