Going Deep

You must read …

The New York Times Magazine, December 4, “Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep.” By Michael Lewis (author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, etc.).

You simply don’t beat NEBRASKA 70-10. And a lightly regarded QB doesn’t pass for 643 yards against Kansas State—before being pulled early in the 4th quarter. And you sure as hell don’t do all this in Division 1-A with a coach who topped out as a bench-rider during his junior year in high school in Cody, WY.

But, oh yes, it is possible, Virginia. If the guy is Mike Leach … head coach at Texas Tech.

In their brilliant Blue Ocean Strategy, INSEAD authors Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne present their basic thesis in simple terms: “Value innovation is about making the competition irrelevant by creating uncontested market space. We argue that beating the competition within the confines of the existing industry is not the way to create profitable growth.”

That’s precisely what Mike Leach has done—and what you need to do is read every damn word in the article …. which may be the best article on business strategy I’ve ever read. Especially biz strategy for the 00s.

Michael Lewis begins: “By changing the geometry of the game, and pushing the limits of space and time on the gridiron, Mike Leach is taking Texas Tech to some far out places.” Call it a new sort of “passing game.” True, but useless. Texas Tech would like to throw on every down. And they more or less do. Offensive linemen are spread far apart. Anybody who legally can goes down the field to try and catch a pass. Defenders are confused. They run around like the proverbial headless chicken—and tire out almost as quickly as the dead-but-doesn’t-know-it chicken.

COL John Boyd revolutionized warfare, and has been called the most innovative military strategist since Sun Tzu. Boyd’s ideas, which are behind the now mostly implemented RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs), are sometimes summarized as “maneuver warfare.” The basic idea is called “the Boyd Cycle,” or the O.O.D.A. Loop (Observe Orient Decide Act) approach. Consider these snippets from my Boyd presentation, mostly drawn from Robert Coram’s Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War: “Blitzkrieg is far more than lightning thrusts that most people think of when they hear the term; rather it was all about high operational tempo and the rapid exploitation of opportunity.” “Re-arrange the mind of the enemy” —T.E. Lawrence. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” —Ali. “Unraveling the competition”/ Quick Transients/Quick Tempo (NOT JUST SPEED!)/ Agility/ “So quick it is disconcerting” (adversary over-reacts or under-reacts)/ “Winners used tactics that caused the enemy to unravel before the fight” (NEVER HEAD TO HEAD). “This stuff has got to be implicit. If it is explicit, you can’t do it fast enough.” USMC COL Mike Wyly: “kept the enemy off-balance; they knew Delta Company could show up anywhere, anytime.”

Every single Boyd-ism is an essential part of Mike Leach’s strategy—and the reason he and his low-premium recruits (he has to recruit against the likes of Texas) can whup Nebraska 70-10. (More: TT is losing to Kansas State, 13-10, near the half … and wins 59-20. T.C.U., coming off a 44-0 win against SMU, leads TT 21-0 near the half, but Texas Tech “pulls it out” … 70-35. You get the drift.)

Boyd was less than beloved by his superiors. Leach, practicing “blue ocean strategy,” is close to a pariah among his peers—he “disorients” them, to use a Boyd-ism. Sticking with military analogies, my favorite assessment of Lord Nelson also comes to mind: “Other admirals were more frightened of losing than anxious to win”—and once again it epitomizes Leach’s approach to football.

As I said … please read every word! This is an article that, if you can’t learn from it, to be blunt … you’ve got a problem. (To my mind.)

(Bonus: Michael Lewis is a magnificent writer.)