The punditocracy and some NFL scouts frequently deride Texas Tech's skill position players as "products of the system." The system in question, of course, is Mike Leach's prolific Air Raid passing attack.
As you can well imagine, the idea that Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell's success stems uniquely from playing in Leach's scheme gets the Red Raider boss's goat. But — and as you might suspect — Leach rebuts this criticism from a unique angle. Rather than claim that Harrell and Crabtree are not products of the system, Leach points out that they are not uniquely so.
Says Leach, "The product of a system is really stupid. To say somebody is a product of a system is like saying, all right, they don't need their coaches, because they can just go out and just run whatever."
Leach continues, "Who do you think decides for a guy to throw it, or how do they decide who to throw it to, or how do they decide whether or not they're going to hand it off? I mean the product of a system suggests that you don't need coaches and just for a job security thing, if nothing else, I think you do need coaches, so I'm going to continue to coach, call plays and run drills."
"But all of these people that aren't products of a system don't need to practice, they don't need to worry about that, they don't need to worry about watching film, and they don't need to worry about what their coaches say. Because if there's no system, if they're not doing things in a specified, choreographed way, then why do they need to aggravate themselves with all that? They just need to show up for games and go do it."
Thus, in his inimitable way, Leach is noting that all players, whatever their level of success, are "products of the system" to one degree or another. Every player plays in a system, which includes not only the scheme and play calling, but practice and film study. And players sink or swim within the context of that system. Therefore, it is simply wrong to single out and censure players such as Harrell and Crabtree for being products of a system. Of course they are! But so is everybody else.
The more interesting question though is whether or not the Air Raid allows less talented players to flourish and to generate statistics that belie their relative lack of football ability?
To a certain degree the answer must be yes. And particularly at the quarterback position.
The Air Raid has typically been predicated upon quick reads and the short to medium range passing game. Running the Air Raid efficiently takes a good deal of skill and smarts, but it does not require the cannon arm so beloved by NFL scouts. Nor does it require a quarterback who is fleet of foot and capable of making something happen in the open field as has become all the rage in "the league." Indeed, the Air Raid takes advantage of short drops and quick passes precisely to obviate danger to the quarterback. There is nothing that strikes fear in the heart of Leach quite like the possibility of his starting quarterback suffering a disabling injury.
But to say that the Air Raid does not require a Johnny Unitas, a Roger Staubach or a John Elway is not the same thing as stating that Graham Harrell (or any other future Tech quarterback) cannot have the talent of a Unitas, Staubach or Elway. On the contrary, Harrell is clearly a very talented quarterback, and he probably has a future in the NFL. And given time, it is almost certain that Leach will recruit a quarterback whose skills are utterly immense. The beauty of his system, however, is that he does not have to.