Tonight, two of the top offensive minds in college football—Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and Washington State head coach Mike Leach—will square off when their teams meet at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the two offensive masterminds.
There are a lot of notable offensive minds in the college game, such as Dana Holgorsen, Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez. Nevertheless, any time you start having a conversation about the offensive geniuses in the game today, it’s simply a must that both Kelly and Leach be included.
The impact they’ve had on college football is clearly undeniable.
In recent years, the two coaches have been responsible for leading some of the most exciting and explosive offenses in the country.
During his tenure at Texas Tech, Leach used his Air Raid offensive system to overwhelm defenses with a pass-heavy attack, which was led by some of the most productive passers in history such as Graham Harrell, B.J. Symons and Kliff Kingsbury.
Kelly has used a different, yet still equally effective method, during his time at Oregon, implementing a spread option-read offense that gets the most out of speedy and athletic skill-position players.
In each of the past three seasons, the Ducks have ranked in the Top 10 nationally in scoring, averaging 43 points per game during that time. The explosive and unstoppable offense has been the main reason that Oregon has won three straight Pac-12 championships and made three straight appearances in BCS bowl games.
It’s a system which helped RB LaMichael James make a serious run at the Heisman Trophy back in 2010, and it’s one that has made RB De’Anthony Thomas a national star before he’s even finished his sophomore season.
Many of Leach's and Kelly’s innovative schemes and plays have been copied and adapted by other college offensive coordinators, as well as thousands of high school coaches around the country.
Some of Leach’s former assistants, such as West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, Baylor’s Art Briles and Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, have gone on to find great success as head coaches.
Holgorsen, Briles and Dykes currently lead some of the most productive offensive attacks in college football at their respective schools.
Kelly may not have the coaching tree that Leach does, but it’s only a matter of time before he starts sending off assistants to big-name jobs. Keep an eye on current coordinator Mark Helfrich, who is sure to be one of the hottest potential head coaching names during the offseason.
While neither Leach nor Kelly has a national championship on his resume, it’s easy to see the type of impact they’ve had on the game with their revolutionary offensive philosophies.
Admittedly, neither coach is a true innovator or pioneer, but they’ve definitely added their own unique touches to offensive football at the college level.
Leach honed his skills under his mentor Hal Mumme at Kentucky in the late nineties, and then managed to take the Air Raid system to new heights during his time at Texas Tech.
Kelly may not have been the first to use the shotgun zone-read concept, but he’s added some very interesting concepts and packages to the offensive system (The wishbone formation from the BCS Championship Game against Auburn is my personal favorite). Every year, he seems to add something new that takes defenses by surprise.
Seeing as this is Leach’s first year at Washington State, and he’s still got some serious rebuilding to do, it’s hard to expect the Cougars to hang with the Ducks tonight. However, if these two coaches stay in the same spots for the foreseeable future, we could surely see some wild offensive shootouts between these two teams in the years to come.