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Thinking Outside the Box

Posting at Conglomerate, Matt Bodie notes Michael Lewis’s engaging NYT profile of innovative Texas Tech Red Raider football coach Mike Leach.

Matt isn’t sure that Leach’s story has Moneyball-like implications beyond the football field, but I’m not so reluctant to speculate.

Note, for example, that Leach is not your typical iconoclast in a clubby profession. Aside from an undistinguished career on the bench of his high school team, he never played football himself — not even in college. And he doesn’t merely have a law degree (other coaches have law degrees), but he seems to look at the world of football in legal terms. Lewis writes: “To Leach, coaching football requires the same talent that he was going to waste on the law: the talent for making arguments. He wanted to make his arguments in the form of offensive plays.”

Now, some might quibble with Leach’s — or Lewis’s — back-of-the-envelope social welfare analysis. (Why is a talent for making arguments “wasted” on the law? And why is it “better” spent on the football field?) But I’ll accept it for the moment. Instead, I want to focus on the question that Lewis’s article doesn’t really answer: How did Mike Leach learn how to coach college football, and how did he become the innovator/iconoclast the Lewis shows him to be? More specifically, since Leach’s only professional training seems to have been in the law school classroom, is there (or was there) something in learning the law that helped him become the coach he is today? How is a football game really like a legal argument, anyway? Or, perhaps we should turn the question around: How is a legal argument really like a football game?

2 thoughts on “Thinking Outside the Box”

  1. “Argument” is kind of ambiguous, in that a “legal argument” as I speak isn’t something with two sides. As I’d put it the analogy is between a _case_ or a trial and a game. You have two teams, judge as referee, stenographic transcript available for instant replay. We even saw OJ televised in a sort of legal superbowl. QED. I don’t play football, litigate or try case, but it seems obvious to me that football coaches and teams don’t come into a game with a strategy nearly so express or explicit as that with which a claimant’s counsel comes into a court trial. I guess it depends how you want to map the terms of the football metaphor onto a legal trial or vice versa. I suppose we could say the analogy is between every game of football and just a single kind of trial: Two national league football teams always come together over the same federal question, so to speak. In that case I guess one might talk of diverse “strategies,” because though a team always has the same cause of action and argument and evidence it can bring to bear (which is what I usually mean by “strategy” in the context of a suit), nevertheless different teams will administer it differently against different opponents in different venues. Whether the metaphor works seems to depends whether you’re interested in the nitty gritty or the big picture of a court case. Or that’s my sense on first pass.

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