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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?