PULLMAN – It can be easy to forget, amid the excitement generated by the arrival of Mike Leach’s air-raid offense, about the guys who truly make everything work.
Well, maybe not that easy. Especially not for Clay McGuire, a Leach disciple from age 18 who will coach Washington State’s offensive linemen for the foreseeable future.
“If you can’t block,” McGuire said, “then you’re not going to be any good at what you do, whether it’s run or pass.”
Obvious words, yes. But they’re worth repeating here, if only as a reminder that for all of the productive receivers and quarterbacks to play under Leach at Texas Tech, none of them would have accomplished much if not for a sound offensive front.
Leach has acknowledged as much in Pullman, going so far as telling the crowd at a WSU basketball game in late January that his first recruiting priority will always be to upgrade the offensive and defensive lines.
So it couldn’t have been without careful consideration that he hired McGuire, who played the H-back position in Leach’s offense at Texas Tech from 2000-04, then coached a variety of positions for the Red Raiders until Leach’s dismissal following the 2009 season.
After two seasons coaching running backs and special teams under Ruffin McNeill at East Carolina, McGuire said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with Leach again.
It’s the first time McGuire, who recently turned 30, will actually work under the title of offensive line coach. But he said his experience coaching running backs allowed him to work closely with offensive linemen during practice, and his role as an H-back in Leach’s offense meant he was used often in pass protection or as an extra blocker in the run game.
“I’ve always been involved some way or the other,” McGuire said of his previous coaching stops. “It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, and it’s something Coach Leach and I have talked about at times.”
Though McGuire said the basics still apply to offensive linemen in the spread offense – “you’ve got to protect the quarterback” – there will obviously be a bit of a different look. Leach prefers to use wider splits across the offensive line, necessitating the ability of those players to perform well in space.
To that end, McGuire believes the Cougars are in decent shape, as far as the linemen they already have on campus.
“The kids that we’ve actually got here that have played are actually, to me, better than what we had at Texas Tech when he first got there,” McGuire said. “Not all the way around, but for the most part.
“When we first went to Texas Tech, everybody was foot-to-foot, smash-mouth run game, and Coach Leach kind of brought on a new era of football and now everybody in college football uses some sort of spread offense, so most kids are used to playing in some sort of system like this. I think it’ll be a lot easier for these guys, too, than it was for those guys at Tech the first year.”
WSU signed eight offensive linemen to letters of intent on Feb. 1, with McGuire saying they wanted a big offensive line class to beef up their numbers. Two of those players, junior college transfers Sam Jones and Niu Sale, will be expected to contribute immediately. But McGuire said he’d be “shocked” if any of the high school signees are ready to play this season.
Still, he said each fits the mold of what an offensive lineman needs to be in Leach’s system.
“In a perfect world, you want a guy that’s about 6-foot-6 and about 300 pounds, maybe a little bit heavier, that can really move,” McGuire said. “An athlete, really long arms, a guy that can play in space. We like the big splits so we want a guy that can move in space and be able to shut down a pass rush, and also knock some people off the ball in the run game.
“One thing that I’ve been impressed with the kids that I’ve been around is they’re smart kids, which always helps. You can’t have a dumb offensive lineman. Kids need to be smart. It’s a tough position to play, and they’ve got to be able to think and see and go and do quickly.”