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New Mexico State’s Chase Holbrook gathered plenty of tales, tips in year at Washington State

New Mexico State quarterbacks coach Chase Holbrook spent a year at Washington State in 2016 learning under Mike Leach. (New Mexico State Athletics / Courtesy)

PULLMAN – Chase Holbrook’s tenure at Washington State as an offensive quality control assistant didn’t last longer than 365 days.

In other words, plenty of time to cultivate a few classic Mike Leach stories.

Holbrook shared one of his personal favorites with the Las Cruces Sun-News after a practice last week at New Mexico State. The Aggies are preparing to face the Cougars Saturday in the season opener at Martin Stadium (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), which doubles as a homecoming for Holbrook, now in his second year as NMSU’s quarterbacks coach.

In 2016, Holbrook’s lone year with the Cougars, Leach was holding court in an offensive staff meeting when the coach suddenly excused himself from the room, “which isn’t uncommon,” Holbrook said.

But this wasn’t a normal bathroom break, because not only did Leach exit without informing the group where he was going, he didn’t return.

“Ten minutes go by and the running backs coach (Jim Mastro) says, ‘Hey, go find him, go see where he’s at,’ ” Holbrook said. “So I walk back and the floor there, they have a coaches locker room with a sauna inside it.

“And I go in, flip the lights of the sauna on and he’s just sitting there in the sauna.

“Didn’t say, ‘Hey guys, I’m going to get up and go,’ he just got up and did it.”

Holbrook had another Leach story queued up when The Spokesman-Review phoned the former Aggies quarterback Monday for more anecdotes from his year with the Cougars.

Late one night, Holbrook and Leach were in the coach’s fourth-floor office reviewing film. The two were making headway until Leach paused the session to take a phone call.

“This is probably 9, 9:30 at night, for a solid 40 minutes to an hour,” Holbrook said. “And I have no clue who he’s taking to, and we’re kind of stuck on one play. He’s rewinding it, fast-forwarding it, rewinding, fast-forwarding. But he’s talking, he’s not watching.”

Leach finally set his phone down and turned the speaker on as he prepared a cup of tea.

“ ‘Say hello, it’s Matthew McConaughey,’ ” Leach told Holbrook, before directing the celebrity actor to do the same. “ ‘Say hi to Chase,’ ” Leach told McConaughey.

Rest assured, Holbrook picked up more than a few good tales, tips and tricks in his time working alongside one of the game’s most revered offensive minds.

But his one year with Leach is still dwarfed by the nine years he spent joined at the hip with another man responsible for the advent of modern offense.

Holbrook started his playing career at FCS Southeastern Louisiana, where he was recruited by Hal Mumme, credited for designing the Air Raid offense well before Leach made it a household name. Mumme left Southeastern Louisiana after Holbrook’s freshman season and Holbrook followed him to New Mexico State, where the quarterback set – and still owns – school records for total offense (11,577), touchdowns responsible for (93), touchdowns thrown (85) and passing yards (11,846).

In 2009, Mumme accepted a position at Division II McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, and Holbrook tagged along to be the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and running backs coach.

“Not a lot of guys had ever got to work for coach Leach and coach Mumme,” Holbrook said. “Their trees had just parted and never crossed again. I think Dana Holgorsen had maybe worked for both of them at different stints.”

And Mason Miller, now in his second season as WSU’s offensive line coach. Miller coached the position for Mumme in Las Cruces while Holbrook was NMSU’s starting QB, and the two spent time together at McMurry and Tarleton State in Stephenville, Texas.

Holbrook’s relationship with Mumme played a role in him securing an offensive quality control coaching gig with the Cougars, but he also had relationships with a variety of Leach’s assistants, including current running backs coach Eric Mele and former O-line coach Clay McGuire. Holbrook also worked a WSU camp in Texas and formed a relationship with Chief of Staff Dave Emerick.

“It was just kind of that perfect storm where I knew enough guys, it kind of worked out for me,” Holbrook said.

Leach saw the value in bringing aboard a QB with an Air Raid upbringing.

“He’s a knowledgeable guy and he’s a smart guy,” Leach said after practice last week. “Kind of used to being in charge. But I thought he was a really good set of eyes and good young coach who I think is really going to have a good career before it’s all over.”

The duties of an OQC assistant, or “offensive analyst,” vary depending on where you are. Holbrook’s role in Pullman encompassed splicing film for Leach, getting things prepared for the WSU QBs ahead of practice and, at times, mitigating distractions for the coach.

Drew Hollingshead holds the position at WSU now.

“You wear a few more hats than you do at other places,” Holbrook said.

But he still maintains the time he spent in Pullman was precious. Holgorsen, in his first year coaching the University of Houston, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley and Kliff Kingsbury, now coaching the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, all know the perks of having Leach as a job reference. But more valuable than that may be the lessons that are learned sharing close quarters with the Cougars’ eighth-year coach.

“It reinforced the idea to me of simplicity and that you’ve got to be able to execute a few things really well, and you’ve got to fight that urge to always want to add,” Holbrook said.

On the contrasts between Leach and Mumme, Holbrook said: “I’d say they’re real similar, but I’d really say coach Mumme’s really more of a big-picture-type guy as far as his interest always seemed more program- and fundraising-oriented, I would say. Not that coach Leach doesn’t let position coaches do their job, but I think he’s much more involved on the day-to-day aspects of the offense and how it’s run, whereas coach Mumme was really wearing that head-coach hat and was always trying to raise money and be the OC.”

The Aggies’ defensive coaches may be gathering a few tips from Holbrook this week as NMSU prepares for one of the nation’s most explosives offenses, but Holbrook assures there’s not much to share. What makes the Air Raid so potent is the flexibility its QBs have to make checks at the line of scrimmage, depending on how the defense lines up.

“I was trying to explain that to our defensive staff that it’s hard to get a bead on what they’re doing, because you’re not really trying to stop coach Leach here, you’re trying to understand what the quarterbacks are checking into and where the quarterbacks are playing,” he said. “So you can give as much help as you can think, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be tough.”

A rare disciple of both Leach and Mumme, Holbrook knows better than most.