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Archive for Saturday, October 1, 2005

Keegan: Hadl knows all about offensive juggernauts

October 1, 2005

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Even the football geniuses can't ready their pupils in a few quick sessions. It takes time. Lots of it. This town's most famous football resident knows that as well as anybody.

Decades before Texas Tech coach Mike Leach implemented a system that has the Red Raiders leading the nation in passing every year with a different quarterback, John Hadl was playing for a pass-happy coach. The late great Sid Gillman, Hadl's first coach with the San Diego Chargers, is remembered as the father of the modern passing game. Gillman turned conventional thinking on its side and introduced a horizontal approach to the passing game.

"We fought like hell," Hadl remembered between bites of his salad over lunch. "You could cuss him out and he'd cuss you back. Then 30 seconds later, it was over."

When Gillman barked, "Why'd you make that stupid throw?" Hadl had five ready responses and one acidic cheap shot: "Did you play quarterback?" Hadl asked, knowing his coach was an end.

Gillman would readjust the pipe he smoked and play his trump card: "I'm the coach."

Great coaches are great teachers and in Gillman, Hadl had one of the best.

"He was fabulous," Hadl said. "He taught me how to go to work. My first two years, I didn't have a day off."

Many of those work days started at 7 a.m. and concluded past midnight. At least Hadl was rewarded by getting to put the lessons to use on Sundays. At Texas Tech, Leach holds the attention of his quarterbacks for four years and lets them go public the fifth year.

"That's the part I don't get," Hadl said. "How does he keep those quarterbacks happy for four years without playing? I wouldn't go there if I wasn't going to play until my fifth year. Why would I want to sit there for four years?"

Here's how Leach can sell it: You give me four years of learning and I'll let you lead the nation in passing for one year. This season, the honor of one-year wonder belongs to Cody Hodges.

What would Gillman think of what Texas Tech does?

"He'd love that," Hadl said. "He'd be looking at their film, trying to get something off them. Most of his ideas, he'd see something, and that would trigger about five different things he'd do from there."

And eventually, Gillman would get around to the defensive side of the ball. Or not.

"One year, we had a great offense and we were 8-6," Hadl recalled. "So he decided this was the year he was going to make it a big defensive draft. When it got down to nut-cutting time, he drafted receivers with the first two picks. He just couldn't help himself. He'd say the right thing and do the wrong thing."

Just as well. When Gillman did get around to using his first-round pick on a defensive player, he guessed wrong, taking Wyoming defensive tackle Ron Billingsley one pick before the Minnesota Vikings chose Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page.

"Hopefully, his defensive philosophy will be like Sid's," Hadl said of Leach.

It's going to take a near-perfect game for the Jayhawks to win a game in which they are underdogs by two touchdowns, a field goal, and a safety. If they pull it off, they belong in the Top 25.

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