The Heisman has changed, Mike Leach says

PULLMAN — Let's be clear, Washington State head coach Mike Leach noted Tuesday when asked about Connor Halliday and the Heisman Trophy. The award doesn't go to the best player in college football. It goes to the best player on one of the handful of teams contending for the national championship. And he offered up a history lesson about a Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers legend to make his point.

“I think the Heisman has shifted a little bit on what it means. They used to give it out to the best player in college football. Back when Paul Hornung won the Heisman at Notre Dame, they didn’t have a winning team, but they felt like he was the best player, or in other words, the most important player to his team,” Leach said Tuesday in his weekly Pac-12 media call.

Indeed, when Hornung (pictured above left) won the Heisman in 1956, the Fighting Irish finished with a 2-8 record. Hornung is the only player to ever win the award while on a team with a losing record. What sealed the deal in those times was not the performance of the team, but the value of the player to his team, Leach said.

Hornung scored more than half of Notre Dame’s points that season -- passing and running -- and he also played on defense and special teams.

While Halliday won’t be running out on defense or returning kicks any time soon, he has dominated in the passing game in eye-popping fashion, completing 348 of 517 passes for 3,833 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has nearly 1,000 more air yards than the next-closest quarterback -- in the nation.

Yet he won’t attract any serious Heisman attention.

“Nowadays, it appears to me they try to give it to whoever they speculate, and it’s a funny catch 22, is the MVP of the team that wins the national championship. The trouble with it is that they do the Heisman voting before the national championship,” Leach said.

Three of the last five Heisman winners (Mark Ingram, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston) played for the national champion, and the other two (Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III) played on teams that finished fifth and 16th, respectively, in final polls.

LEACH ALSO TALKED TUESDAY ABOUT his philosophy on penalties. He said the Cougars work hard not draw any yellow flags from the officials, but he gauges the team’s performance in that category by comparing the Cougars’ lost yardage from penalties to their opponents'.

So far this season, the Cougars have committed 68 penalties for a loss of 594 yards. Their opponents have committed 66 penalties for a loss of 584 yards. Leach said spread offenses draw more penalties, but so do their opponents. That is probably because of the greater number of individual match-ups that are easier to see, he said.

In addition, Leach spoke Tuesday about his team's ability, or lack thereof, to move on to the next play, be it a great one or a horrible one.

It's all about maturity, he said, noting that it's hard for young players to focus on the next play with hindsight on the last one.

He also said “you can’t be so ambivalent about the past one that you don’t learn from it,” and noted that he has seen excessive celebrations and poor plays from every team in the country. The difference between the ones that play better and the ones that don’t is the overall steadiness of the team’s demeanor, Leach said.

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