He’s the most interesting man in college football.
Pardon the thievery, but when a man steps to the podium and fields questions about the life of pirates before he answers questions about his latest conquest on the gridiron, what can you say but, “Aye mate, he’s a real treasure.” And he’s a really good football coach to boot.
Ok, that’s enough pirate jargon for now, but it’s hard to get enough of Washington State football coach Mike Leach. Leach is the freest of the few free spirits that can be found pacing the sidelines on Saturday afternoons every fall.
Consider a press conference when a member of the media asked Leach to ponder whether there is a Bigfoot. Straight-faced, Leach replied, “I don’t think so because I think we would have found some Bigfoot bones, but I wish there was.” During the same press conference, Leach acknowledged his belief God created more than one Earth and though aliens may not be “little green men,” he did believe they existed.
If you think Leach is a clown pretending to be a football coach, guess again. Leach is one of the most brilliant offensive minds in the game and he has the record to prove it. He never played football in high school or in college, but went to BYU in the glory years of the Cougars with LaVell Edwards and offensive coordinator Norm Chow and found a fascination in the BYU passing attack.
Leach was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 1999 as the Sooners prepared for the Red River Showdown played at the Cotton Bowl against Texas. Oklahoma was a huge underdog in the game and Leach decided to use deception as a means to give the Sooners their best chance at victory.
On Wednesday night, he created a fake script of plays the Sooners would run to open the game against the Longhorns. During pregame warm ups, Leach gave the script to an Oklahoma player who was instructed to drop the script while jogging off the field. Leach watched as a Texas student assistant coach picked up the script and delivered it to the Texas defensive coordinator.
Leach designed plays run from similar sets that looked exactly like the plays the Sooners would run. Texas bought it hook, line and sinker. Texas defensive coordinator Carl Reese took the script with him to the press box and designed his defensive calls based on the script. Oklahoma scored on the second play of the game when it faked the “double-reverse pass” the script called for and threw a short pass that went for a 44-yard touchdown pass. Before Reese finally threw the script away at the end of the first quarter, Texas trailed 17-0. Although Texas eventually won the game, it was not without much anxiety caused by Leach.
The following season Leach got his first head coaching position, taking over the program at Texas Tech. With Leach in charge, the Red Raiders never had a losing season, winning nine games in 2002, 2005 and again in 2007. Texas Tech tied for first in big 12 Conference South Division in 2008 with an overall record of 11-2.
In 2009, Leach had the Red Raiders back in another bowl game, but he was about to face the darkest times in his coaching career. Texas Tech receiver Adam James was not allowed to practice due to a concussion and Leach instructed the trainer to remove James from the practice area. The following day was a repeat with James being sent away from the field to a dark place.
James father, Craig James, was a standout player at SMU and was working as a football analyst when the events occurred. Adam James reported he was sent on one occasion to an equipment room and then to an electrical closet he believed as punishment for being hurt. The family placed pressure on the university to reprimand Leach for his actions and he was asked to write a letter of apology to James and his family. Leach refused, saying he had done nothing wrong and was fired by the university.
Leach was only out of coaching for a short while, returning to the field in 2011 as head coach at Washington State University. He has enjoyed similar success with the Cougars, going 36-14 since the 2015 season. WSU is currently 10-1, heading towards a showdown with Washington for Pac 12-North championship and a berth in the Pac 12 championship game.
Leach has spread the wealth of his aerial attack to many followers throughout the game. There are currently 10 head coaches on the college level that either served as an assistant under Leach or played for him. Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia), Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma), and Seth Littrell (North Texas) all coached under Leach. Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech), Neal Brown (Troy), and Josh Heupel (Central Florida) all played for Leach at various schools.
Despite the charges that were levied against Leach at Texas Tech, Leach is right at home at Washington State and the Cougar fan base is thrilled to have the veteran coach there. He lives four miles from his office and walks to and from home every day through every kind of weather. The Cougars quarterback, Gardner Minshew, is a graduate transfer from East Carolina. Minshew was set to go to Alabama before Leach encouraged him to come to Pullman, telling he would be the nation’s leading passer if he came there.
Going into Week 13 of the college football season, Minshew leads the nation in yards, completions and is tied for first in touchdown passes. Minshew sports a moustache that has gained popularity with the fan base as quickly as Minshew puts point on the scoreboard. Fake moustaches have a become a desired item in Pullman. After a win earlier this season against Colorado and Ralphie the Buffalo (Leach’s favorite mascot), Leach answered questions during the entire postgame press conference wearing a fake moustache.
The Cougars are currently ranked eighth in the playoff standings and appear to have little chance of jumping into the final four in the next few weeks. What a shame. I would love to hear the press conference with Leach and Alabama’s Nick Saban. They could discuss things like if they were an animal which one would they be or the life lessons taught by Geronimo or maybe how Bigfoots in Alabama compared to Bigfoots in Washington or who is your all-time favorite pirate or ….