PULLMAN — It was during a visit to a library in Golden, CO., the first time Mike Leach discovered Geronimo, the famous Apache warrior. His mother told him he could pick out whatever book he wanted. She didn’t mind if the book was inappropriate for a kid, let alone his five younger siblings.
“We’d check them out and she’d read them and one of the early ones was about Geronimo. I’ve read nearly everything I can get on him since,” said Leach, who begins his second year as Washington State’s football coach this fall.
The library epiphany was in second grade. Four decades later, he is co-authoring Geronimo’s life story with Buddy Levy, an English professor at WSU who also stars on History Channel’s “Decoded.”
“(Geronimo) had a vision of his destiny, obviously valued the Apache way,” Leach said. “The things that they were able to achieve were astounding.”
Before he was hired by WSU, Leach knew of Levy. Leach said his book agent asked him to meet with a professor from a college in the “Pacific Northwest” at the end of his tour for Leach’s first book, “Swing Your Sword.”
The only problem: Touring for his autobiography, as well as his role hosting a show on Sirius Satellite Radio, left little time for a new project – especially considering his two-year “staycation” in Key West, FL.
The meeting never happened.
Flash ahead into the first two weeks of Leach’s first year in Pullman. He walked into Bohler Athletic Dept., home of the football offices adjacent to Martin Stadium.
“They say a guy named Buddy Levy’s in your office,” Leach said. “I say, ‘Well, who’s Buddy Levy?’ He’s supposedly written some books and he wants to talk about doing one on Geronimo. So I talk to him and it turns out he’s the same guy, and he is a professor at Washington State, the college in the Northwest.”
Levy said the first time they met, he name-dropped his most famous WSU student — one Leach surely was familiar with.
“I told him that I’d been working at Washington State for many years and that I was previously Drew Bledsoe’s English professor,” he said. “So I think that warmed him up.”
They quickly became friends. Levy believed their shared fascination with Geronimo (1829-1909) would make for a captivating book. Levy’s knowledge of history – he’s written on everything from conquistadores to Davy Crockett – combined with Leach’s theories about leadership would provide the template for a two-pronged book about Geronimo’s life and the tactics he used to elude the U.S. Army.
“Anytime you have an individual who believes in his convictions so much that he’s willing to risk his own life and the lives of his people for principles –and take it to that level – then he commands attention,” Levy said.
Leach’s transition into the literary world has gone smoothly. The coach majored in American Studies and English at Brigham Young University.
“He’s always thinking about connections and historical context and he knows a ton,” Levy said. “He’s widely read so he’s able to make a lot of different connections.”
Both hope the book reaches a diverse audience when Gallery Books – an imprint of Simon and Shuster – release it sometime in 2014. Levy and Leach believe the first manuscript will be done this summer.
Leach is known for choosing a topic to research in the offseason, then applying what he learns to his coaching style. He said writing about the last Native American to surrender his tribe to U.S. forces was no different.
Nearly as astounding was Geronimo’s persistence. More than one-fourth of the U.S. Army was after the famous Apache at one point.
“Essentially every other American Indian tribe had given up,” Levy said.
Leach may have felt as if some forces were bearing down against him during his first year in Pullman. The Cougars finished 3-9 and former wide receiver Marquess Wilson inaccurately accused the new staff of physical and verbal abuse. As with his first losing season as a head coach, Leach’s second book has been a learning experience.
One that started during a childhood visit to a library in Golden, Colo.