Mike Leach came to Washington State football with a reputation for filling reporters’ notebooks with hilarious, off-the-wall and/or scathing quotes. In that regard, Leach did nothing to disappoint fans and media during his first season with the Cougars last year. Leach was back at it again Monday night during a question-and-answer session with Sportspress Northwest correspondent Howie Stalwick.
The contrarian coach discussed the Cougars’ prospects for 2013, to hunting in New Zealand, to the in-laws’ reaction to his decision to give up a law career to become a football coach.
Q: You always seem to do something unusual in the off-season. How about this year?
Leach: I went hunting in New Zealand . . . I got a stag and a tahr . . . and I got to have dinner with the coaches of the All Blacks rugby team. I’m a big rugby fan (Leach, who did not play college football, played club rugby at BYU). I got to watch the All Blacks practice as they prepared to play France.
Q: Not only is All Blacks confusing to most Americans – the team’s name has nothing to do with race – but what the heck is a stag and a tahr?
Leach: A stag is kind of like a cross between a deer and an elk, with tangled antlers. A tahr is a Himalayan mountain goat . . . I shot it in that glacier (from a scene in the movie, “Lord of the Rings”).
Q: We understand the Outdoor Channel plans to show highlights of your trip in two television episodes in February. What can you tell us about New Zealand?
Leach: A gorgeous place. New Zealand is even prettier than it’s billed to be . . . It’s unbelievable. Friendly. Easy to get around. A lot of nature stuff.
Q: You’ve made it clear you expect the Cougars to be improved this year. Why are you so optimistic after a 3-9 season filled with turmoil?
Leach: Most people are back. We’re a year older. We’ve had a really good off-season. We are a little bigger. I would say the chemistry and enthusiasm of the team is really strong.
Q: Chemistry/enthusiasm was a problem last year. Why has that aspect of the team improved?
Leach: Some of the guys who played last year have really stepped up in leadership roles. (Quarterback) Connor Halliday, (linebacker) Darryl Monroe, (safety) Deone Bucannon and (center) Elliott Bosch all have.
Q: You drew criticism from some fans and media for your handling of some matters. Would you change anything you did?
Leach: Nah. Last season’s over. A lot of what we did last year has helped build us up this year.
Q: What is your biggest strength as a coach?
Leach: Probably persistence.
Q: What is your biggest weakness as a coach?
Leach: Probably impatience.
Q: You’re not a morning person, but how long do you work some days?
Leach: Sunday and Monday are the two longest. Monday during the season is probably something like 10 a.m. to probably 1 to 3 a.m.
Q: You’re making plenty of money now ($2.25 million a year), but what did your in-laws initially think of your decision to give up law to coach part-time at Cal Poly for $3,000 a year?
Leach: I don’t think they were real fired up. They thought their daughter had married an attorney. We’d been broke for a while, and I think it made it pretty apparent we were going to be broke longer. Sharon is a great wife who does a tremendous job with a lot of stuff. She made more money than me for 10 years.
Q: You had to work as a substitute teacher in the off-season to help pay the bills when you started out at Cal Poly in 1987. Have you convinced the in-laws that your career change was a good idea?
Leach: They’re big football fans now. It’s not like they weren’t supportive. There might have been about 10 years’ worth of eye rolls, and don’t think that didn’t come from my family to some extent, too. My dad hated attorneys, so he really didn’t have much problem with it.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever coach in the NFL?
Leach: I’ve had chances (as an assistant), but not necessarily (would he take an NFL job). The NFL is kind of a different game. In college, it’s the university and the focus of the university. Plus, if you talk to most NFL players, their happiest time playing football was in college. I mean, they like the paychecks in the NFL, but they enjoyed playing in college more than the NFL.
In the NFL, based on ownership, a lot of coaches don’t really have any say on the roster. I don’t think that’s a real healthy situation. I wouldn’t want to be part of a deal like that, so that eliminates about a third of the teams.
Q: You’re co-authoring a book on Geronimo with WSU professor Buddy Levy. How’s that coming along?
Leach: It went to the editors for first edit. They were real pleased with it. My last book (“Swing Your Sword”), we had three edits.
Q: You’ve led an interesting life. What’s still left on your bucket list of things to do?
Leach: I’d like to go to Argentina. I’d like to go to northern Germany. I’ve been to southern Germany, like Berlin and all that. I’d like to go to Russia. I’d like to go to South Africa. I want to go to Alaska. I’ve been to 49 states, but I haven’t been to Alaska.