In the hours before he took his life, Tyler Hilinski went for a run and texted teammates about getting together for some throwing. Coach Mike Leach said there was nothing in that day or in days prior indicating that Washington State’s presumptive starting quarterback was having problems that would lead to suicide by gunshot Tuesday.
“Talking to everybody on this whole thing, there were no real signs,” Leach said Saturday afternoon to media via teleconference, his first public comments since the university and the sports nation were stunned by the tragedy. “Everybody’s got some dark space, but nobody saw anything like that. He didn’t have signs of depression. He didn’t have periods where he was moping around or anything like that.
“Honestly he was a very steady guy. Hadn’t really had any issues . . . some ups and downs of a college student.”
Leach’s last conversation with the redshirt sophomore was by phone two days after the Cougars’ Holiday Bowl loss Dec. 30 to Michigan State. Hilinski, 21, had gone home to Claremont, CA.
“He was back with his family,” he said. “They ended up taking a trip to Cabo (Mexico). Just generally (talked) about moving forward and having a great off-season; building and developing for next year.”
Leach described Hilinski the way many of his teammates have.
“He was always a very optimistic guy,” he said. “One of those guys who would come bouncing into the room. He brought energy to rooms, groups, and huddles. He always had a lot of energy.”
Leach flew from his home in Key West, FL., to Pullman Thursday and was part of a campus candlelight vigil Friday that drew many teammates, students and alums. The crowd, which created a makeshift memorial around the Cougar statue, appeared to be more than a thousand despite the chilly evening and 24-hour notice. It included the player’s parents, Kym and Mark, and older brother Kelly.
Also attending was Luke Falk, the fifth-year senior and the Pac-12’s all-time passing leader who returned to Pullman from Los Angeles, where he is training for the NFL scouting combine ahead of the draft. He wept openly for much of the hour-long event.
Leach said he had a meeting with the entire team, one of several that also included school counselors helping players cope with the loss of a popular team leader.
Counselors “set a course for healing; everyone does it at a difference place and a different way,” Leach said. “People talked about what Tyler meant to them. Basically, the meetings were all similar from the standpoint of re-enforcing that everybody being together provides a great deal of support, and that we’ll get through this together.”
A funeral will be held next weekend in Claremont. Leach said transportation will be made available for players who wish to attend.
Regarding the investigation of Hilinski’s death and suicide note, Leach thought the Pullman police and coroner’s office would be “wrapping up” soon, and communication with police has been good.
Asked if he’s had a similar experience in his coaching career, Leach said, “Never like this.”