During his eight-year tenure as Washington State’s football coach, I never figured out Mike Leach. I don’t feel too bad, since I don’t think anyone else figured him out, either.
There’s no denying his football success: A 36-36 conference record in Pullman is nearly like Danny DeVito leading the NBA in rebounding.
There’s also no denying his eccentrism tended to exasperate and enervate.
Ultimately, most Cougars fans liked the W part of Leach more than they disliked the SOB part. So . . . drink.
For every irrelevant oral amble down a bunny trail filled with pirates, politics, movies and Geronimo — trips that make him a darling of the national media for his unfiltered irreverence — Leach would counter the bemusement by calling his players “empty corpses,” “zombies,” and “fat, dumb, happy and entitled,” among other denigrations.
Now, do I think long-term damage resulted in any Cougars player from a public shaming by Leach? Doubtful. Does that make it OK? No.
Name-calling kids is just so . . . adolescent. Pointless. Demeaning to the speaker. And discrediting to the employer that lacks the courage to admonish him.
Unless, of course, Leach is trying out for a Cabinet position with his pal, President Trump.
But no. He merely wants to coach Mississippi State. That’s a school in the Southeastern Conference, where they care more about W’s than life itself.
So Leach Wednesday morning left Pullman — more precisely, Key West, FL., the extreme southeast corner of Pullman — for Starkville, the smallest town in the SEC West with the smallest football budget.
As with Leach’s previous D-I outpost jobs in Lubbock, TX and Pullman, he will be able, with football success, to bully a desperate school’s administrators and boosters, publicly malign players, avoid responsibility for his own missteps and keep to a minimum his contact with any people professionally obligated to speak truth to power, such as Spokesman-Review columnist John Blanchette.
Recall that after the Cougars experienced their most recent traditional Apple Cup disemboweling by the University of Washington, Leach answered a legitimate question from Blanchette by calling him in the post-game presser a sanctimonious troll.
Convenient that Leach fired his shot after the last regular-season game, with one foot likely out the door. Whether he knew the Mississippi State job was going to become vacant isn’t yet known, but if he wasn’t going to come back to Pullman to say good-bye to his players, he probably wasn’t going to return to engage in further fruitful repartee with Blanchette.
Leach has never been good with farewells. After he left Texas Tech in 2011 for Pullman, he sued the school, getting nothing. So far, no news like that about WSU, although there was a report that Whitman County attorneys were alerted to keep their haz-mat suits handy.
But as I’ve always said about college football coaching, anytime you end a season with a losing record thanks to a team with a 1970s offense, set a conference record with biggest lead (32 points) blown, see your defensive coordinator blast outta town mid-season, and lose to the rival in exactly the same manner as the previous five meetings, you’re probably very attractive to a bigger, wealthier program.
Sure enough . . .
If all those developments didn’t make Leach’s resume sufficiently compelling, there was a wonderful story by The Athletic’s Jayson Jenks, who talked to 10 former WSU quarterbacks for an oral history of what it was like in their weekly position meetings with the coach.
It’s a little hard to know whether a reader will laugh with or at Leach, but here’s one example from many. Judge for yourself:
Isaac Dotson, 2013: I was playing QB at the time, and we had our first position meeting, and 90 percent of the meeting had nothing to do with football. Maybe five plays into watching film, something happened that sparked a classic Mike Leach tangent. For at least an hour, he sat there rewinding and playing the same play over and over while he talked about everything from growing up in Wyoming to having a pet raccoon, getting paddled by the principal at his junior high, the origins of football and eventually just a full-blown Native American history lesson. The one-hour meeting lasted probably three hours. I remember looking at the veteran QBs in the room with a ‘what is happening right now?’ look on my face, but I could tell by their reactions that this was just a normal thing.
You know what fans of the Oregon Ducks are saying: “We lost four in a row to this guy?”
As I mentioned, I never figured out Mike Leach. Chris Petersen beat him like Secretariat against an armadillo, but the former UW coach didn’t figure him out, either. Or why Leach now gets a promotion and a raise.
Then again, Petersen did decide to run away from college football.
That, I get.