Mike Leach, renaissance man

Mike Leach, renaissance man

The late coach had many interests and pursued them with the same zeal he had for football

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It takes a unique, football-crazy, overall-crazy, and dedicated individual to want to coach college football. Most aren’t considered consistently great at the craft despite huge contracts and buyouts. Mike Leach bucked the trend first with his dazzling offenses, then carved out his path with his personality and unabashed tactics. As Leach died late Monday night at 61, the tributes for the longtime head coach have rolled in, and the difficult waters of a sitting Power Five Conference head coach passing away began.

Leach’s time in the public eye had highs and lows, as one would expect for someone that marches to the beat of his own drum and truly, his own orchestra. We’re taking a look at the bumpy and successful path of college football’s favorite pirate and one of the most interesting men to call plays on the gridiron.

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Come on down! You’re the next team captain.

Come on down! You’re the next team captain.

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When selecting leadership roles on a football team, you’ll be shocked to learn Leach’s decisions weren’t conventional. Per Leach: “All the guy really does is call the toss.” He didn’t want a committee of guys doing that to begin the 2015 season at Washington State. He wanted one guy that was smart enough to call heads or tails correctly, but wanted the best guy for that job. Enter running back Jamal Morrow, whose appearance on the longtime game show The Price is Right was all Leach needed to see to be convinced he was lucky enough to win the 50-50 toss as much as anyone.

Leach noted how Morrow was actually closer to the actual price of his showcase showdown and not the winner because he barely went over the combined total of the prizes. Per Washington State, Morrow served as captain for his final 35 games with the Cougars, which was 2015-17, missing one game against Rutgers. Morrow was 11-4 when calling the coin toss on the road and 23-12 overall as captain. Good coaching by Leach.

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Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose

Leach wasn’t the only cameo appearance in NBC’s outstanding football drama Friday Night Lights, as North Carolina head coach Mack Brown also showed off his acting chops for one episode. Leach asks high school football coach Eric Taylor, portrayed by Kyle Chandler, “Do you know how to get to Lubbock?” As if a former head coach at Texas Tech wouldn’t know the answer to that question, or recognize a state-championship winning coach, as Leach no doubt would’ve recruited Smash Williams.

After the pleasantries of giving directions are quickly finished, Leach goes into a soliloquy about how Taylor has lost his inner pirate and he’s not swinging his sword with full conviction. It might sound weird to some football fans, but that being a real conversation Leach had on a recruiting visit when coaching the Red Raiders isn’t hard to believe at all. And it’s brilliant. Before Leach gets in his truck and leaves the Friday Night Lights universe, he has a mic-drop comment, “You might be the luckiest man alive and not even know it.”

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Texas Tech firing

Texas Tech firing

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Despite the quirkiness of Leach, it wouldn’t be fair to mention all the good without the full representation of who he is. Whether or not it was fair that he was fired as the head coach of Texas Tech as the school’s all-time wins leader is a 13-year debate. The ensuing litigation nearly burned the bridge between Leach and the Red Raiders, all being brought on by the alleged inappropriate treatment of Adam James, son of Texas native Craig James. After the younger James suffered a concussion, he didn’t practice and had to stand in an equipment closet for hours.

Per the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, school officials claim they gave Leach two choices: Apologize or be fired. He was working as a television analyst soon after. He later sued the university for wrongful termination and the case eventually was dismissed. The tiff between Texas Tech and Leach didn’t last long as the school has put out plenty of messages commemorating Leach’s life. After all, it was under his leadership when the Red Raiders came the closest to college football’s apex.

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Leach had an advocate in Donald Trump

Leach had an advocate in Donald Trump

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The former president and Leach had been friends for years, leading Trump to inject himself into the game of football well before he took nationwide office and after his failed attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills. After a year away from football after leaving Texas Tech, Trump wrote then-Miami President Donna Shalala suggesting the Hurricanes needed to hire Leach. The U confirmed Trump wrote a note at that time and in 2006 when Miami hired Randy Shannon.

The Hurricanes hired Al Golden and have cycled through four head coaches since Trump’s latest letter, while Leach hadn’t been fired again. It’s unclear if Miami ever seriously considered him for the job, while Maryland nearly hired him during that coaching cycle. Trump did release a statement after Leach’s passing was made public.

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Fortune’s a war

Fortune’s a war

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Leach’s relationship with the media has always been an interesting dynamic. He’s always been interested in talking to reporters about things that have nothing to do with football. And when he feels reporters criticize him unfairly, he has no problem coming up with a retort. Take a press conference from Oct. 30, 2017. A reporter asked why Leach was 40 minutes late to a press conference and the then-Washington State head coach’s response boiled down to “hope you get better accommodated next time.”

Showing up that late to a presser is bad, but that kind of thing happens in sports journalism, and getting access to the coach is more important to readers than how long it takes to get access. Then, the unnamed reporter asked Leach who he was starting at quarterback that week. Leach had already answered the question by that time of day and refused to repeat himself. Take that for accommodations.

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He hated candy corn

He hated candy corn

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Mississippi State blew out Vanderbilt in Nashville last October, eight days before Halloween. What did SEC Network ask Leach about after the dominating win? Not how well his team played against an awful Commodores team, nope that’s too boring. They wanted to know what Halloween candy he hated the most. Leach started by lamenting about candy corn but then switched to what he liked.

The more gummies the better for Leach, as he states that Europe has better candy than the United States because they had more gummies. The words candy innovation also came out of his mouth, as he got way too ramped up about Halloween candy. But that’s part of Pandora’s box with Leach. Ask a simple question about candy, and get a thoughtful, minute-long answer.

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Wedding advice

Wedding advice

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Everyone is going to lose their mind. That’s the advice Leach gave to a reporter that covered Washington State about an upcoming wedding. His response to most of the questions coming from planning the wedding was I don’t care,” which would only infuriate the women planning the event more.

Leach’s advice to avoid getting in harm’s way is to work late at night and read lots of books. He was happily married with four children, so maybe he knows what he’s talking about. Leach also spent many nights away from home coaching or recruiting which led him to these beliefs. Giving out that advice as to what made his marriage work was peak Leach.

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His team has dinosaur hands

His team has dinosaur hands

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A recent addition to this list comes from October, when Leach went on a rant about how bad his team’s hands were. He compared them to dinosaur hands, motion and all, to state that his team needed to use them better to, I don’t know, catch the ball, block, tackle, and several other essential functions in football.

Leach got so concerned if he and his coaches couldn’t get his players to start using their hands correctly, that it would affect future generations. He also called dinosaurs big and athletic, but their hands weren’t a strong point. I’m guessing they figured it out, as Mississippi State ended the regular season by beating rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving.

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