There is no doubt that the WSU coach has thin skin. And there is no doubt that he can bully people he doesn't like. But there's no arguing he puts smiles on people's faces.
Ask me who the best college football coach in Washington is and I’ll answer at warp speed. Chris Petersen.
The man flat-out lives in the win column. He could turn any molehill of a program into a mountain and sustain success for as long as he’s there.
But ask me who my favorite football coach in Washington is and I think I’d have to go with Mike Leach. For now, at least. I suppose with him it could change at any moment.
I honestly never thought I’d write a paragraph like the one above. I found Leach particularly off-putting when I first showed up in Seattle three years ago.
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I remember a sideline reporter asking him about what appeared to be a serious head injury to quarterback Luke Falk, to which Leach replied “healthy as can be. Rested him in the second half.”
Given what we know about concussions these days, Leach’s seemingly callous response drew criticism. So two days later, I asked him if he wished he would have answered it differently if he could do it over again.
“If you had to do it over again, would you ask a better question?” he said.
And there we were.
Obviously, I wasn’t the first person to wonder about Mike Leach’s character. When Adam James suffered a concussion at Texas Tech, sources alleged that Leach confined him to a pitch-black shed during practice. The characterization of the events and James’ credibility have been heavily disputed since, but it did lead to Leach being let go.
What is not under dispute is that Leach tweeted out a doctored video of a Barack Obama speech last summer that completely misrepresented him. And when a series of tweeters showed proof that the clip had been fiddled with, he didn’t back down.
This eventually led to USA Today sports writer Dan Wolken writing a column saying that such behavior is why Leach will never land a job at a blue-blood program. Leach replied by saying that Wolken will be selling Big Gulps at 7-11 soon.
There is no doubt that Leach has thin skin. And there is no doubt that he can bully people he doesn’t like. In fact, he went so far as to name one of his trick plays “Big Gulp Left.”
So why do I laugh every time I think about that?
I suppose I don’t really like the fact that I like Mike Leach. But I do.
I’ve watched his riff on wedding planning at least three times, where his advice to the groom-to-be is to work late hours and come up with believable excuses to avoid being part of the process. I’ll read his thoughts on how Cougars would fare against the rest of the Pac-12 mascots with equal delight (“I think the Buffalo would be pretty tough to beat. Buffalo are significantly bigger than elk.”)
His thoughts on pizza? “I’m a thin-crust pizza guy. I respect people who like thick crust, but in my view it’s mostly bread.”
On students rushing the field last year after WSU’s win over USC? “It’s like Woodstock except everybody’s got their clothes on.”
The last time Petersen saw Leach was during a Pac-12 coaches meeting when Leach walked in 30 minutes late with an In ‘N Out bag in his hand. He has a shirtless, George Constanza-like photo of himself hanging in his office.
Tweeted Clay Travis of outkickthecoverage.com: “I’m rooting for Mike Leach to take Cougars to the playoffs and be seeded fourth against Nick Saban’s Bama because I think he might drive Saban insane in the press conferences before the game.”
Would that not be incredible?
It’s kind of funny — Leach may smile less than any coach in sports, yet he seems to be having more fun than any of them. And whether it’s stumping for our president or using “fat little girlfriends” as a symbol for player distractions, he’s never afraid of saying the wrong thing. In an increasingly cautious, politically-correct climate, I feel like you gotta respect that.
I’m never going to treat Leach differently than I would any other coach. I’m never going to pull a punch or pretend like he’s someone everyone should emulate.
The man has his flaws. There’s no arguing that. But he puts smiles on people’s faces.
Even if he never puts one on his own.