PULLMAN — Mike Leach took an interest in Donald Trump more than 15 years ago when he read the now-U.S. president’s literary work while flying from Lubbock, Texas, to New York City with his family.
Leach made it through Trump’s book, “How to Get Rich,” and put in a call to Trump Enterprises, hoping to arrange a meeting with the business mogul and popular television personality.
The two eventually connected, building a relationship around Leach’s interest in politics and business, and Trump’s passion for football. Washington State’s eighth-year coach still keeps a framed photo of Trump in his Pullman office, signed by the president: “To Mike, keep up the good work.”
Leach then spoke extensively about his friendship with Trump at a 2016 rally held at the Spokane Convention Center, giving the Republican presidential candidate a ringing endorsement.
Three years later, just down the road from that same convention center, Spokane residents gathered Tuesday for a different type of rally, in support of Trump’s impeachment, which came less than 24 hours later after a vote from the U.S. House of Representatives. Trump, who’s been accused in two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — wouldn’t be removed from office unless the Senate decides to vote him out next year.
Leach, who’s been busy with recruiting obligations, the early signing period and preparation for the Cheez-It Bowl (Dec. 27 against Air Force in Phoenix), said he hasn’t done much research or spent lots of time reading about Trump’s impeachment, but the coach backed his old friend on Thursday after WSU’s early afternoon practice in Pullman.
“I haven’t followed it too closely, but it’s clearly political,” Leach said. “That doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
“And I’m yet to hear what he did wrong. So, you’ve got to have a crime, I would think.”
Trump has been accused of trying to convince Ukraine to investigate supposed wrongdoings by former Vice President Joe Biden, who could be an opponent for Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Leach, asked if he thinks Trump will be removed from office, said, “That’s a foregone conclusion, he won’t be.”
It’s unclear to what extent Leach and Trump communicate these days given their respective schedules, but in July at Pac-12 Media Day, Cougars offensive lineman Liam Ryan shared a humorous story about a phone call between the two.
“He comes out an hour late to practice and we’re like, ‘Where the heck is Leach?’ ” Ryan said. “He comes out and we’re all dogging him, ‘Coach, where have you been? Where have you been?’ And he’s all like, ‘I was upstairs watching you from the window.’ We’re like, ‘Why were you watching us?’ He’s like, ‘I was talking to Donald Trump.’ … I’m like, ‘What? You’re late to practice for talking to Donald Trump?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s one of my good friends.’ Then he goes on to tell the whole story.”
Leach’s political beliefs and willingness to voice them as a public figure — and his impressive run with WSU football — have helped make him one of the more polarizing characters in college athletics.
The coach set off a social media storm in June 2018 when he shared, and later removed, a doctored video of a Barack Obama speech from his personal Twitter account. Leach posted a complete transcript of the speech, saying, “I agree that the video was incomplete. However, I believe discussion on how much or how little power our Gov should have is important.”
Leach has also formed a close friendship and traveled with former Washington state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Republican. The two taught a popular not-for-credit class at WSU last spring, titled “Insurgent Warfare & Football Strategy.”
WSU has supported its coach’s freedom of speech.
In 2016, after Leach appeared in Spokane for Trump’s rally, the university released a statement regarding employees who express personal views.
“Free speech is a form of diversity — diversity of opinion — and diversity is a core value of WSU,” the statement read. “As a public institution, we serve as a platform for the expression of a wide diversity of views and opinions and value the opportunity to do so. The opinions of any one employee, however, do not in any way speak for the institution.”