USA Today sports columnist Dan Wolken isn’t surprised the Cougars coach has bad things to say about him: “If you’re a person in power who does not like getting criticized, rather than focus on the substance of the criticism, you attack the person making the critique.”
Earlier this week, USA Today sports columnist Dan Wolken took issue with Mike Leach’s Twitter behavior. When it became clear that the Washington State football coach wouldn’t apologize for posting a heavily-edited video misrepresenting a Barack Obama speech, Wolken wrote that Leach’s volatile behavior was preventing more prestigious football programs from going after him.
Not fond of the column, Leach tweeted that Wolken — who’s been at USA Today for six years and in sports journalism for 16 — was a writer “no one knows” before challenging him to a debate. And Thursday, Leach told me that Wolken would be “selling Big Gulps in a couple years.”
Dan’s reaction? Read below.
Matt Calkins: So what do you think of all this?
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Dan Wolken: Here’s what I think: Mike did something inappropriate and refuses to back down from it, and so, one of the things that we have learned about society right now and where we are as a culture is that if you’re a person in power who does not like getting criticized, rather than focus on the substance of the criticism, you attack the person making the critique and try to make it a personality thing between the popular coach and the media member, because the person in power knows that they’re going to win that battle. So, I don’t really care to fight with him about what he thinks about my credibility because I don’t really care.
Calkins: Were you surprised how he reacted? Not just in coming after you, but in how he retweeted everyone who defended him?
Wolken: My only interpretation of that is that Mike for a number of years has been able to, I think in the national media, enjoy a cult of personality built around his quirkiness. And I think that has served to mask the more unattractive aspects of his personality — at least on a national level. So I guess what I would say is — name for me the other nationally-relevant sports writers who have criticized him, like, ever.
Calkins: Yeah, I’ve been critical, but I’m certainly not national.
Wolken: And that’s the difference — that’s what I’m saying. Last year, when I wanted to write something about his ongoing fight with Texas Tech, he couldn’t have been more accommodating or helpful or nice, but I’m just not one of those people who worries about the personal standing of my relationship with college football coaches. So I guess I would just say that I’m not that surprised. Often times people who are used to getting their way, especially when they act like bullies at times, they don’t like when that gets turned on them.
Calkins: He’s been in Lubbock and in Pullman, where he’s kind of had the scepter to the city. Do you think there would be more scrutiny if he were at USC or something?
Wolken: That’s the point of what I wrote essentially. What he kind of gets away with at Washington State or Texas Tech, it’s a perfect platform for him in all that it encompasses. And when I wrote my column, I mean — I’m not shooting from the hip. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but I’m a pretty well-sourced person in the college athletic world, and Mike Leach has been the topic of conversation among people that I’ve talked to for years. People have been leery of some of that unpredictability.
Calkins: Dan, I really appreciate you taking some time.
Wolken: So that’s what he said, that I’ll be selling Big Gulps?
Wolken: I guess we’ll see about that.