It's up to new WSU coach Mike Leach to prove he's not a risk
The new guy is always more exciting, has a bigger upside and has created more buzz. There are those, though, who are wary of Leach. And today we explore those concerns.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
A reader complained the other day that the coverage of Mike Leach's hire at Washington State was too enthusiastic. I responded that I've never known the installation of a new coach not to be.
The new guy is always more exciting, has a bigger upside and has created more buzz. You could sign Genghis Khan to a five-year contract as football coach, with Attila the Hun as defensive coordinator, and they'd be received well. I remember profiling Tyrone Willingham back in December of 2004, and nobody said anything but great things about him (I believe I may have been the last guy to write something positive about him).
Anyway, there are those who, for various reasons, are wary of Leach. And today we explore those concerns.
He'll mistreat a player. His controversial exit from Texas Tech stemmed from the alleged mishandling of concussed player Adam James, a firing Leach feels strongly enough about to sue Tech and ESPN.
The facts of that may not be fleshed out unless that case goes to trial. In the meantime, I'd guess Leach would avoid any appearance of such indiscretions in his new job. (And indeed, nothing I've come across suggests any such pattern at Tech.) As for WSU, its stake in the suit is twofold: It needs for him to win it, and not to have any surprises in a trial reflecting poorly on Leach.
He'll get sideways with the administration. Leach likes to say that during his 10 seasons at Tech, he had five presidents and three chancellors, and he got along well with four and two, respectively.
Many of his problems at Tech were related to the athletic director, Gerald Myers, a former basketball coach, and Myers' hire of Bob Knight, who of course, did just about anything he wanted. Leach, who was having winning seasons and going to bowl games, got on the wrong side of some political infighting, and the administration eventually wanted him out.
It ought to help WSU that it has a strong athletic director in Bill Moos, both to support Leach, and if necessary, keep him under control.
He'll become bigger than the school. At Tech, Leach had some unorthodox ways that didn't always flatter the program. He was notorious for keeping an unconventional schedule and sometimes being late to meetings. At a Cotton Bowl dinner once, he showed up 45 minutes late while bowl officials were wringing their hands.
He had some bouts with the media, at times limiting player access, which is unimportant in the big picture — unless it affects coverage and visibility of the school. In 2009, he opted not to bring quarterback Graham Harrell and Biletnikoff winner Michael Crabtree to Big 12 media day, saying he wanted to foster more of a team ethic. But later in the season, some around Tech were wondering why Harrell wasn't a bigger factor in the Heisman Trophy race.
Then there was the Friday night in Austin in 2009. With his team back at a hotel on the eve of its annual big game against Texas, Leach was out having a cameo role filmed for the TV show "Friday Night Lights."
He'll leave at the first whiff of success. Of all the possible outcomes of the Leach-WSU marriage, this one seems to make the least sense. He stayed at Tech 10 seasons, unusual for a first-time head coach who had resounding success, and it wasn't until late in his tenure, during the falling-out with the administration, that his name began showing up in other job searches.
So the other night, as he and his family were strolling past street guitarists in Key West, looking for a late-evening restaurant, I asked him over the phone: Is he a risk?
"Tell you what," he said. "After I run through this stuff, then I want you to give me the top three names you can think of that are less of a risk than I am."
Then he mentioned the 10 straight bowl games at Tech, the admirable graduation rates, the lack of NCAA violations and player problems off the field, the financial growth of the football program, even his 29-year marriage and a daughter who graduated from medical school.
"So," he asked, "who's less risky?"
Now all Mike Leach has to do is prove it.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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