Mike Leach is a unique person.
I didn't need a book to tell me that. I spent six years around him as a journalist and was lucky to spend time on the practice field, game field and other places to observe his tactics and the way he went about being a coach and teacher. But if it's one thing I took away from reading Swing Your Sword, it's that he has an even deeper love for football and coaching than most of us might realize.
Leach returned to Lubbock on Tuesday to sign copies of his new book at the Barnes and Noble in South Plains Mall, taking time to sign each book and pose for pictures with fans. This is another devotion I noticed before his final season at Tech when Leach and his team held their annual autograph session for the public at Jones AT&T Stadium. He loved being a part of events like this. It was something he was happy to take time to do.
And in 2009, he proved that everyone who takes time to come out and see him should have the autograph or picture they wanted. Remind you, this is the following season after "The Catch" by Michael Crabtree and Tech went 11-1 during the 2008 regular season before losing to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl. So as you can imagine, the line was long. I mean really long. Leach sat down at a table near the south end zone with former player and assistant Antonio Huffman by his side as a line stretched all the way back passed the north end zone with the last person nearly touching the back wall.
He signed everything. The best one to this day in my mind was the bottle of Captain Morgan rum, a favorite for his pirate lovers like himself, and the hot of the presses Texas Monthly magazine with Leach on the front cover. My dad and brother, who came straight to the stadium after driving five hours from Arlington to move my brother into his new apartment, even got their autographs and picture with Leach. Four hours later, Leach signed his last autograph for the last person left in the stadium.
You don't often see that kind of devotion from a football coach. I've seen it twice now between Leach and current head coach Tommy Tuberville. I've been around others who would cut things off after an hour or so with their assistants telling people to no longer stand in line after a certain point so that the coach would not have to bare the burden of turning a fan away after he or she got to the table.
It's a lot like why Leach got into coaching, spending so much of his free time with Little League baseball teams or helping coach other teams while he was earning his undergraduate and law degrees. He could have made instant money with a firm after getting his law degree with Pepperdine, but he chose to take a job with a small college that would barely help pay bills for he, his wife and their newborn. Leach tells about the day he had to tell his wife, Sharon, about the job and explained he would make about $3,000. When Sharon said that seemed like an OK pay for each month, Leach replied, "No. $3,000 a year."
Of course there are parts of the book that talk about Leach's end at Tech, Adam James, the various heads of the Tech system and how that week in San Antonio broke down. I was there the whole week working with the athletics department as a contracted writer at the time, and remember seeing him one last time downstairs at the team hotel the morning he was fired. He walked in with his Styrofoam cup in one hand and shades on and said, "Here goes nothing." I didn't realize at the time that it would be the last time I saw him in person.
It was a difficult time for Tech fans and still can be when discussing the topic with other Red Raiders. I think the devotion and love of the game was the biggest thing I took away from the book and remembering Leach for all the work he did for Tech during his 10 years. There were great moments, like the Crab Grab, comeback at A&M in 2002, beating Nebraska four times and one of the most unbelievable bowl games. For everything some did not like about him, there was a positive. So as Tech and Leach continue their courtroom drama for what could be years, I hope Tech fans remember him for what he did on the gridiron and continue to cheer the team, coach and school that takes the field from here on out.