SORENSEN: My day in the Pirate's den

"WHAT THE HELL?" That was my first thought as we walked into Mike Leach's office. There was a talking skeleton in one corner wearing a pirate hat. There were swords on the wall, along with a Jolly Roger crossbones flag and two posters of Jack Sparrow. Blackbeard was there in both book and figurine form as I recall.

Was this the Smithsonian Institute or the office of a guy coaching the No. 12-ranked football team in the country?

Shiver me timbers!

Welcome to the high seas of life in Leach World.

I was there in The Pirate's den for 35 or 40 minutes one sweltering day in August of 2008 and I'll never forget it.

Eastern Washington was in Lubbock to face the Red Raiders in the season opener for both schools and I was part of the Eagles' broadcast team. The day before the game, my broadcast partner, Larry Weir, and I had a few minutes to chat with Coach Leach.

He was sitting behind his desk as we walked in and I half expected when he stood up to greet us that he'd be wearing velvet breeches with a sash around his waist.

I'm not sure if the look on our faces begged the answer or we actually asked the question about what the deal was with all this pirate stuff, but Mike told us how he'd had an interest in pirates since he was young and it turned into a serious hobby.


We proceeded to talk about his coaching philosophy and I think I learned more about offense in this brief visit than I had in the previous 20 years combined. He talked about three-foot splits between his offensive linemen and the importance of getting the defensive ends spread way wide so they have farther to go to get to the quarterback. He talked about the huge decision-making authority he gives his quarterbacks.

I was fascinated. It became pretty clear that he had great confidence in himself and his philosophy, and my sense the next day was that his players would run through a wall for him. Not necessarily because he's popular, but because he's the respected captain of a ship.

Somewhere along the way he mentioned that he had no playbook.

Blow me down!

Mike Leach doesn't have a playbook! How did I not know that? That is very unconventional. No need, he said. He has a philosophy and formations and a series of plays he runs out of those formations, but he has no playbook.

As the lesson continued, a giant lineman appeared at the office door. Coach had wanted to see him. The kid had committed an infraction of some sort and Leach let him know that it wasn't to happen again. I had heard that Leach was very demanding of his players and coaches and it was clear this lineman was going to be cut zero slack. Keep your nose clean and to the grindstone or you walk the plank!

There's a YouTube video of Coach Leach making the rounds right now that reminds me of the interaction that day in his office with the lineman. Leach didn't raise his voice but the color of his words left nothing to the imagination.

The guy can cuss like a sailor. I love that in a coach. The fact he can do so much of it without raising his voice makes it even cooler. He's a bit like Dick Bennett, only Dick could holler at the top of his lungs forever and never utter a four-letter word.

But I digress.

As we started talking again about his offense, the phone rang. He took the call and then quickly shifted back to our conversation.

I was starting to get the sense he has ADHD. He likes to have a lot of things going on at once. I'm about as high-energy as anyone I know and I was getting tired just watching him operate.

It was all coming together for me. Of course this guy has a cutting-edge offense. He can't stop thinking or moving. It makes sense. Of course he doesn't have a playbook -- that would be both too constricting and too complex. It makes sense.

We kept talking. I was captivated by what I was hearing. This was a different way of looking at the game. Then one of his assistants tapped on the door and said it was time for the staff meeting.


"Just a few more minutes," Coach Leach instructed.

We had already gone over our allotted time but he insisted we stay a bit longer.

When we finally left I was convinced he was the quirkiest, most hyperactive and interesting coaches I'd met in a lifetime in and around the sport of football. You might even say he was goofy. But I also came away convinced the guy has gray matter coming out his ears.

Texas Tech and Graham Harrell beat EWU the next day, 49-24. It was a great effort by the Eagles, and for me a lot of fun to see the Air Raid in action up close.

Now, three-and-a-half years later, Leach is the head coach at Washington State. That is just mind-bending.

The frenzy of excitement that unfolded and continues to unfold in the Cougar Nation with the news of his hiring has been unlike anything I can remember outside of going to the 1998 Rose Bowl.

If you thought the hiring of Bill Moos was a big deal, and Elson Floyd before that, forget it. Mike Leach, the mad scientist I met in Lubbock in 2008, dwarfs everything.

So Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen! fellow Cougs. Blackbeard has landed at Bohler. It figures to be one fascinating adventure.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.

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