Mike Leach Q&A: Geronimo

MIKE LEACH, YOU may have heard, has a book coming out on Geronimo that he co-authored with Washington State professor and TV personality Buddy Levy. What you might not know is that Leach has, in a sense, been writing the book on Geronimo in his head for more than 40 years, stretching all the way back to when he was in grade school.

Cougfan.com: Where, why and how did you develop your fascination with Geronimo?

Mike Leach: When I was a kid, I was in second or third grade, somehow I heard about a library. I asked my mom, 'What's a library?' She said it's a place you can go get books. I said, 'What do you mean it's a place you can go get books?' ... Anyway, we went to a library, me, my sister and my mom... she said pick out a book and I'll read it to you. So I immediately went to the Indian section, I immediately saw about four books on Geronimo and I picked one out. And it wasn't just a simple book, it was a real book with footnotes and indexes and everything else.

She says, well why don't you go find an easier book, this one's kinda long. I said, 'You said I could get any book I wanted.' So she said alright, she got it and every night she read it to us. It ended up she read two full-length, real-deal Geronimo books because I liked the first one so well. I was the oldest so typically I was the driving force on which book got selected...Obviously she would have to explain some of the things that were going on because some of it was over our heads.

And from there, I just started reading all kinds of things on Geronimo, just a ton of stuff over the years.

Cougfan.com: You and your co-author, WSU professor Buddy Levy, have a connection that pre-dates your coming to WSU. Talk about the bit of fate that led you two to write this book.

Leach: My relationship with him is kind of a bizarre coincidence really. Bruce Feldman and I published Swing Your Sword. There was a literary agent in New York who helped put some elements of it together...and this was four months before the Washington State thing even opened...and the guy in New York, Scott Waxman, he said he represents a guy that's has done a couple books, one was on Davey Crockett, and the other on The Conquistadors, and he said (Levy) would really like to do a book on Geronimo with me.

I've got kind of a reputation for being interested in Geronimo, I've got a picture of him hanging in my office and people would photograph it, see it or talk about it when they came in to do interviews. I even talked about Geronimo in press conferences sometimes. When I got to Oklahoma a guy gave me another picture of Geronimo... So then Scott says (Levy) is on History Decoded and I think he's a college professor in the Northwest somewhere.

So then it's a whirlwind after that, I'm still doing book signings and the radio show, I literally did the radio show right up until I left for Washington State. I get to Washington State and this is four months after the conversation, about a week after I get to Washington State there's a guy in my office to see me and I'm not sure who he is. Well, he's Buddy Levy. And it turns out Buddy teaches at Washington State. So then from there we went ahead and did the book.

Cougfan.com: Sometimes when you have co-authors there's a spirited debate about particular aspects, what was the biggest disagreement the two of you had during the writing of this book, and how was it resolved?

Leach: We really didn't have any. We'd meet down at Café Moro when we were in town and then some of it was long distance, emails and phone calls, sending stuff back and forth and just kind of constantly going through it. Really, we were both excited about the research of it, the material that was unfolding, and in our discussions there was never really a disagreement.

Our discussions were always about what to include and that type of thing, and where there were contradictions of fact and our take on it, our take was remarkably similar on nearly everything. I think we both learned a lot from each other. I know I learned a lot from Buddy.

Cougfan.com: In my loose knowledge of Geronimo, it sounds like he was driven in part by revenge for the murder of his family. Was that what drew you to him or was it more the lore around his daring warfare and great escapes?

Leach: Probably the second. The first, he definitely had a revenge mentality towards the Mexicans -- the Mexicans are the ones who killed his family. And so throughout his life he would go raid the Mexican villages, he had a narrow view of the Mexicans as a result of them killing his wife, his mother and some of his kids. So he wasn't pleased with that at all and took it out on them the rest of his life.

As a matter of fact, his dying words...we have it in the book... he said something to the effect of he was old and can't go on the warpath again but if he did, his path would leave him to Old Mexico. At one point, he had a full quarter of the whole U.S. Army at bay, chasing him around and they never did really catch him. He'd get tired of running and turn himself in but they never did really catch him... coming in was Geronimo's decision.

Some of what I (found compelling were) the distances he traveled, how they traveled, how they went about it, how they survived, how they were able to fight in the fashion they did against incredible odds. A lot of it was just kind of a sense of destiny and the spiritual family notion that existed.

And they were incredibly well trained. Starting as little kids they were trained to survive and in warfare and things like that. Besides having a strong belief, they were incredibly skilled and incredibly well-taught too.

Cougfan.com: Are there lessons for a coach to be gleaned from Geronimo's life? How about a Regular Joe?

Leach: I think there are, for anybody that chases some quest or endeavor with a level of determination and focus, you can draw lessons all over the place and Geronimo provides a lot.

His constant diligence, doing the same thing over and over again, while steadily refining your skills and adapting that in order to be most effective.

Cougfan.com: Seeing the proverbial writing on the wall, Geronimo surrendered after nearly 40 years fighting Mexican and U.S. troops, yet on his deathbed 20 years later he allegedly said he'd made a mistake surrendering, that he should have fought to the death. Who was right -- the younger Geronimo or the older one?

Leach: I think part of his regret on that, he was never given what he was promised. I think both were probably right.

The younger Geronimo was right because the Apaches were a pretty honest group and see what happened, from the American end it got very political. And then of course the ground was constantly shifting on what the Americans had agreed to, and then later were willing to do. If he had gotten what he was promised, which was to surrender and stay in his homeland and some things of that nature, it probably was a good decision.

But then in the end they shipped him to Florida, then shipped him back to Oklahoma and left him in Oklahoma... and then they refused to ever let him enter the state of Arizona again. In other words, he got double crossed seeing how it unfolded. I think in the end he probably does wish he did that (fought to the death) although he did become a national celebrity at the end of his life and was in Teddy Roosevelt's inauguration.

Cougfan.com: In the 1962 movie about Geronimo, Chuck Connors, the old Rifleman star and one-time Boston Celtic and Brooklyn Dodger, played the lead role. If you had to pick one WSU athlete to play the lead role in a remake, who would you choose and why?

Leach: I don't know if I have one, I'd have to think about that. That's a tough question. You don't want to take an individual out of their context, really.

Ah, hard to say, that's a tough one to say.

Cougfan.com: What's the most fascinating thing you learned about Geronimo while writing this book?

Leach: Not any one thing, just collectively his whole path and the course that he took, how he adjusted his path along the way. And we get into a lot of detail stuff (in the book) like how they managed to travel such great distances and still feed themselves, get water and that type of thing. And then how their training kicked in, how they navigated some things like that.

Cougfan.com: Give me your "elevator speech" on why people will want to buy this book?

Leach: I think everyone can relate to trying to accomplish things. I also think everybody at some point in their life has been surprised by what they're able to accomplish.

So anytime you put a ceiling on what's possible, then something exceeds it... and it certainly did in a lot of cases with Geronimo. He didn't ultimately get what he hoped for, what he was fighting for but what he was able to accomplish against odds that were far greater than he ever expected was incredible.

Cougfan.com: I went on Amazon earlier this month but the book isn't available until May 6?

Leach: I don't know how they selected that date exactly, I think a portion of it has to do with in May, I'm a little more freed up to go do signings. That window there between May and July is when I can shotgun a couple signings.

To pre-order Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior on Amazon.com in hardcover or Kindle edition, click here.

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