Osterhout photo

Guest Commentary: Mike Leach and the building of Cougar chemistry

LAST WEEK I had the pleasure of spending four days salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska with Mike Leach, Bill Moos, Jason Gesser and a dozen great Cougar boosters including Greg Rankich. Two things struck me most about Coach Leach.

First, he has a great sense of humor and is a ton of fun to talk with.

Second, when it comes to his football team, building camaraderie among teammates is always top-of-mind with him.

With roughly 120 players from every possible background, with every possible personality, building chemistry is an absolutely critical building block for success, he notes. That’s why he thinks about it so much.

He’s a realist that each guy may not like every teammate, but if each person at least has an understanding of what makes others tick then the broader culture is enhanced.

Moving August camp to Sacajawea Middle School in Lewiston in 2013 to accommodate construction of the Cougar Football Complex, he said, has turned out to be a tremendous boost in the chemistry-building process.

That’s why in six weeks the Cougs will be heading back to River City for a fourth-straight season.

How many major-conference schools, he asks, remove their players from the creature comforts of campus for this kind of bonding?

The question is rhetorical. 

Leach said his assistant coaches work hard ahead of time to mix up roommate assignments in the Lewis-Clark State College dorms that house the Cougs while in Lewiston. They blend offense with defense, young with old, country hosses with inner-city guys, and so forth.

After 10 or 12 days of living and working together in the regimented environment of preseason camp, Leach says, bonds are forged — sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in ways people don’t even realize.

Yesterday morning when I watched the fabulous video of assistant coach Eric Mele leading a tour of the Cougar Football Complex, it struck me just how deep Leach and his staff go to build those bridges within the team.

Rather than assigning lockerroom spaces by position groups or jersey numbers, they take the same approach that they do in Lewiston.

When Mele arrived in the locker room, he stopped and pointed to the four lockers closest to him as examples of how the staff works to foster cross connections. The four locker spots broke down this way:

“Different positions, different walks of life, different backgrounds … so guys can hang out together and break down those walls a little bit,” Mele says in the video.

“We do the same thing when we travel (to games) … hotel roommates, they're different, not just two buddies hanging out together.”

For me, talking with Coach Leach in Alaska and then watching the Mele video reinforced how daunting it is to be a college coach. You have Xs and Os, skill and conditioning development, non-stop recruiting, academic progress rates and even booster schmoozing. Now, above all, you must wrap it all up in a bow of positive team chemistry.

It’s not a job for the faint of heart. I tip both my cap and my fishing rod to them.  We are in good hands my friends!

While up in Alaska, we stayed at Cougar owned Tanuku Lodge.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Glenn Osterhout is a long-time WSU booster and season-ticket holder who operates a wealth management firm in Bellevue. He also is the co-founder of CougsFirst!, a business network that encourages Washington State alumni and friends to do business with each other. Cougfan.com is a co-sponsor of CougsFirst!  Click here to learn more about it.

Previous guest commentary from Mr. Osterhout: State's economic might suggests Coug fans can dig deeper


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