HC Mike Leach (USA Today)

Passing time with new book on Mike Leach

HOW TO FILL the time until the Cougs open the season at home vs. Eastern Washington on Sep. 3? In my case, I’m catching up on some reading. Thanks to a friend of mine down in Sherman, Texas, perusing a compilation of Mike Leach quotes offers a great opportunity to gain additional insight into the charismatic, if not quirky, head coach of Washington State.

In "Squib-Kick It to a Fat Guy," Alan Burton takes his readers on a trip down memory lane and shapes a formidable impression of Leach.  Love him or loathe him, Leach will never be described as mundane or predictable. Both of those qualities are what make him a great coach and one-of-a-kind personality.

What inspired Burton to write this book?

“I watch his Monday press conferences during the season,” Burton said. “That’s like must-see TV for me. It’s refreshing to see someone go in there and give honest answers. If it offends someone, it offends someone. Can you imagine asking Nick Saban what (he) gives out for trick-or-treat on Halloween at his house? Leach takes off on that stuff (telling exactly what his family offers).”

Burton’s recent book has been in the making since 2010 when he penned "Pirates, Soldiers & Fat Little Girlfriends: More Classic Texas Sports Quotes.” This time around he focused on Leach through a collection of 700 unique quotes from The Pirate along with quotes from players, coaches and even university officials.

Turning page after page from beginning to end left me wanting to see what Leach said next. And wanting to know more, I caught up with Burton for a conversation about the sixth book he’s authored.

Anyone who may wonder why Leach garners more attention from the media than most major market college coaches will have clarity by the final chapter of Barton’s book: Fun in the Sun and Snow with the Hurricanes.

“He obviously a very intelligent person,” said Burton. “He can talk about anything knowledgeably. So many coaches, it seems like it’s 100 percent football and nothing else. (Leach) always has an opinion. It’s an educated opinion.”

Among the many takeaways from reading Leach quotes is just how consistent the man is. That consistency may be the reason there are some glaring similarities between his first head coaching job at a major university, Texas Tech, to his present one at Washington State.

In an age of coaches carefully choosing words that are laden with ponderous political correctness, Leach isn’t afraid to tell it as he sees it. He’s covered the gamut from dating tips, to endorsing presidential hopefuls and the quality of officiating a football game. The latter once cost the coach $10,000 when he was fined by the Big 12 Conference after he “called into question the integrity and competence of game officials.”

His unfiltered responses to media questions shocked many in his first couple of years at Tech. Red Raider fans were used to the engaging personality of Spike Dykes (father of Cal coach Sonny Dykes) prior to Leach arriving in Lubbock.

“(Spike) Dykes was your stereotypical Texas coach, sort of your good ol’ boy who could tell funny stories and was a laid-back likeable guy,” said Burton. “You bring in Leach who is a different type of personality...it was a culture shock problem for both Lubbock and coach Leach.”

Expectations were quite high at Texas Tech when Leach arrived. Following a couple of seasons where Tech went 7-6 and 7-5, some folks were weary of the new guy running Red Raider football. Compare that with the fanfare and national attention shining on Pullman when Leach was introduced as the new coach at WSU in 2012 and there are striking similarities. The most prominent might be stratospheric expectations based on wishful thinking rather than reality.

After Leach took over the Texas Tech program, his teams were invited to bowl games 10 consecutive years. He arrived on the Palouse to take over a team which hadn’t been to a bowl game since 2003. There was a massive leap by many to conclude WSU would once again win 10 games year-in and year-out and be ranked as a national powerhouse as they were from 2001-2003.

Cougar Nation discovered quickly that their football program rebuild was very much a work in progress and some became disenchanted with the man athletic director Bill Moos had hired.

“That could have been a zombie convention out there,” quipped Leach about his players after Washington State’s 49-6 loss to Utah in 2012. Such comments failed to endear skeptics and left many fans disheartened about the future.

But Leach is a student of history and no question he is fully aware of one thing. Winning football games cures a whole bunch of things, including gaining support from the fan base.

Looking back at quotes from early days in Lubbock and Pullman offer perspective into a man who has been called a football genius. The relationship Leach shared with school administrations in both places helped weather the tough going early on.

Conventional wisdom prior to 2008 was Leach would never leave Lubbock. But when changes in the administration at Texas Tech took place, the outspoken head coach discovered fan support wasn’t enough to maintain a good workplace relationship. Burton documents the shocking change of attitude toward Leach which led to his brusque dismissal in 2009.

The context offered by Burton’s extensive compilation will shape insight into arguably one the most quotable figures in sports today. Just as the head coach and his staff constantly work to keep players focused on their job, reading this book about Leach will bring him into sharper focus to the reader.

Leach isn’t just a football guy. He’s arguably more comfortable talking philosophy and life in general. More times than not, he expresses his opinions in both a thoughtful and humorous tone.

“He’s a real person. He can talk about issues other than the Air Raid offense. To me, that’s what’s appealing. He has a clever way of saying things,” said Burton summarizing his connection to Leach.

No question Mike Leach is a special guy, doing special things in a special place. Soon enough, Cougar Nation will find out just how special this Cougar team will be in 2016.

ABOUT ALAN BURTON: Burton is Special Assistant to the President/Director of University Communications at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He previously served as Director of Community Relations for Sherman ISD, and is a former sports editor of the Sherman Democrat. Burton is the author of six books, including: Til the fat lady sings -- Classic Texas Sports Quotes; Pirates, Soldiers and Fat Little Girlfriends -- More Classic Texas Sports Quotes and Dallas Cowboys Quips and Quotes.


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