Requests for pictures and autographs are met with aplomb.
Even when one fan offers up the sage advice that winning all the games in the middle of the season is great but you’ve got to get ‘em on the front and back ends, too, Leach responds graciously: “Well, that’s right, we need to do a better job.”
As the social hour Saturday prior to the largest “Night with Cougar Football” event in the state swirls around him, Leach casually sips hot tea from a paper cup and talks about whatever people want to talk about.
Football in Israel?
"Makes sense. There’s all kinds of Americans over there,” he says to Yogi Roth, who is fresh back from a trip to the Holy Land.
“Doing great,” with the big news being oldest daughter Janeen recently giving birth to twins.
The first question you would ask the head coach at Washington State here on the cusp of spring ball 2017?
“It’s pretty basic, but the most relevant question is, ‘How are we going to be this season?’ I think we should be pretty good,” the coach says. “Between older guys getting better, the redshirts, and younger guys, we should be elevated at every position.”
Replacing nickel/safety Shalom Luani?
“We’re deeper there, more guys to pick from, than we have been in a long time.”
THE BEST, HOWEVER, IS SAVED for Leach’s formal presentation to the packed house inside the Bellevue Hyatt Regency.
He drew huge applause at the end of a winding explanation about why WSU grads seem to love their school more than most. His bottom line on it: because you’re in a small town situated on a hill with thousands of people your age, you never want to leave. “On the hill it’s too good,” he said.
Once out in the working world with colleagues who attended other schools, often in large "Gothams," the power of Pullman comes into full view, he contends. “About the time you’re 30 it dawns on you: damn, those guys’ college experience wasn’t like mine. They never hung out at all. … I’m just telling ya, that people hanging out on that hill — for four to nine years (Leach quipped) — is a special experience. That’s what makes a Coug a Coug — they get bonded in a special way … I didn’t have that experience on the front end but I do now and I’m very honored.”
Here are some other highlights of the coach’s comments:
ON OUTSIDE LINEBACKER COACH ROY MANNING: He spends so much time in the Cougar Football Complex that Leach is thinking about giving Manning’s office the condo treatment. Some bricks, “cool stuff on the wall, maybe a spiral staircase …”
Leach also joked that Manning, who grew up in Saginaw, can recite the names of every famous person who came from the Central Michigan city. “There is no question somebody from Saginaw, Michigan, is going to be in our program (as long as Manning is on staff),” Leach said.
The Cougars’ new recruiting class includes Willie Rodgers III, a 6-5, 230-pound defensive end from Saginaw.
ON CHALLENGING LUKE FALK: “Luke’s an incredibly, highly motivated person. Quarterbacks tend to be because there’s nowhere to hide, when you think about it. Most of the stereotypes you hear about quarterbacks are right,” Leach said, then pointing to Jason Gesser and saluting both his social graces and decisiveness.
ON THE DIVERSITY OF A FOOTBALL TEAM: “If you think about football carefully, you have 120 people — 130 counting coaches — from all walks, places and experiences,” Leach said. He noted that on the recruiting trail he can be visiting a prospect who lives in a palatial mansion and the next day be visiting another prospect where the living room carpet is covering a dirt floor. “Between these two extremes you can fill it in.”
ON RILEY SORENSON COPING WITH THE LOSS OF HIS PARENTS: “On a team there are a lot of people to lean on … Riley found that support and was able to focus forward. He was tremendously courageous ..”
• Numerous former Cougar footballers were on hand for the Night with Cougar Football in Bellevue. The list included Deone Bucannon, Devard Darling, Clarence “Butch” Williams, Jed Collins, Jared Karstetter, Jack Thompson, River Cracraft, Mkristo Bruce, Gunnar Eklund, Rian Lindell and Gino Simone.
• Bucannon, a first-team All-American at WSU and now a standout with the Arizona Cardinals, offered up a nice salute to "Coach Loco," who is otherwise known as WSU strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo. "Coach Loco, that's my guy," said Bucannon, noting that the values Loscalzo instills in his players are found both on the field and in becoming a man. "I love him to death." Bucannon said that under Loscalzo's guidance he climbed from 180 pounds as a WSU junior to 210-pounds-plus as a senior. Leach said if Bucannon hadn't been a senior playing safety his whole career he would have moved him to outside linebacker given his new physique. "He outgrew safety ... he slaughters people, does a fine job of that," said Leach. A firm believer in constant competition, Leach also said there was no one on the team to challenge Bucannon so he would try to motivate the star DB by suggesting he might have trouble handling certain players on opposing teams."
• The event raised a record $161,500.
• Six other assistant coaches, as well as AD Bill Moos, were expected to be on hand for the Bellevue gathering but bad weather canceled their flight out of Pullman.
• Leach and an earlier panel of former Cougar players went a little long in their comments so the film highlights of WSU’s newest class of recruits was limited to seven players. We’ll bring you a summary of Leach’s comments about them, as well as other insights that Manning offered CF.C, later this week.