Mike Leach wrote in his book, “Swing Your Sword,” that as a boy he was terrorized by a neighborhood dog named Pepe. The dog stole his baseball glove and ran off, and three times peed on his tent and sleeping bag when he planned a backyard camping trip of sorts. Growing frustrated, he complained to his mom, who explained that the dog was just marking his territory.
So, when Leach had suffered enough torment, rather than tell his neighbors, he offered the dog a piece of meat, lured it close, grabbed him by the collar and took him to a vacant lot. He unzipped his pants and proceeded to pee all over the dog. He marked his territory and the dog left him alone from then on.
On Tuesday, Washington State, a university that has been tormented by Pac-10/12 foes for nearly a decade, met the man who plans on helping the struggling football program carve out a piece of Pac-12 territory.
And the school did it in style.
Event officials allowed 1,000 people to pour into the CUB ballroom before they had to shut their doors, leaving a couple hundred people or so outside. The event was complete with the pep band, the dance team, over 30 members of the media, much of next year’s football team and more Cougar officials and alumni than one could accurately count.
After a quick introduction by Executive Vice President Warwick Bayly and athletic director Bill Moos, Leach, the man who reinvigorated the Cougar football program overnight without so much as a word, finally had some for the fans.
“I know what you are all thinking, and the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ this is exactly how I dress in Key West every day,” he said.
Moos and Leach first met in Key West, Florida back in mid-November. Leach said Moos was on the other side of the island from where he lived, so Leach decided to ride his bike there — a short four-mile journey.
“I peddled four miles. Despite that, not too much perspiration, and he went ahead and hired me anyway,” Leach said.
To Moos, that aim was never really in doubt — perspiration or no.
“It went fast,” he said of the hiring process. “I only interviewed one man.”
Leach, who had been to Pullman a few times for camps and a recruiting trip, thanked all the coaches that came to Washington State before him, most notably recently fired Paul Wulff, then explained the answer to the question that has to be rattling through the minds of coach-less fans of Arizona State and UCLA.
“People ask me, ‘Why Washington State?’ and once I get past in the back of my mind thinking, ‘Well, that’s a stupid question,’ ” Leach was interrupted by loud applause. “I roll that through my mind and I don’t say it, then I immediately blurt out the obvious answers: The commitment of excellence in every phase of the university, the excitement around the community, and the fact that you can win here and win big, I believe.”
Leach was out of coaching for two seasons after being unceremoniously fired by Texas Tech, a program he took to 10 bowl games in 10 seasons with a record-breaking pass-oriented spread offense, and said he was pleased to be back in the coaching ranks.
“I’m thrilled to be back coaching. I’ve enjoyed my two years, but that’s a different dimension than coaching offers. Coaching, there’s nothing like the unity and working together with the team. You’ve got players and coaches and fans building a program into the best it can be with everybody doing the best they can. I think that ‘all for one, and one for all’ is the part that you miss the most,” he said.
“There’s big challenges, but there’s big payoffs too.”
Leach stated that he already has some goals in mind.
“I tend to have one-day plans, which is win one game a week,” he said to laughter and applause before answering the question more seriously. “My plan is pretty well encompassed in three things. We talk about three goals: be a team, be the most excited to play... and be the best at doing your job.”
Although Leach is signed to a five-year deal, there have already been voiced concerns that if he finds success he won’t be in Pullman long. The new coach skirted those questions somewhat, but said he was committed to Washington State.
“I was excited about the people I met. I was excited about the potential. This last year, excited about the conference,” Leach said. “The Pac-12 was very assertive in establishing its position in college football. There wasn’t any of this monkeying around as far as, ‘What’s our identity? What’s our future going to be?’ They went out and grabbed it.”
Much like Moos, who went to Key West and quickly and quietly got his man of the future, and unlike Arizona State and UCLA, who both fired coaches recently, Washington State was not left blowing in the breeze. For which, the school is already seeing the payoff, as WSU had to turn away a few hundred guests who came to see the new coach introduced. The Cougars are hoping that same phenomenon plays out in Martin Stadium next fall.
“Make it a priority to be here in the fall for gamedays of 2012,” Bayly told the audience.
Leach said he will set to work hiring assistant coaches, with emphasis on re-connecting with men he has worked with in the past. He said he isn’t sure if he will keep any of the Wulff regime.
“I’ve got a lot of my own guys that I’m going to try to get on board. We’ll have to see how that goes first. (Wulff’s regime) are quality guys. I certainly wish them the best. First, I’m going to try to get my guys in,” Leach said. “I do think there will be a lot of changes, if not complete.”
Leach has already hired Dave Emerick as his guy to “strategize the recruiting effort” and act as his football chief of staff. He will look to bring in more coaches in the next week or so.
The new coach was set to officially meet his new team that afternoon, and he said his message to players would be straight-forward.
“The biggest thing is just really to keep track of academics, stay in shape,” Leach said. “This is really going to be an adjustment for all of us — coaches and players. The quicker we make the adjustment, the quicker we take off running and improve.”
Once all the ceremonial bells and whistles are out of the way, Leach will look to evaluate the team, hire coaches and go on the recruiting trail.
After the conclusion of the 18-minute interruption-filled introduction — full of loud cheering and applause from fans — Leach asked, “That’s it?”
Of course, he still had a round of media interview, a meet-and-greet with fans, a flight to Seattle and another round of questions from the Seattle media, but that was it for the time being.
The whole affair played out like more of a coronation than an introduction, and in some ways, that’s fair. After all, Leach just became captain of the ship and crew known as Washington State.
For the Pirate of the Palouse, after two long years, it’s finally sink or swim.
Andrew Nemec can be reached at (208) 882-5561 ext. 230, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at AndrewNemec.