After a tumultuous 2012 season that occasioned the bitter departure of a star receiver, Washington State football players or former players have rarely expressed pointed criticism of Mike Leach’s unorthodox coaching methods.
Two months after Leach’s departure for Mississippi State, however, one of his best ex-players has unloaded on him.
“Mike Leach isn’t exactly a coach that you’d like to play for,” Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Andre Dillard was quoted as saying recently on a website. “He’s just one of those guys who get results. But the way he gets results is frowned upon by the players. He never gave off any vibe that he cared about his players on a personal level. Playing for him felt a little bit like a dictatorship.”
Leach declined to comment Sunday, saying he hasn’t seen the article. It appeared on a site called Woodinville Sports, based in Dillard’s hometown of Woodinville, Wash.
Dillard’s remarks drew Twitter echoes from former teammates.
“Wow someone had to say it lol,” wrote cornerback Marcus Strong, a WSU senior last season. Junior rush linebacker Willie Taylor III tweeted, “haha boy if this ain’t facts!” Senior linebacker Jahad Woods went with “Facts on Facts.”
In November of Leach’s rocky debut season at WSU in 2012, accomplished receiver Marquess Wilson released a letter to media outlets announcing his defection from the team and charging coaches with “physical, emotional and verbal abuse.”
Investigations by WSU and the Pac-12 cleared Leach and his staff of inappropriate behavior, and Wilson said he regretted using the word “abuse.”
During the next seven seasons, as the Cougars piled up six bowl berths, players rarely assailed Leach publicly, though they acknowledged his winter workouts were grueling and his coaching style impersonal. Leach probably wouldn’t quibble with Dillard’s “dictatorship” analogy.
The 59-year-old former Texas Tech coach has long been known for critical and often comedic rants when his teams aren’t performing well, and players sometimes invoke a “That’s Leach being Leach” attitude about them. Dillard struck a different tone in the recent article.
“It personally bothered me,” he said. “What kind of coach throws his entire team under the bus when things go wrong? But he never put any blame on himself. Calling players out. Calling them fat and slow and saying he needs new players. He did that several times when I was there. it just wasn’t good leadership.”
Asked for an example, he mentioned a loss at Boise State in 2016.
“He compared us to a junior college women’s softball team,” Dillard said. “I was like ‘Dude, you need to chill out.’ The guys were offended by that.
“Anyway, I’m just happy that he has moved on,” Dillard said. “But I do appreciate him giving me the opportunity to play there.”
The inconsistent performances of the 2019 Cougars, after Dillard’s graduation, triggered a number of Leach diatribes, but he made an increased effort to acknowledge coaches’ responsibility for the problems.
As for Leach jumping to Mississippi State, Dillard said, “I had no idea that he would leave. He struck me as a guy who hated change. You could tell by the offense he ran. But I was really happy to hear that news because the boys back there needed a change.”
Dillard was undersized and lightly recruited out of the Seattle-area town of Woodinville, but WSU coaches saw him as a potential standout once he gained weight and strength. He wound up starting 39 straight games at left tackle and was a first-team All-American in 2018. He was chosen by the Eagles in the first round of the 2019 draft and started four games last season.
Leach was replaced in January by Nick Rolovich, whom several WSU players have described as personable.
“I think coach Rolo is totally a players’ coach,” running back Max Borghi said after Rolovich’s introductory news conference. “Obviously, (it’s) different than what we’re used to. He’s someone who wants to connect with every one of his players, no matter if you’re the starter or the scout guy. He obviously takes pride in learning everyone’s names. I can almost tell he’s more of a father-figure type coach, rather than a ‘go through the motions’ type coach. He cares about us as men.”
Dale Grummert may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2290.