Schoeler: Mike Leach a One-of-a-Kind Pullman Treasure

The late former Washington State leader was unlike any other coach in college football

Posted on December 17, 2022

  By Cody Schoeler, SuperWest Sports

Pullman isn’t like the other cities in the Pac-12. It isn’t Seattle, or Los Angeles, or Boulder, or Salt Lake City, or Tucson.

It’s different.

And Mike Leach wasn’t like any of the other coaches in college football, or in any other sport. He was unique, just like the city that learned to adore him over his eight years there.

To fully appreciate what he meant to the community in Pullman, we have to go to the end, when he left for Mississippi State.

We see coaches leave all the time now, and most of those departures are met by a mix of emotions—anger, sadness, betrayal, and jealousy.

But when leach left WSU for the SEC, it was different.

There was a sense of gratitude and understanding. How could you feel anger or betrayal toward the man after all that he did for the Cougars’ program?

Mike Leach donned a Gardner Minshew mustache | Pac-12 Conference

He gave Pullman one of the most memorable football seasons of all time in 2018.

He brought in one of the most exciting players in school history to town—Gardner Minshew—along with freaking College Gameday.

But as much as it was the big things that endeared Leach to the community, it was the small things that morphed him from a football coach to an icon.

It was the fact that he would take any off-topic question at a press conference and turn it into a five-minute monologue that would certainly go viral on Twitter.

Or demonstrate, with a plastic water bottle, how to throw a shovel pass, which also went viral.

It was the fact that he liked a fan’s photoshopped poster of Leach on George Costanza’s sensual pose from an episode of Seinfeld so much that he met the students who made it and displayed it in his office.

Leach hung this art in his office at WSU | ESPN

It was the fact that he taught a five-week course at WSU titled “Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategy” and 40 students still took it, despite it not being worth a single credit.

It was the fact that he liked my tweet about his appearance in an episode of Friday Night Lights.

There are thousands of Leach stories. He touched countless lives over his time in football. From Lubbock to Pullman to Starkville and everywhere in between.

Whether you knew him personally or were never any closer to him than being in the front row of Martin Stadium, you have a Leach story. We’re seeing them flood television and social media and podcasts all over, and it’s fascinating to hear them.

But you know what’s interesting about them? Very few seem to be about football.

Sure, there’s the great story of his fake play sheet that he used while serving as the offensive coordinator, but most of the other stories have very little to do with the sport to which he dedicated his life.

He racked up 158 wins in college football. He won two division titles and several Coach of the Year awards. He helped mold plenty of young men into NFL players.

Mike Leach talks to Kyle Whittingham before their 2019 game | Rick Bowmer/AP

But what will define Mike Leach, and what made him the perfect coach for WSU, is that he was unabashedly himself.

He wasn’t perfect, of course, because no one is, but that never stopped him from being exactly the coach that WSU needed. He brought joy, humor, and, most importantly, good football to a school in a small town in Eastern Washington.

And that school, and its community that stretches across the country and the world, is incredibly thankful.

So let me say on behalf of Cougs everywhere, thank you, Coach Leach, for everything. We love you, we miss you, and we will never forget you.

—More from Cody Schoeler—