The Jerk

By Johnny Ginter on November 12, 2012 at 3:00p

Maybe it's time to reevaluate this Mike Leach thing. To be fair, it's hard not to like his story about a football outsider/general weirdo who goes on to success in an unexpected place against long odds. Add in the fact that he's a schlubby lawyer who never played football, and you start to realize that he's ripe for fun articles that describe his eccentricity in glorious detail (this one in particular being one of my all time favorite pieces of sportswriting).

Hard times in Pullman

So it's not super surprising that Leach would become some kind of goofy, pirate-loving internet hero. His outward media personality is tailor-made for the internet age; whether it's giving a weather report in Lubbock (spoiler alert: you're gonna be dead in a hundred years anyway) or dispensing dating advice to a concerned young man, Leach is a dude wholly suited to giving a lot of odd non sequiturs easily replayable on YouTube.

Anyway, when Adam James, son of Craig James, accused Leach of being, in essence, a gigantic douchebag and an over-the-top disciplinarian, the internet lept to Leach's defense after he was eventually fired by Texas Tech. In our minds, he was a fun football savant who was unfairly screwed over by a moron with influence, and it was representative of some of the worst aspects of the good ol' boy network that is so prevalent in football in general.

But that was then, and now, after wide receiver Marquess Wilson left Leach's current team at Washington State claiming that Leach and his staff "preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate [the team]," in lieu of actual motivation, the Washington State president has called for a review of those claims. The outcome of that review might be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of us who defended the Pirate King and threw around memes like #5DEADHOOKERS, but aside from the internet potentially enabling a guy who might turn out to be an actual abusive jerk, it also throws in sharp contrast the difference between the motivational tactics of Urban Meyer and Mike Leach.

Both Meyer and Leach took over programs in disarray; Leach was coming to a perpetually bad WSU program that hadn't been competitive in the Pac-12 (or 10, or whatever) in a decade, and Meyer took over an Ohio State program with a ton of talent but no direction whatsoever.

To be fair, no one could really expect Leach to have the kind of success this year that Meyer has had at Ohio State. This is a team that was 1-11 in 2009, 2-10 in 2010, and 4-8 last year. Not exactly a full cupboard to work with. But still, most expected Leach to do better than 2-8, even in a loaded Pac-12. And to be completely honest, despite the nation's 6th-rated passing offense, most of the games haven't been close.

Leach's response to this has been sarcasm, anger, and blame. He's called out himself, his coordinators, and most pointedly, his players, calling his seniors "zombies" and "empty corpses." He spent five minutes or so in a press conference being unbelievably sarcastic with the media, which would probably be more funny and less irritating if it was coming from a coach of a successful football team and not the Washington State Cougars.

I bring all of this up because I'm starting to realize that there's a difference between Tough love and tough Love. Urban Meyer plies his trade in the latter.

GIS "mike leach hug"

A successful football team is the most evident example of how Urban's approach has worked, but there are other points of reference.

One of the success stories Meyer likes to repeat is that of backup QB Kenny Guiton. Guiton was ready to bail when Meyer came aboard.

Here's the way the coach puts it: "He was ready to get a one-way bus ticket back to Texas when I first got here."

Then, Guiton changed. He accepted his role as Braxton Miller's backup and started applying himself. ...

"He is a coach's son and plays like it, practices like it, spends a lot of time with us on Sunday nights and Monday nights," Meyer said on Tuesday. "I can't say enough good things about him."

Meyer said he hoped to get Guiton into Saturday's game against Purdue.

I swear I didn't add that last sentence. Anyway, there's still more, of course; the way the offensive line was challenged to play to their potential, the leadership committees, black stripes on helmets for freshmen, incentivizing work both on the field and off... the list goes on. There was a fair amount of tearing the team down once he arrived, and Meyer has been nothing if not brutally frank in his assessment of players. But they've responded to this, because what Meyer knows (and Leach may not) is that you only tear someone down to build them back up and encourage them to better things.

I feel bad for Marquess Wilson, even if he's talking out of his ass about Leach, because whatever happened in Pullman didn't make him a better player. A guy with All-American ability is now out of a program that should've been tailor-made to make him a star, and to me that blame has to rest with his coach.

It's admittedly easy to say this now, when Ohio State is 10-0 with a very real possibility of going undefeated. It's also hard to deny that Urban Meyer's players love playing for him, and that they've bought in to his ideals and way of coaching. Coming off easily the gloomiest, worst football season in over a decade and entering into a season with a postseason ban hanging from their necks, their play is a testament to the work Meyer and his staff have put in to getting this team excited and ready to play football. The same can't be said for Washington State.


Earlier this year, Urban Meyer spoke at a coaching clinic and called Mike Leach a genius (and in an endearing way, a nutjob). And he's probably right, on both counts. Mike Leach is a deeply weird football savant. But on the other hand, maybe the real genius is the guy who has figured out how to motivate without crushing a kid and to win without making accusations.

You know, the guy with two national championship rings on his hand.


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tennbuckeye19's picture

Good stuff Johnny. I was one who thought that while the Adam James stuff was probably blown way out of proportion with Pageant Dad Craig and ESPN and whatnot, there was probably some level of truth to the claims. I imagine there is also some truth to Wilson's claims as well. 
I do have to say though that I did enjoy Leach's presser when he talked about fat little girlfriends:


TennesseeJohn's picture

Yeah, Leach seems to have some issues and take it out on his players and staff. I've said it before...that's just not cool. These are unpiad students...yes it's your job to motivate them but it's also your job to stick up for and defend them. Like a family, not a dictatorship.

penult's picture

When you're a player who has been playing for a team that has finished 1-11, 2-10, and 4-8 you're probably a little confused about what criticism and motivational tough lough is and isn't. And I only say that because of what someone said on another thread about this topic--apparently this particular player has been resistant to the new regime and a new committment to working hard since Spring.  Second hand information I know, but it seems quite common for players entrenched in a former regime to react this way.  Especially when the former regime was a culture of losing, and what I can only assume had become accepting of losing which is far worse.  That's a lot different from a team that had one down year, a season removed from a good season and a Sugar Bowl win* though I understand the comparison to UFM.  I must say I much prefer Meyer's tactics as well.  This makes me wonder how players and fans would judge Woody Hayes' tactics in society today where everyone, especially college football players, has to be coddled and seems to be allergic to criticism and rebuke.

rkylet83's picture

I think Mike Leach is a good coach and an interesting guy, but after what I read today I'll reevaulate my opinion on him.  Where there's smoke there's fire and probably some of the good opinions on him were in a small way based on Craig James hate, and not so much on Leach himself.

Baroclinicity's picture

Where there is somke, there is fire.  Was there in the Adam James case?

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

wibuckeye's picture

I know a kid who is a scholarship player on the team.  He was excited when the hire was announced.  I will try and get some sense of his thoughts now.


NW Buckeye's picture

Coaching with tough love, or intimidation, is an art.  Perhaps the best at it was Vince Lombardi - a coach who could look at a player and make him crumble.  But, all of his players would walk through hell and back for him.  Heck, we had our own master in Woody.  For the most part their intimidation techniques are now old school and many of their tactics could not be employed today.  With that said, it is still possible to be the tough loving coach, it's just necessary to change the approach a little bit to make it work.  However, the real key to the success in this type of coaching is the build up after the intimidation.  From what I have read about Leach, he is lacking in this follow through.  It is as if he expects the players to lift themselves back up off the carpet after he belittles them.  Yes, there are probably those players who can do so, but in the end they will not be endeared to the coach without the proper respect offered by the coach. 
Woody was one tough SOB to play and work for.  He was very demanding.  However, he knew how to build personal relationships with the players and coaches that built a bridge of respect both ways.  I watched him many times get after a player for not performing to his abilities.  But, he always picked that player up and patted him on the back when the time was right.  That is why most of us have very fond memories of him.  Heck, we knew his weaknesses as he knew ours.  And although he was very demanding, he was also forgiving in the long run. 
It just does not sound like Leach endears himself to his players in this manner.  Johnny points out the difference in Urban's approach - still intimidating, but very much a father figure who can respect and demand respect.  We are very lucky to have him as a coach. 


Another part of this has to do with the previous coaching staff at WSU.
Former coach Paul Wulff was known as a players coach.  He protected them from the outside world, and was quick to his players defense when any outside criticism from the fans or media was directed towards them.  The culture that Wulff and his staff had in place allowed the team to become complacent and settle for mediocre.  Bill Moos, the athletic director, was tired of it and fired Wulff for that reason even though there was somewhat improvement (the aformentioned 2-10 to 4-8 seasons).
So enter Leach.  He comes in with high expectations and a brand new way of doing things.  No nonsense, no excuse attitude.  In fact, before spring ball even started this past year, Leach let go several players due to drug/alcohol realted arrests.  He wasn't having any of it.  He also has let go of other players as well for other reasons.  Now, not one has mad a fuss about it.  
Then see Wilson.
I said this in a realted Buckshots earlier.  Leach has tried everything to get the message across to Wilson that he didn't like his work ethic and attitude since Spring ball.  He has called him out in practice, the media, and recently took away his starting spot to try and get to this kid.  Wilson never changed.  He was so use to the Paul Wulff era that he never sought the need to change.  He thought he could get away with it because, hey, he was putting up All-American numbers and rewriting WSU history books as a Junior.  Why work harder and do it every play?
Wilson finally broke last week.  Walked out of a team practice and quit on his team.  His letter accusing abuse has no substance to it yet, but of course it will raise eyebrows given Leach's firing at TTU for similar accuastions.  Everyone here is behind Leach, including the athletic director, saying he has done nothing wrong.  I feel the same way.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this.  A review is suppose to be completed by WSU by the end of the week.  Plus there is the Pac-12's seperate investigation as well.

NW Buckeye's picture

Thanks for the info.  I also live in the Seattle area, but I do not follow WSU that closely.  I do know one of our past HS players who played for Wulff at EWU, and his views were exactly as you have expressed - to the point where he could not believe that WSU actually hired him. 
I can see how the change would be drastic from a player's viewpoint.  Still boggles my mind that both parties could not work it out.  I mean, there are only 2 games left for them this season.  Wilson will not be able to transfer and play next year unless he goes down a division.  Probably will declare early for NFL?

hodge's picture

I was about to say something to this effect.
OSU's players knew that last season was an aberration.  They may have had no direction--but they knew they were headed the wrong way.  Contrast this situation with the one at Washington State, where there was an instilled culture of mediocity, precipitated under the influence of a complacent player's coach.  
OSU's players received Urban Meyer--arguably the top coach in the game (if not, he's second to only Nick Saban)--a guy they watched wreck havoc upon the vaunted SEC, en route to two titles.  They were eager to buy in because he has proven results, and a track record of success.  Contrast this with Leach, a guy who had some great seasons at Texas Tech, but never won a conference title (and only one division title), and was 5-4 in bowls.  His name carries nowhere near the same weight as Urban Meyer's, and yet they're both trying to accomplish the same goals--in a tougher conference for Leach.  Of course players are going to rebel:  Hell, when Bo Schembechler took over Michigan--another situation where a hard-assed disciplinarian took over for a player's coach (Bump Elliot)--people were leaving the program every day.
But we don't live in that time anymore.  Where Tough Love was once the status quo for coaches, that's become unacceptable in today's world.  The instant-gratification news culture of Twitter, the blogosphere, and social media has led to an almost unheard-of transparency among football programs; meaning that the extreme exploits of the "old school" type coaches are no longer tolerated, which has directly contributed to the downfall of that archetype.
I'm not saying that one is better than the other.  But, what isn't debateable is that when you replace the a respected player's guy with a disciplinarian, you are brewing a recipe for disaster--especially when that replacement doesn't have the instant name-recognition (and subsequent guarantee of success) of an elite coach.  The world has changed, and--like it or not--tough love just isn't as ingrained in the consciousness of this generation as it has been for generations past.  It's not a good or bad thing, it's just reality.  And what's happening at Washington State is nothing more than a signal of a culture change.
I'll hold my verdict until I know more than a boy crying wolf, I think Storm Klein would echo that sentiment.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Great assessment - yes, in today's climate, Woody would have been fired after he tore up his first First Down marker......Wonder how long Tommy Tuberville will last after he "bitch slapped" one of his assistants on the side of the head this past weekend? Was just a love tap, but he'll get hell for it.

M Man's picture

I'm not so sure... Woody had a pretty good case that Thom Darden interfered on Dick Wakefield [the infamous down-marker play].  Replay would have helped Woody's case.  I'll take Darden's side, of course.  I always thought that a d-back who actually makes the catch (interception) had a right to do almost whatever, going for the ball.

Note Woody in the background...

hodge's picture

Didn't Darden even admit to the fact that he interfered?

M Man's picture

Not to my knowledge; I could be wrong.  But I think Darden always contended his was a good play.
Are you mixing up Darden with MSU defensive back Eddie Brown?  Brown did admit to interfering with Desmond Howard on a game-ending 2-point conversion that ruined a then-perfect season for the then #1-ranked Wolverines in 1990.  Brown was glad he got away with it, but always claimed openly that he couldn't let himself get beaten on the play and interfered to make sure Desmond couldn't make the catch.  If he got caught, too bad.

hodge's picture

No, it had to have been that play, since I recalled seeing it in the HBO special "The Rivalry".  I thought one of the players mentioned that Darden admitted that he thought he interfered.  Perhaps it was in War As They Knew It?  

Earle's picture

Not to open up old wounds, but his story reminds me a little of a certain former OSU HC...

Snarkies gonna snark. 

M Man's picture

That great outlet for Texas football, the New York Times Sunday Magazine (I am not making this up) published the best article on Mike Leach I've ever seen.  By Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball:

thatlillefty's picture

Perhaps if Mike Leach had actually played the game, he would be a better motivator. But if he can't figure that part out, then he's better suited to be an OC in the coach's box, rather than a head coach on the sidelines.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I heard they found 5 dead hookers in the locker room

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Ashtabula's picture

Leach and Meyer may say the same things about their players, but their messages are received differently because of the relationships that have created with their players.  The difference between a great teacher and an average teacher is the great teacher doesn't feel like they have to act like the smartest person in the room.  I would guess Leach has never been in a room where he didn't think/know/demand that he was the smartest guy in it.

buckeye76BHop's picture

His predecessor sure is doing a good job...

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

nickma71's picture

He scored a lot of points in the Big 12? Yeah, and?