I've always been curious about Mike Leach, but everything took on a new meaning this past week, when he was announced as the next head coach of the Washington State Cougars. I knew of Leach from his time at Texas Tech, and remember watching his high-powered offenses light up the scoreboard in Lubbock and elsewhere in the Big 12. What Leach was doing with the Red Raiders was fascinating, but only just scratched the surface.
As I've said many times this past week, what Leach's teams do on the field is exciting, but the man behind the man we'll see on the sidelines is the real story. His methods, theories behind coaching and ability to get the most out of his players are fascinating.
So Leach wrote a book, Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and Life. He teamed with CBS college football reporter Bruce Feldman, a man whose work I respect and admire immensely, to get his own story out. Part of it was to combat the torrent of negative publicity surrounding his firing at Texas Tech, but most of it is simply a window into Leach's mind.
The book itself didn't have a ton of meaning to me when it was initially released, and instead was just an intriguing story about a coach who had no real connection to Washington State and the Cougars. Reading the book again this past week, framed by Leach accepting the Washington State job, was enlightening, and painted a pretty clear picture of what to expect when he settles in Pullman.
The lawsuit against Texas Tech gets all the publicity, and it's certainly covered in Swing Your Sword. But Leach's lawsuit, and battle with the Red Raiders' administration, doesn't define him, nor does it define the book. In fact, the Adam James story, Leach's termination and the resulting legal battle plays a small role in Swing Your Sword. Instead, it's the stories of Leach's childhood, his theories on coaching and the tales of his trials and tribulations while climbing the coaching ladder that drew me in.
The book is Leach in his own words, from stories about peeing on a dog in an effort to solve a problem to tales of how he conducted his discipline at Texas Tech. There's a method to the madness, and everything stems from Leach's upbringing, his curiosity about all that surrounds him and an ability to think outside the box to solve problems.
After the jump, an excerpt from Swing Your Sword. More information, including links to buy, can be found at Diversion Books.
When I left home for BYU I wanted to reinvent myself. In high school, people
tend to get rutted into little cliques. I did. Maybe it's instinctive that people fall into
the same patterns over time. Everybody gets a little bit rutted by their routine, by
what's comfortable. Problem is, if you're doing the same old thing that everybody
else is doing, that's who you become-everybody else. What's more, you start to
become the person you think everybody expects you to be, good or bad. Those
expectations seem to weigh especially heavily on kids. They may never fully
blossom, and years later, they cringe when they think back on what could have
been, and end up resenting the people around them.
When you're young, your instincts tell you to conform to surroundings or to roll
with the expectations. It's the path of least resistance. Even if you don't like who
you are-or who others have perceived you to be-that's how you manage to
find acceptance. It's easy for you to exist that way, rather than to shake things
up. But it can be suffocating, or at the very least, stifling.
I have always encouraged my kids to go away for college because I valued my
own experiences away from my home turf. It allowed me to carve out my own
deal, to reinvent, or more specifically, to develop myself.
If you go away for a fresh start, people have no expectations- they don't know
you, so you're not bound by your past. You can build on your best qualities
without being pigeonholed by the expectations of people who may have known
you your whole life. Even though I went to one of the more conservative schools
in the country, because I struck out on my own, I found college to be amazingly
In college, I wanted to meet, know, and grow to understand a wide variety of
people. I'd ask all sorts of questions to strangers on the street just to see their
reactions. It was like a cross between an interview and an interrogation. I'd
ask them questions, which may have included what kind of music they liked,
what their favorite food was, what their love life was like. I've never viewed any
question to be too personal.
My freshman year, I wrote a folklore paper on prank phone calls. I got so into it
that I wrote up about 60 prank calls.
I would also dial up random numbers. I wouldn't say anything really offensive. I'd
start talking: "So what are you doing? What's going on?"
They'd ask, "Do I know you?"
"No. I doubt it. I just randomly dialed this number and I figured I'd introduce
myself and talk to you."
Some would get nasty or just hang up. I wanted to see how long I could keep
them on the phone. Usually, I'd end up chatting with them for a while. I had this
one lady who was in her late 20s on the phone for two hours. She'd gone to
BYU. Her husband was working on some graduate degree. She started telling
me which teachers to take in which courses. She told me all about her husband,
and we just went on and on. I'd never met her in person. I'd never even talked to
her before that conversation, nor have I since. It was a fishing expedition to see
what I could catch, born more out of curiosity than boredom. I really wanted to
broaden my horizons as much as possible.
When I returned to Cody in the summer, I felt like I came back a different person.
I was more independent. I realized that any problem I was faced with-whether
it was money-related, academic-related, or anything else-only one person is
gonna have the solution, and that was me. It was then that I realized that your
choices come down to either ducking your head and running, or stepping up and
attacking your obstacles aggressively.
My parents weren't paying for my schooling. I was determined to pay for
college so my summers were packed. I was getting about $600 a semester
in scholarship money. I had jobs painting and working at a hotel. Plus, I was
coaching baseball, which I really loved.
"When Mike played football for me, he was probably 145,
150 pounds. He wasn't a great athlete. He was a back-
up, a good team guy. But when he was 18, he actually
coached my boy's baseball team. We had a 14-year-old
all- star team and we were hosting this regional all-star
Babe Ruth tournament. We weren't very good. He ran this
shadow infield or some ghost deal to warm them up. It was
the craziest thing I've ever seen. He'd be up there at home
plate, like he was hitting a grounder to shortstop and he'd
have them turn a double play on it, only there was no ball.
They'd fake it all. Anyhow, my son was a centerfielder and
in the first inning, he had a ball hit way over his head and
took off on a dead run and he made a catch. Might've been
the only catch he made in his life. It was amazing. Course
the roof fell in a couple innings later, but he made it fun for
-John McDougall, football coach, Cody High
I always wondered what Coach McDougall thought of that whole ghost infield
deal. He was one of the most intimidating people in the entire world. He was
like 5-foot-10, 230 pounds, and had the face of vicious intensity. His dad was a
sheriff named Pee Wee McDougall. That ghost infield deal certainly wasn't his
This was the summer after my freshman year at BYU. The team I was coaching
was my little brother Tim's Babe Ruth All- Star team, who was hosting a regional
baseball tournament in Cody. There were teams from Washington, Montana,
Idaho, and Oregon. We were not very good. To be honest, we stunk. We
were in so far over our heads. The boys were totally down and I don't think
anyone besides me wanted to coach. Every other state had a higher population
than Wyoming's, and to be fair, we hadn't even earned the right to play in the
tournament (in Babe Ruth baseball if you host the tournament, you automatically
qualify). We didn't have to beat anyone to get into it: We didn't play in a district
tournament, we didn't play in the state tournament, but we're in this regional
tournament playing against tested state champions.
My friend Mike Clayton, who played baseball at BYU, told me about doing this
ghost infield once, and thinking about it I figured there was no sense in showing
how bad we were during warm-ups. Plus, I wanted to get our kids really pumped
up to play. I would stand up there with the bat and toss the invisible "ball" up
in the air, glance at it and then swat at the "ball" like I was hitting a grounder to
The kid playing third base would uncoil from his stance, take a few quick steps
to his left, scrunch down like he was fielding the ball, then pop up and throw it
over to first. And so we went around the whole infield like that, faking it. Then the
team really got into it. Instead of making the routine plays, they're making all of
these super baseball highlight plays. They're going deep into the hole and diving
for balls and laying out. Everybody on the team, in the dugout, even in the stands
loved it. They're laughing and getting all fired up. We ended up winning a game
before we got eliminated from that tournament.
Swing Your Sword is available online and in bookstores now. More information can be found here.