Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior breaks the mold of leadership books written by football coaches. Rather than telling about inspirational victories on the gridiron, Mike Leach and Buddy Levy glean on the life of the iconic Apache chief to show that principles of leadership transcend time and culture. Reading ‘Geronimo' as a Coug fan made the book interesting to me on another level as I compared how Leach has imitated his childhood hero from the Wild West while coaching on the Palouse.
The biggest thing that has stuck out to me about Mike Leach's leadership is the confidence he has in what he is doing. Throughout 'Geronimo,' Leach stresses the importance of believing in one's own abilities to rise above his or her competitor. Since arriving in Pullman, Leach has maintained his confidence when others have wavered in theirs. For ninth months, Leach honeymooned as the undefeated new head coach of the Washington State Cougars. The lovefest was pretty intense with large crowds at booster events, new donations coming in, and increased ticket sales. Hiring a high profile coach was a beacon of hope for weary WSU fans after eight years of postseason futility. Leach's first season, 2012, never really got off the ground to come anywhere close to the immediate expectations of fans. As doubts rapidly emerged from the outside, Leach stood straight-faced without caving to the questioning of his methods. Leach's self-confidence and excuse-free style that emphasizes constant improvement built a new culture around the WSU football program.
When a person makes few excuses for their shortcomings, there is little to say in defeat. Leach constantly raves about Geronimo's stoic nature after lost battles throughout the book. On a few occasions, Leach has employed this type of stoicism as coach of the Cougars. The upset loss to a hapless Colorado team on an overcast September afternoon in Pullman was Leach's first real display of stoicism. With the Cougs' best chance for a conference win squandered, Leach handled the loss without panicking or making excuses. He knew where the program was at and only looked ahead. Even after the devastating loss to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl where his decision-making was called into question, Leach stood on the bigger picture of having the team make it that far and where the program had come from since the day he took charge. As all leaders, Geronimo was fallible, and his failures are documented in the book. However, Geronimo had a quiet way of absorbing defeat that Leach seems to admire and practice as head coach.
Victories have been the norm over Leach's tenure as a head coach. He will enter the 2014 campaign with a career record of 93-59 (.611). Leach has gained a reputation for not taking his foot off the accelerator at any point in the game. By not complying with the ‘unspoken rules' of when to let up, coaches have voiced the displeasure both directly and indirectly towards Leach. This ‘fight to the end' style is very similar to Geronimo's. Leach praises Geronimo for the decisiveness of his victories.
In the words of Leach, all of Geronimo's attributes equated to ‘greatness' and ‘excellence.' As with great football players, part of Geronimo's greatness springs from genetically endowed talents that made him swift and deadly with a bow and arrow at a young age. Leach recognizes Geronimo's innate ability, but spends more time on the rigorous Apache training process through which the chief became a warrior. Preparation is a coach's obsession. Where many books lead the reader from scene to scene, Leach puts a real coach's touch on ‘Geronimo' by spending a lot of time discussing the ingenuity and processes that allowed the Chiricahua, Geronimo's group of Apache, to survive. The ingenuity of Mike Leach's Air Raid offense has made him a respected coaching icon on the national level. That ingenuity is instilled into players through the constant repetition of running through plays over and over.
The analogies between a great chief and warrior and a college football coach in a major conference are many, but they are also limited. When coaches survive in their profession, they reap large economic and status rewards. Geronimo's endurance was rewarded by the ability to make it to the next battle for survival. Regardless, both the battlefields of the Wild West and the coaching profession have high attrition rates. In the end, perseverance is what shapes the legacy in both professions.
Survival meant that Geronimo was always coming across new foes. As Leach extracts lessons from encounters Geronimo had with different enemies, one starts to wonder which specific individuals he has in mind. Perhaps, he was thinking of the Texas Tech administration in instances where Geronimo had to learn the hard way about who to trust. Some enemies earned Geronimo's respect. For example, there was General George Cook, who Leach describes as the "greatest Indian fighter ever produced by the U.S. army." Which college coaches Leach would put on Cook's level? Opponents like Cook are prime examples to Leach of why it is important to know one's enemies thoroughly. As the Pac-12 continues to gain the reputation as a "coaching conference," Leach is likely to acquire a familiarity with his opponents that will make the Cougs a dangerous team on any given week.
There was a legacy aspect of Geronimo's life that even in the end where he could fight no more, he was paraded as a hero among the white men that battled him for decades. Leach has already built a significant legacy. Even after his forced departure from Texas Tech, Leach became a commodity on talk shows and television broadcasts. At the age of 53, he is in a place where he can continue to coach for a long time to come. Geronimo didn't build a legacy by the advantage of size; he built a legacy by fighting his way out of challenging circumstances. One of my favorite lessons stated in ‘Geronimo' is "Fight with a mountain at your back. Know your position relative to your opponent." Pullman is a place that Leach will have to adopt unique strategies and ways to gain the advantage on high level competition. Holding himself to the standard of his childhood hero, Leach will attempt to establish a legacy of finding an advantage in a place where few see one.