With Pac-12 media day focused on the prospects of each team’s upcoming season, it was inevitable that the death of presumed starting quarterback Tyler Hilinski would be a topic of questions.
About six weeks ago, WSU revealed some plans for how it would honor Tyler’s memory. But this was the first time Washington State Cougars coach Mike Leach has spoken publicly on the topic:
"We want to also honor Tyler by being the best we can be."— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) July 25, 2018
Mike Leach tells @YogiRoth and @Mike_Yam how @WSUCougFB plan's to honor Tyler Hilinski. pic.twitter.com/ROL2Mj4p2t
“Well the biggest thing is we’re all proud to have had the experience to have known Tyler, and you know the way he would kind of light up the group and just a good person,” Leach said. “But then the other thing is we want to also honor Tyler by being the best that we can be. Being the best team that we can be. And I think most on our team feel this way.
“The best memory you can have of anybody that’s passed away is to make the most out of the life that you have. We all wished that we had longer with Tyler, but for what we did have, at least me, I feel lucky to have had the time I did.”
It was an eloquent response (by Leach standards) that the coach clearly had put some thought into, and it seems to me that it hits the right notes: Hilinski is gone but not forgotten, and the team is also focusing on moving forward.
During his “podium” time with the assembled media, Leach also talked in a bit more detail about the topic of mental health on his team in general. It’s a little less eloquent, which could simply be due to the vagaries of transcription vs. video — or could have something to do with the audience (reporters):
Q. How do you prepare and advise your team dealing with Tyler’s death and how did you handle that?
MIKE LEACH: Yeah, that all pretty much happened. There’s been a number of articles on it. You know, the biggest thing was as soon as it happened, we got counselors with the team. But then the other thing is just be present for everybody on the team. Then having the team itself, I think has been very helpful.
Then we all have very fond memories of Tyler. We’re proud that we had the opportunity to know him, but then also he would want us to -- we believe, anyway, or I do, that he’d want us to move on and have productive lives and elevate what we can do.
Q. Are those conversations of mental health bringing mental awareness for your team?
MIKE LEACH: Yeah, they did before, and of course they continue, yeah.
Q. After dealing with what you guys went through with Tyler this year, how important do you feel it is for athletic departments in general to really focus on the mental health of their athletes?
MIKE LEACH: I think that’s always been a part of it. You have a staff as far as team doctors and all of that, and everybody has counselors on, which is that is one thing at Washington State. We had counselors around the entire team, a huge number of counselors within an hour, so I think that was a big deal.
But I think it’s a constant emphasis, and it needs to remain that way.
Q. Have you seen it kind of become more of an issue than in previous years, or like years ago, 10, 20 years ago?
MIKE LEACH: No, not really. Not really. I mean, because, you know, I’m trying to think even like at the smaller schools I’ve been at, you know, like lower budget places, there always was a counselor that you could send guys to that were having problems. You’d try to -- and the training room tends to see it first, you know?
But there was always, every place I’ve been, a counselor or psychiatrist or somebody in town that you could, you know, send somebody to to try to get them help. Of course, from there, everybody is trying to evaluate and address the problems the best they can.
Q. Has it made you more aware of things as you watched your team throughout the summer?
MIKE LEACH: Well, you’re constantly -- you constantly look for something to improve and make things better. You constantly look at that. Then, of course, a lot of that is out of my hands; a lot of that is pretty much into the doctors’ and the experts’ and the medical team and stuff like that. With regard to my advice on how to do their business, they’re really not that interested, you know? So, yeah.