PAYSON — Pac-12 coach Mike Leach has become a national treasure as his Utah family enjoys the show. His metaphors, anecdotes and deadpan reeling in of reporters have become legend.
Without much effort, the Washington State coach is the modern-day sports world’s Mark Twain, a quote-machine, storyteller and satirist. His shtick wouldn’t be as funny if his football teams weren’t explosive and downright successful.
The week his Cougars were preparing to play Colorado, Leach gave a lengthy speech extolling the marvels of Colorado’s mascot, a massive buffalo named Ralphie. He called Ralphie a small buffalo but one that could easily drag his handlers around the stadium. In the past, Leach has spoken at length to sportswriters about alien life on other planets and the existence of Sasquatch.
Leach holds a law degree from Pepperdine University. He never played college football.
He also has a fascination with pirates and his office is filled with pirate memorabilia. He often tells his players to “swing their swords,” and teaches his teams lessons from pirate life.
Lectured Leach to his squad, “Pirates function as a team. There were a lot of castes and classes in England at the time. But, with pirates, it didn't matter if you were black, white, rich or poor. The object was to get a treasure. If the captain did a bad job, you could just overthrow him.”
When he was head coach at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders beat Texas A&M, he deadpanned, “Sometimes pirates beat soldiers.”
After his first win over New Mexico in Lubbock, he explained:
”It’s kind of like doing surgery with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel. We had pieces and parts flying everywhere. It turned out in our favor. We’ve just got to clean it up the next time around.”
Six years Mike’s younger, Tim Leach says his brother’s mind is always churning. “If you watch him being interviewed, he’s got this look on his face. He’s also thinking things through."
Tim and Mike’s parents live in Utah County. A sister, Laura Pexton, who lived in Salt Lake City, died this past year after a 17-year fight with cancer. “They were very close,” said Tim of Mike and Laura.
I first met Tim Leach in 1997 when he invited a group to his home in Payson to watch a pay-per-view Mike Tyson fight.
“That fight lasted about nine seconds,” remembers Tim. “It was a lesson to me to never purchase a Mike Tyson fight again.”
I found him funny, like his brother Mike, a genuine person who honors friendships, the opposite of an introvert. Tim owned a Payson real estate company, South Rim Realty, which he sold to his sister Lindsey. Tim now is a project manager for Cornaby, a steel fabrication company in Spanish Fork.
“Mike has always had a dry sense of humor,” said Tim. “He’s totally playing those reporters. I grew up with Mike six years his younger, and he wasn’t very funny to me back then.”
A great example of Mike Leach playing reporters is his three-minute advice to a reporter who was getting married. He warned of all the women involvedplaying keep away, concluding that afterward “things would get progressively better with some adjustments.”
“Our family tends to have that dry sense of humor, kind of sarcasm. The thing with Mike is you have to pay attention to his eyes. He’s always thinking about some angle. At the end of the day, he might be talking about some John Wayne movie, but he always relates it back to the topic, sports and a life lesson of some kind.”
Mike’s parents, Frank and Sandra, live in Payson. Mike’s son served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ogden.
Many BYU fans fantasize of having Leach return and coach BYU. That will remain a fantasy.
Growing up in Cody, Wyoming, Tim remembers how important summer jobs were to his parents. Some kids worked as busboys and Tim mowed lawns.
“Mike took on a little league team as a coach that didn’t pay anything, which was a concern for my dad,” said Tim. He remembers how serious Mike got into it. Mike broke down the art of stealing bases, got right down to the nitty-gritty, like how many seconds it took each player to run the bases, how big of a lead he could take while the pitcher made his motion.
“He just loved figuring out details like that,” said Tim.
That attention to detail, the exactness of execution and his attention to perfection in practices is what has made Washington State one of the best passing teams in the country. Just like when he was at Texas Tech.
A guy who hung around BYU football practices and a rugby player for the Cougars, Mike was fascinated by what he saw with LaVell Edwards’ teams. He later worked under Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State and Kentucky before stints at Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
The Utah Leach family is loyal, and love watching Mike and Washington State football. Tim plans an annual holiday vacation around attending WSU bowl games where his family reconnects with Mike. His son Arthur is a student assistant for the WSU football team, working with the secondary.
Here’s a taste of some Mike Leachisms:
On his first date in Provo with his future wife:
“I had just finished a rugby game, went to A&W, had a coupon book. She said, ‘What are you getting?’ She’s looking at the menu, ‘What looks good? What are you getting?’ I handed her the 2-for-1 coupon book. I said, ‘I don’t know, but here’s the menu.’ Seems to me we got some kind of bacon hamburger thing. She got a root beer freeze. I do remember that.”
On dances in high school:
“All Scandinavians feel a tiny bit self-conscious, of which I’m one. I’m supposed to be outgoing and interesting; no, I’ve always been insecure about dancing. I was when I was in high school.
“They used to have a segment of P.E. when I was in grade school. I used to get kicked out when they’d have square dancing.
“I have always felt insecure about dancing. My wife is a great dancer. But I don’t dance. I walk in place if I’m forced out there. I don’t have any religious reservation about it, and I respect people who can dance great. I don’t look like Elaine from "Seinfeld," but all I’m going to do is tread water in place and make it go away.
“It’s like in junior high. You want social interaction. Long story short, if you’re a guy, you want to meet girls and vice versa. What a horrible social event. So I’m going to burst into dance? No, I’m not.
“I was good at dodgeball. I bordered on great at dodgeball.”
Mike Leach’s Utah roots have been transplanted from Cody to Payson. He knows this country and has graduated from dodgeball to the big time once again.
Dodgeball could be seen as the Leach metaphor for doing things different with the pass — dances being the routine of what others are expected to just do.