Leach keeps 'em entertained
IRVING, Texas -- Welcome to the portion of this job that is known as "Interviewing Mike Leach." The technical journalistic description of this is "Stealing Money."
First, there's the look. His apparel tells you the Texas Tech coach is bucking the status quo. Beneath the dark blazer is a gray Under Armour T-shirt. The khakis haven't been within a first down of an iron since the first time he wore them.
When Leach opens his mouth, he becomes the Tim Wakefield of college football coaches. His deliveries flutter in the wind, darting from here to there before they nick the corner of the plate.
For instance, there is Leach's opinion on the traffic jam at the top of the Big 12 South last December. Multiple sources at the Big 12 media days have confirmed that -- eight months of arguing and posturing in Austin and Norman to the contrary -- the Red Raiders are also South co-champions.
"The truth of the matter is," Leach said, "if we had lost to Oklahoma the second game of the season instead of the second-to-the-last game of the season, we would have gone to the [Big 12] championship game."
What does that say about the system?
Leach started to beg off the question.
"I don't know if I've got anything new to say about it, to be honest with you," Leach said.
From that humble beginning, he took off for nearly three uninterrupted minutes of pontification that included a 10-game regular season, a 64-team playoff and five self-administered dope slaps to illustrate that he is not the oddball here.
"Hey, everybody else does it this way. There ain't nothing unique about what I'm saying. I'm the mainstream. You know, this other system, that's not mainstream. The mainstream is, everybody has playoffs. It involves a lot of teams. Everybody thinks I went into a cave and carved all this out. No. I walked down the street and it was like, baseball [dope slap], softball [dope slap], basketball [dope slap], Division II [dope slap], the NFL [dope slap]."
He's right, of course. That is the way everyone else does it. Usually what Leach says makes sense. You're just never quite sure how much twinkle there is in his eye as he says it. Leach said the Big 12 should have changed the tiebreaker that left Texas and Texas Tech home last December. The league, Leach said, should base it on graduation rates ("a fair, open-minded and progressive way to do it").
"I'm gonna wear a disguise the next time I talk about this stuff," Leach said. "It is mainstream, and then it becomes un-mainstream as soon as I talk about it."
I'm gonna wear a disguise the next time I talk about this stuff. It is mainstream, and then it becomes un-mainstream as soon as I talk about it.” -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach
He is 76-39 (.661) in nine seasons in Lubbock. He's coming off an 11-2 season, and you might think Texas Tech would have spent the offseason throwing him a parade. Instead, Leach went through a very ugly, very public contract negotiation in which the university blinked.
He emerged with a salary of more than $2 million annually and no buyout clause.
"There's always bumps in the roads and ups and downs," Leach said. "In the midst of that, you just go to work every day and continue to work, and then once it all got solved, just continue to proceed without distractions."
Leach might talk about pirates, or maybe rugby; he went to Wales this offseason and watched the national team defeat England. But it's hard to imagine such a pass-happy guy would like rugby.
"Well, they pass it backward," he said. "They never really stop. It's a constant moving game. As a player, it's a great game. Football offers more to a coach. It stops. It's situational. You can adjust."
He lost one of the most prolific passers (Graham Harrell) in college football history and the best receiver (Michael Crabtree) in the nation. No one expects Texas Tech to maintain its position with Texas and Oklahoma. But Leach is on the mound, and his knuckler is dancing.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.