By Rob Kotaska
As I watched the college bowls in winter of 2009 I wondered how anyone could send their son to Mike Leach. The folks at ESPN went out of their way to say that while Craig James was a colleague. The reporting on what transpired in Lubbock to poor Adam James was clear cut: he was punished for being hurt. The younger James was allegedly locked in a 4×10 electrical closet at Coach Leach’s direction due to his inability to practice as a result of a concussion. According to ESPN it was a clear cut case of a coach’s runaway ego.
What I knew of Coach Leach at the time was that he loved to throw the ball and had a confidence, bordering on arrogance. His antics, which were known to me largely through clips on Sportscenter, had him on the wrong side of the fence. His persona put me off. Looking back that perception was built on incomplete information, and was completely unfair.
A few days after the initial media storm I saw an interview with Coach Leach on ESPN. He claimed that his firing had nothing to do with the Adam James discipline, which he claimed did not go down as reported, but rather it was due to the University big wigs not wanting to pay a bonus due at the end of the year. It seemed to be a wild accusation to throw the discussion off of how he bullied the wrong kid. Echoes of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” echoed in my mind, really? That is the reason they went after you at this time?
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The next news cycle came, and swept the Leach-James issue out of my consciousness. I had not thought about it for quite some time when Mike Leach’s book, “Swing Your Sword” came to my attention. I ordered the book through Interlibrary Loan (Sorry Mike. If it makes paperback I will hand it out as gifts).
The memoir starts, as many do, with his roots. He moved all over due to his dad’s job as a forester, before they settled in Wyoming. Mike goes out of his way to talk about how he was always drawn to leadership and learning new things. He is my Uncle Kel, a man who reads every plaque at any historical site you might be unfortunate enough to visit with him. Trust me, it takes forever.
Mike went from undergrad at BYU, to law school, to a Sports Academy before working his way up the coaching ranks. His first job in football paid $3000 a year. From there he moved up as an Offensive Coordinator at a NAIA school, to D II in Georgia, and finally the SEC. What I found more remarkable about Mike than his own words were the quotes that others lent to his book. He is obviously a man of deep loyalties who receives that back in spades.
From the first chapter, before the incident was even addressed, I was sold that there was no way that this man locked one of his players in the conditions reported. Mike Leach is by all accounts in the book an intelligent man with boatloads of integrity.
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I am not saying that his version of events is not slanted. It would be human nature to see things from your personal certain point of view. But after reading “Swing Your Sword” I can give Coach Leach the highest recommendation I can think of: he is someone I would consider sending my son to (after meeting him face-to-face of course).
This fall in addition to my normal Orange allegiance I will be paying close attention to and rooting for the Washington State Cougars. I feel like I owe Coach Leach at least that much for thinking ill of him back in Bowl Season 2009. If you love football, memoirs, leadership, or all of the above check out this book. You will not be disappointed, unless perhaps your last name is James.