From the moment I stepped foot inside Seattle’s iconic Fairmont Hotel for Mike Leach’s second press conference of the day, it was clear that WSU had moved to a new level. This was not a hastily slapped-together event put on by some small-town school from across the state, but soiree orchestrated by a university that is positioned to take a massive leap in to the forefront of Pac-12 football.
I stumbled in right on time, but was clearly the last to arrive. The invited alumni were all ready settled in. I don’t know what I was expecting – perhaps a somewhat excited gathering of a handful of alums but a mostly business-like press conference with the normal contingent of slightly-interested media. Instead, the beautiful “Garden Room” of the hotel was well-decorated with crimson and gray everything, and completely packed. A large group of alumni, fans and former players bounced around the room with expressions of pure joy. It was less a press conference and more of a cocktail party – an official west side Cougar welcome to the new coach. Enthusiastic hand shakes and wide smiles were the theme of the night. It was clear that everyone was feeling what I had felt earlier in the day when watching the first press conference: “I can’t believe this is actually happening.”
This is the buzz, or as Bill Moos calls it, the “sizzle.” A palpable excitement that surges through a fan base. When Moos announced that he was going a different direction with the program, he knew all too well that scenes like this were long gone. Without a doubt, the sizzle is now in place, but as he’s said time and again, now we need the “steak.”
The “steak” entered the room moments later. Mike Leach made his way toward the podium in relative quiet, until one member of the crowd saw the coach and let out a “whoop,” which was followed by a turning of heads and an eruption of applause. Leach didn’t smile, instead, he carried a quiet confidence about him as he walked up the steps of the stage.
Leach sat down and uncomfortably listened to the opening comments from school officials who sang his praises. When he took the stage, he appeared to be perfectly in his element, speaking conversationally about the school, the history and the hiring process. He may have been addressing a large group, but appeared as comfortable as he would if he were speaking one on one.
“The process to me was impressive. You’ve got college football and sports and everything else that’s wrapped up in bureaucracy, and there wasn’t any bureaucracy with this. It was straight, it was direct, it was to the point, it’s how the west is. I grew up in Cody, Wyoming and that’s how Cody, Wyoming is and I felt at home immediately.”
He didn’t look surprised or overwhelmed. He didn’t seem to feel like he had to impress anyone. His answers were carefully thought-out, although a bit choppy in their delivery. He didn’t rock any boats, didn’t cheer lead, and certainly didn’t try to elicit response. He was funny and genuine, but seemed to be ready to put this day behind him and get on to coaching football.
He answered questions vaguely, but wasn’t dismissive. It was clear that he had a plan and no one would be privy to it until he was ready. At one point, he was asked about if he had a short list for defensive coordinator, to which he answered:
“Yeah, and virtually the last thing in the world I would do is share that with you. Because if you look carefully at all the new coaches and the coaches openings, I certainly don’t want to limit my field or any competitive advantage that may exist as far as me getting the best one.”
Between that, and his answers regarding recruiting, it was clear that the coach may have been “off” for the past two years, but he certainly has been paying attention just in case he was hired again. If you’ve seen the pictures of Leach from Texas Tech, this was hardly the same man. He looked refreshed, revitalized and ready to take on a new challenge. It was obvious that this was a man with a plan.
When the press conference ended and the party got underway, the crowd continued to bask in the glorious moment. Leach addressed some questions from reporters and shook more hands in the crowd.
On the night, after everyone got a glimpse of their new coach, they left even more excited than when they arrived, and all had the same question swirling in their minds: “Can the season start today?”
Welcome to the Cougar family Mike Leach, and Go Cougs!