Whether for his coaching, his writing or simply his personality, Mike Leach has spent the last decade in the news.
Covering Ole Miss I’ve crossed paths with him three times. The year we changed beats I lost a trip to Autzen Stadium in Oregon and gained a trip to Lubbock. Gregg Ellis was the winner there. As it turned out, though, MSU quarterback Kevin Fant made some off-field news the weekend of that Oregon game. What little down time Gregg and his wife might have had evaporated.
I enjoyed the trip to Lubbock, seeing the Texas Tech stadium with the old “Double T” scoreboard and visiting an old steakhouse with brown paneling on the walls, pictures of old Southwest Conference games and Coke in a bottle.
But I was glad Lubbock was a weekend and not a five-day NCAA baseball regional.
In the lead-up to the game visiting media, three of us, were on a conference call with Mike Leach. He talked a little football, not much, then hit some other topics. He finished up with his recommendation of restaurants in Lubbock, one of them “Flatlanders,” a bar-b-cue place with a tree in the middle of the building. “That’s OK,” he said. “It’s West Texas. You’ll be glad to see a tree.” Leach’s other advice for Flatlanders was to “get the fries.”
As the post-game set-up usually goes, it’s not possible to make the interview areas for both teams after a college game. As I was walking away from the Ole Miss postgame that day – a 400-yard passing day for Eli Manning but a two-touchdown Rebels loss – I spotted Leach walking the other way in the south end zone. He stopped a talked a few minutes.
Texas Tech returned the trip the next season. The game was closer but still an Ole Miss loss, 49-45. From there the Rebels went on a six-game win streak and a great 2003 season.
It would be six years before the paths crossed again, but the Rebels would win, beating Leach’s best team in Houston Nutt’s first Cotton Bowl.
The night before the game my wife and I were at a movie, Valkyrie, at a local theatre.
There weren’t many people at the 7:30 showing on New Year’s Eve … until Leach and most of the Texas Tech team walked in. They spread out. He sat on the row in front of us. Valkyrie, of course, was right up Leach’s alley. That wasn’t the case with the player who sat to our left and stretched out over three seats. At one point he was snoring, but mostly he played on his phone.
With Leach being at Washington State now, I suspect it will be some time before I run into him again.