A tweet from Cloud City Sooner in response to my story on the 1999 OU coaching staff: “I bet Leach was unbelievably entertaining in that environment.”
Why yes, CCS, Mike Leach was. Leach is always entertaining, and his one year with Bob Stoops in Norman was no exception.
“Watching film with Coach Leach, instead of watching seven-on-seven tape, Leach was like, ‘All right, let’s watch Mike Stoops,’” says Patrick Fletcher, a back-up quarterback on the ’99 Sooners. “On the film you could see Mike Stoops. And when the ball was snapped, he’d go into this crazy twitching phase. He’s trying to react for the defense and he’s only moving in a three-yard radius. It looks like he’s going through some kind of convulsion. Coach Leach, instead of saying, ‘Let’s watch some film,’ he’d say, ‘Let’s watch Mike.’
“Coach Leach would pause during film session and tell us a story. He told us one where he was recruiting. And on his way to the school, he would spit in his dip cup, and he hit a bump and it got in his eyes and all over his clothes. He got to the school and he went straight to the bathroom so he could recruit this kid. He just had an awesome way about him.”
“Coach Leach had his way,” says ’99 receiver Jarrail Jackson. “In spring ball, Coach Stoops was trying to figure out what’s going on with the offense as Leach was going over it. He would come into the meetings and sit in the back. Coach would kind of watch, and as soon as he’d leave Leach would just erase the whole board and be like, ‘Aaah, we’re not gonna do that. We’re gonna do this today. We’re gonna do what we did yesterday today.’”
“The spring game in ’99, here comes Leach,” tight end Chris Hammons says. “We’re ready for this big speech. He comes out and says something to the effect of, ‘Well, we’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna kick the defense’s ass and then you guys are gonna go sit under a shade tree with your girlfriends and eat tuna fish sandwiches.’ ‘Whaaat?’ He just walks off.
“I just remember looking at Jonathan Hayes (OU’s tight end coach on that staff) and he’s dying laughing just shaking his head. He goes, ‘Awright, let’s go.’ That’s Leach for you.
“The Texas game that year, Coach Leach threw out a fake script in pregame. I was on the field right with him when he did it. He throws this thing out and we were like, ‘What are you doing, Coach?’ He says it’s a fake script. I guarantee you Texas looked at it, shuffled their defense to stop those plays and we scored in three or four plays.”
“Leach always had some stories, man,” says ’99 running back Jay Hunt. “He has an amazing way of bringing something you asked about back to the question you actually asked. You’d ask him about something and he’d get to talking about a lady who had babies in some small town in New Mexico. And he’d wrap it back up with, ‘That’s why you’ve gotta protect the football.’ You’re like, ‘That... actually makes sense.’
“‘She has eight babies and she lives in a clay home out in New Mexico and she has no other family and she has to find a way to feed these kids and find a way to make sure they don’t get cold... That’s the way you’ve gotta treat your football.’ You’re like, ‘Alright, I won’t fumble anymore.’
“You’d go in his office, most coaches have footballs or pictures of places they’ve been. His office was a collection of things he was interested in, like a Samurai soldier. His mind was extremely impressive and different than any other coach. He was quirky and different in a fun way, but very impressive.”
“Coach Leach, he was just out there,” says Matt McCoy, the Jenks safety who redshirted in ’99 as part of Stoops’ first recruiting class. “I remember it would be two-a-days in August and he would be out there drinking a cup of coffee. What is he doing? Is he crazy? Who is this guy?”
“Did I figure him out? No. I’m not sure anybody has figured ‘The Pirate’ out,” says Bobby Jack Wright, defensive ends coach in ’99. “Leach was a lot of fun to be around. A good guy and did a tremendous job of coaching.”
“Mike Leach was just a blessing,” says Matt O’Neal, OU’s center that year. “Probably the smartest football mind I ever played for. That dude was really something.”
Oh yes he was.