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November 28, 2021

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Rebels football:

Washington State’s Mike Leach returns to the national stage against UNLV

Former ESPN analyst Craig James played a large role in Leach’s firing at Texas Tech, his last job before taking over the Cougars

Mike Leach

Associated Press

Washington State coach Mike Leach looks at the Eastern Washington team as they warm up before their game on Sept. 8, 2012, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Leach and the Cougars play UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium on Friday at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Sports Talk

The latest UNLV football debacle

The Las Vegas Sun sports staff reflects on UNLV's 17-14 loss to Northern Arizona. How much more time does coach Bobby Hauck deserve? Could a win this week against Washington State make up for the second loss to a Football Championship Series subdivision in less than a year? Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor discuss this and more on their weekly radio show.

Mike Leach is going to coach a game on ESPN, and that alone will get a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise care about UNLV (0-2) hosting Washington State (1-1) to tune in at 6 p.m. Friday.

Leach accepted the Cougars’ head-coaching position last November, his first job since a highly publicized and controversial exit at Texas Tech in December 2009. He was at first suspended then fired after alleged inappropriate treatment of then-Red Raiders player Adam James, the little-used son of former SMU running back and then-ESPN college football analyst Craig James.

Here's a short version: Texas Tech alleged that Leach put Adam James, who had suffered a concussion the previous day at practice, in an equipment shed and left him there during practice. Leach countered that he only ordered James to get out of the light — because it can cause headaches for concussed people — and that the firing stemmed from Craig James being upset about his son’s playing time and the Texas Tech administration looking for an excuse to get rid of Leach. He was fired a day before he was reportedly due a $100,000 bonus and $1.6 million in outside-athletics guaranteed funds for the 2009 season.

“When I heard that coach Leach was coming in, I kind of didn’t know what to say,” Cougars freshman linebacker Darryl Monroe said. “I had heard a few things, but I didn’t really judge him on that.”

Despite his successful 10-year tenure at Texas Tech, including a career 84-43 record, Leach never got along with his Red Raiders bosses. He’s an outsider, one of just a handful of Division I college coaches, including UNLV’s Bobby Hauck, who didn’t play football at the collegiate level.

Leach is well known for his fascination with pirates, especially Captain Blackbeard, and his oft-repeated pregame mantra to his players, "Swing your sword," ended up being the title of the autobiography he released with then-ESPN writer Bruce Feldman in July 2011. At various times in Lubbock, Texas, Leach dished out dating advice, performed the local weather forecast and blamed a loss on his players’ “fat little girlfriends.”

You just never know what Leach will say or do. And that goes for his players, too.

“He has a crafty way of putting things together, not just from a football perspective,” Monroe said.

Leach may start by instructing his players on the fine points of blocking, and it can blend into a lesson about blocking out mental distractions he learned in a random poem. As long as he believes it relates to his players, Leach will use any piece of information from his arsenal.

Click to enlarge photo

Washington State students Jeff Honnold, center, and his friend, Shane Porcincula, left, wear pirate costumes to the introductory press conference for football coach Mike Leach, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, in Pullman, Wash.

“I don’t just throw random stuff out there,” Leach said. “We just try to do that as best we can.”

Leach’s early results in Pullman, Wash., have been about what one would expect of a first-year coach. The Cougars got knocked around 30-6 at BYU in Leach’s debut and eked out a 24-20 win against Division I-AA in-state opponent Eastern Washington. If a couple of plays went differently last Saturday, it could be UNLV at 1-1 and Washington State at 0-2. But that’s not the case. The Cougars are the ones with a weight off their shoulders that the Rebels still carry around.

“Getting the first one is always the hardest one, but it’s time to put that in the past,” leading running back Carl Winston said.

UNLV can’t put anything in its past until it pulls out a victory, and this rebuilding Washington State squad offers the Rebels’ best chance to win in the next month. The line has moved three points in the Rebels’ favor (from plus-11.5 to plus-8.5) over the past few days.

Starting quarterback Jeff Tuel left at the end of Washington State’s victory against Eastern Washington, and it’s possible the Cougars on Friday will use both he and backup Connor Holliday, whom Hauck said might be the better guy for Leach’s pass-happy system.

Despite the Cougars’ struggles, there’s always a concern about overlooking an opponent, like UNLV, that’s coming off a bad loss. Leach scoffed at the thought.

“There better not be,” he said. “We, as a team, we haven’t proven anything.”

Leach is talking as much about himself as he is the players. He didn’t get to bring his Texas Tech victories with him and pick up where he left off. He had to start over, and now Leach is continuing that new journey live on the station that used to employ the man who helped get him fired.

Must-see indeed.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at

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