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Kyle Gets Contrary: Why I Don't Like Mike Leach

I believe the success of the "Kyle Gets Contrary" series is attested to by the reaction the first two installments have garnered in the blogosphere, so I am moved to go out on a limb in this third installment, in which I part company with the overwhelming majority of college football bloggers. Here goes:

I don’t like Mike Leach.

Oh, I have nothing against him personally; I’ve never met the man, so I cannot comment on his personal character. I have, however, remarked upon the character he plays on the sideline:

I know it’s sacrilege for an active participant in the college football blogosphere to say so, but I don’t particularly care for Mike Leach. I respect him as a coach, and I have no basis for disliking the man personally, but he strikes me as being like those guys in high school who tried to be weird strictly for the sake of being able to brag about how weird they were. That’s the hit I get off of Coach Leach’s public fixation with pirates and his purposeful quirkiness. I don’t mind those attributes in a sportscaster or a blogger, but I don’t particularly need to see a Division I-A head coach let his freak flag fly solely so he can make a production out of celebrating how odd he is. It’s like he’s a sports talk radio host caught in a football coach’s body.

The foregoing assessment, when initially aired last November, drew cogent retorts from fellow SB Nation bloggers Seth C of Double-T Nation and Skin Patrol of Hogs Haven, so I may have been a little rough on Coach Leach over the whole pirate thing (although, really, now is not a good time to be pro-pirate).

Accordingly, I wouldn’t mention this at all, but for the fact that Dr. Saturday recently noted Coach Leach’s latest slam against N.F.L. coaches who dare to disagree with him. Rather than voice his opinion like his mama raised him right, Coach Leach reacts to criticisms of his system and his players by being bratty, condescending, and insulting.

That doesn’t make him refreshingly forthright or amusingly quirky. It just makes him rude.

It also raises the question, "What did Mike Leach ever do that entitles him to talk this way to other coaches?" It was one thing for Steve Spurrier to say "something just happens to them at Georgia" while he was beating the Bulldogs like a bass drum or to say "you can’t spell ‘Citrus’ without U-T" when his Gators’ annual victories over the Volunteers routinely sent Tennessee to the Citrus Bowl; it might be ill-mannered, but it ain’t bragging if you can do it, and the Evil Genius did it (hence the "genius" portion of the formulation).

What in Mike Leach’s resume justifies such childish and churlish demeaning of his coaching coevals, though? Yes, I know, Lubbock was hardly a hotbed of football success prior to his arrival, but it isn’t as though he was Bill Snyder taking over Kansas State, however similar their non-conference scheduling practices may be.

Texas Tech hadn’t had a losing record in any of the seven seasons preceding Coach Leach’s arrival in Lubbock and the Red Raiders had attended five bowl games in that seven-year span. Granted, Spike Dykes’s last four Texas Tech teams lost five games apiece . . . but, then again, Mike Leach’s first four Red Raider clubs all lost at least that many.

Nine years into his tenure in Lubbock, Coach Leach has transformed Texas Tech into an offensive powerhouse, for which he deserves credit. What has he won, though, that has earned him the right to take potshots at N.F.L. coaches who dare to doubt that his players will succeed in a pro-style system?

Is it his 5-4 record in bowl games? Is it his three fourth-place finishes in the Big 12 South, or perhaps the three times his teams have tied for third place in the division? Could it be the five times his Red Raiders have finished at or below .500 in conference play, or maybe his 29-29 record in games played in venues other than Jones AT&T Stadium? Is it perhaps the fact that Mike Leach has guided his teams to the same number of conference title tilts as Lane Kiffin has?

This is not to say that Mike Leach isn’t a good coach; he is a good head coach and an outstanding offensive coordinator (although it is open to debate to what extent Hal Mumme made him rather than the other way around), and he has earned the right to smart off about Texas A&M. Still, actually winning something with your players ought to be a prerequisite to directing scathing put-downs to fellow coaches who doubt whether they would be able to win anything with your players.

I get that bloggers like him because he gives good interview. He doesn’t communicate in coachspeak. That may make him quotable, but it doesn’t make him right. It may, in fact, merely make him a slightly less puffy Eric Cartman. Ere we lavish too much praise on Mike Leach for being such a colorful character, therefore, we should recall the wise words of Crash Davis:

Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You'll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.

Mike Leach is a talented coach who has revived, and has revived interest in, Texas Tech football. For that, he is to be applauded. In principle, he even deserves our admiration for being willing to defend his players from what he considers to be unfair criticisms. There is, though, a right way and a wrong way to go about it, and Coach Leach goes about these things the wrong way. You don’t hear Mark Richt ripping N.F.L. coaches who question his quarterbacks’ abilities to succeed in the professional ranks, and Mark Richt has coached two Heisman Trophy winners, the winningest quarterback in Division I-A college football history, and a No. 1 draft pick.

If Mike Leach wins a Big 12 championship, he can mouth off to every coach in the country. Once he can claim honestly to have captured as many conference crowns as Mack Brown, he can rip into his colleagues with willful abandon and the blogosphere will think he’s colorful. Until he improves upon his 2-7 records against both Oklahoma and Texas, however, Mike Leach’s sophomoric tantrums just mean he’s all mouth.

Go ‘Dawgs!