If you watched the greatest show in television history, “Friday Night Lights,” you surely remember Washington State head coach Mike Leach’s cameo in which he gave an epic pep talk to the king of motivational speeches, Eric Taylor, after the coach forfeited his first game of the season at halftime.
“You’ve lost your inner pirate,” Leach tells coach Taylor at a random gas station. “You ever heard ‘swing your sword’? You’re supposed to swing your sword like this, you’re swinging your sword like this. I mean, you’ve gotta find your inner pirate. A lot of times things just happen for a reason. We don’t know why God wants it that way. But you can’t make the best out of it until you find your inner pirate. You might be the luckiest man alive — and not even know it.”
I didn’t understand a word Leach said and still don’t, but it sure sounded good.
Well Leach’s first game of the 2016 season wasn’t much better than Taylor’s. For the second year in a row, Leach lost to an FCS team as the Cougars fell to Eastern Washington, 45-42.
Afterward, Leach gave canned lines about how good Eastern Washington is, Washington State needing to execute better and how “there were times, in spurts, where we did some really good things.”
Huh? Where was the Mike Leach we all knew and loved for telling it like it is, political correctness be damned?
After Wazzu fell behind Boise State 17-7 at the half the following week, I openly wondered if Leach had lost his inner buccaneer. Well wherever he went, Leach found him after Wazzu’s comeback against Boise fell short in a 31-28 loss to drop the Cougars to 0-2.
“We have the atmosphere of a JC softball game. I mean, that’s what we are — a JC softball team. As long — it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s like the team that wins is the one that has the most fun. Crap like that. All that stuff that’s contaminated America where they give every kid a trophy, and they don’t keep score in little league anymore. I think that entire thing is retarding the competitive spirit of America.
"I've got receivers running routes that don't even resemble anything we teach. We don't tuck the ball and go straight upfield, we do all these stupid moves. We run out of bounds more than any team in the country. We're the easiest team in the country to tackle. Defensively, we don't run our feet on contact. We don't on offense either. We don't like to run and hit, and this is a game for running and hitting."
Jeez coach, tell us how you really feel.
As it turns out, Leach’s saber-rattling was exactly what this team needed, as Wazzu has swung its sword to six straight wins with increased emphasis on running (combined 381 yards and eight TDs rushing vs. Oregon and Stanford), hitting (61 rushing yards allowed vs. the Cardinal) and a new refuse-to-lose mentality (erased 24-6 halftime deficit to beat Oregon State on Saturday).
Now the Cougars find themselves ranked No. 25 in the country with two very winnable home games against Arizona and Cal before playing at No. 21 Colorado and hosting No. 4 Washington in the Apple Cup with a chance to play in just the fourth Rose Bowl in school history.
And there would be no more fitting end to this miraculous turnaround than Leach and his band of outlaws sailing into the Santa Monica Pier on New Year’s Day to end this season in The Granddaddy of Them All.
— Written by Jim Weber, a veteran college sports journalist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Weber has written for CBS Sports Network, NBCSports.com, ESPN the Magazine and the college sports website he founded and sold, LostLettermen.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.