LOS ANGELES – For the next five months, Mike Leach expects to spend most of his time caved inside Washington State’s football operations building, glossing over practice film, refining the Cougars’ offensive playbook and hopping from one meeting room to another.
The time demands of the football season and often tireless recruiting period that follows it – not to mention the various media obligations, social events and high school camps coaches are contractually required to attend – make the offseason that much more precious for Leach.
This summer, like many of those in the past, WSU’s globe-trotting coach made the most of his time off by adding more ink to what might be the most interesting passport in college football.
Leach and good friend Michael Baumgartner, the Spokane County Treasurer who served on the Washington State senate for eight years and taught an “Insurgent Warfare & Football” course with the coach at WSU last fall, scratched their travel itch in the Middle East this summer, visiting Israel, Turkey and Jordan.
Last offseason, Leach and his wife, Sharon, sailed the Croatian coast, before the coach linked back up with Baumgartner and a group of Washington lawmakers on an excursion through Taiwan and Cambodia.
The trips, Leach assures, are “expeditions” more than they are “vacations” and create what the coach describes as a “nervous paranoia.”
“When am I going to get there again?” Leach reasons. “So working on my mind is, ‘OK, I’m not going to be here again, might not ever be here again,’ so you’re constantly pushing to see the next site, the next site, the next site, the next site and the next site. And just kind of gassing yourself when you’re there. But no, I understand you can’t see all of it, but I want to see as much of it as I can.”
Leach spoke highly of his visits to Petra, a renowned archaeological site in the Jordan desert known for its stunning carved red sandstone cliffs, and Jerusalem, the capital of Israel that’s notorious for being one of the oldest cities in the world.
“Nobody knows how old (Petra) is, but what a civilization that must have been and that whole valley with buildings carved into the cliffs and then with the elaborate water systems to keep everybody hydrated in water,” Leach said. “Jerusalem’s impressive because you don’t just have one religion or philosophy there, you’ve got a ton. So just besides the general that you expect, the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews, well then you’ve got off-shoots of all those various religions.”
Leach also paid a visit to Bethlehem, took a small cruise boat through the Bosphorus strait between Europe and Asia and sipped on coffee blocks from the Hagia Sophia mosque structure in Istanbul, Turkey.
Last summer in Cambodia, Leach did far more than derive the unconventional “Big Gulp Left” formation the Cougars used throughout the 2018 football season. He savored a trip to the famous Buddhist Temple, Angkor Wat, and was fascinated with the breadth of history the country offers – “both recent and old like Angkor Wat, but also the tragedies of the Vietnam War and Pol Pot and stuff like that.”
Leach was transported through roadways on Cambodian “tuk tuks” – motorbikes that pull two-wheeled carriages behind them.
“One of the great inventions of Cambodia,” Leach said. “… You can get just about anywhere in those suckers.
“I ought to get one,” he added after it was suggested he could use a tuk tuk for his daily commute to the football ops building. “The winter days would make it tougher. Rain’s no problem, but no, it’s cool.”
In Taiwan, the coach was guided through the ancient mountain town of Jiumen by a WSU alum and got a taste of the popular night market in Taipei.
“Taiwan is an impressive, industrial, first-level city and you see a lot of things there in Taiwan that they do quite a bit more efficiently than we do,” he said.
Leach has left his footprints all over the globe, but after pondering the question of which destination tops his list, the coach turned to Paris.
“Paris is very difficult to beat,” Leach said.
Hawaii’s a close second, but only if Leach isn’t there for recruiting purposes, which he claims “is one of the worst things ever.” And he’s had to do it a fair amount in recent years. The Cougars have signed players from the tropical islands in each of the last three recruiting classes.
Home visits in paradise aren’t as enjoyable as one might assume.
“You fly to Hawaii, fly in, look at it and it looks just spectacular,” Leach said, “and you see all the outstanding things people are doing there because it’s Hawaii. OK, but however, you’re leaving in 10 hours. So after being on a plane for five hours or more, over five hours, you’ll get your rental car, maybe go eat at the shrimp truck, maybe buy a shirt. So then you go do your home visit, you race to the airport and get on that plane and fly back.
“OK, here’s paradise, here’s what it looks like, it’s right outside your car window. Oh yeah, it would be fun to go in the ocean, it would be fun to hike up that. Yeah, screw you, you’re getting back on the plane, you’re going to sit where you started for another 5 1/2, six hours. No, it’s brutal.”
Leach would like to visit Australia in the near future or take a safari through Africa, he said, before revisiting the last question and offering another personal favorite.
“Oh, New Zealand,” he said. “New Zealand’s one of the top places I’ve ever been. Unbelievable.”