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

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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.

LasVegasSun.com Sports Talk

The latest UNLV football debacle

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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 twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. UNLV should have hired this guy. He's brilliant.

  2. Brillant?

    Sounds like a powder keg ready to explode to me.

  3. UNLV could not afford Leach. WSU is paying him $2.2M per year although he has conditions and performance goal he must meet he has to win at least 6 games this year. Hauck has 4 wins in three years. Hauck has cannot even with against NAU, Southern Utah, and New Mexico. NAU and Southern Utah are in the bottom half of the Big Sky Conference. UNLV would have a challenge to Win four games in the Big Sky Conference with Hauck as a coach. When is the President going to do something. This weekend will be another embarassment how many more beating are we going to take with Hauck as the coach. The President needs some balls and he needs to address the AD and Hauck immediately either you Win or your gone.

  4. hey taylor plz point out to us one more time the salary of our coach or the ones were going against.. you seem to really want to have people settle in to we dont have the money to pay a coach so we have to suck. Hauck will nearly make 800 grand this year, which is peanuts to the big boys but, guys like boise st's chris petersen didnt just walk into boise st making 2 mil a year. in 2007 he was making 800k a year (sound familiar). hauck is a joke the talent is not there o but we have improved right?? sanfords last two seasons were 5 wins seasons atleast so where the improvment?? sorry i have to call a student athlete out but sidney hodge is complete garbage. what other team in the country would even see the field let alone have a full scholarship and its sad that i refeshed the suns website multiples monday hoping he would be gone...

  5. TDUNLV... At least the loss to Washington State won't be as embarrassing as your comment is. I think it's about time to go back to grammar school.

  6. Sandiegorebel you are the one that's "complete garbage". Sidney Hodge is pretty much the best DB we even have on this team. He made a bad penalty and now he is complete garbage? If you're calling out one player when the whole team has made stupid mistakes that cost us the last two games, then you don't know football. You don't throw one player under the bus for one bad play.

  7. call down steven if i called out a basketball player such as anthony marshal know body would say anything. he should not even be near the ball on kick off or punts sorry you have so much pity on them

  8. Heretic, wear a cup? Good one! By the way, make sure you pack an extra pair of panties for your self for your trip. You said yesterday you were going to the game and now you are saying you can't take it anymore? Now that's what I call support!

    As for Leach, can we just get past this? There was absolutely no chance of us getting him for coach. He is in a different league in terms of salary. The only way we could possibly get him was to have enormous booster and fan support to help pay for him. Of course we all know about that don't we?

  9. Can't wait for the game tomorrow. Go Leach, Go Cougs go!

  10. pdid- thanks for reading and checking my grammar. I appreciate your comments.

    The embarassement will be WSU will score at least 40pts. I don't think our UNLV offensive under Bobby's Watch will generate more than 21pts. The bottom line is the President of UNLV needs to step up and address the Poor Performance. There was a reason why U of A fired our current AD. Providing Bobby more time will just add more gasoline to the fire! Everyone I talk with regarding UNLV football are extremely disappointed with the performance.

    From my perspective I think the UNLV President is clearly showing a lack of respect to the Fans and this community by not communicating with the tax-payers etc.

    Another questionable leader at UNLV.. When is the media going to push the issues and ask the President to step up and take a position. After Friday nights game more gas will be added to this out of control fire. They only way to stop the Fire is to FIRE Bobby and Jimmy.

    If the President of UNLV cannot feel the heat then we should demand a leadership change at his level as well.

  11. Yeh, I figured you had to work. Had to get back at you for the "cup" remark. Can you put something in Ault's coffee before you head back?