Mike Leach, Michael Baumgartner tease football and war leadership course at Washington State University
Jan. 15, 2019 Updated Tue., Jan. 15, 2019 at 1:13 a.m.
Mike Leach added his name to some Washington State University students’ courseload wish lists this weekend, though it’s uncertain whether his class on guerrilla warfare and football strategy will be offered on the Palouse this spring.
The head Cougars football coach, fresh off a season where the program won the most games in its history, shared what appears to be a fully formed syllabus for the class on Twitter on Sunday evening. First hinted on social media by Leach in November, the course also would be taught by Michael Baumgartner, the former state senator and current Spokane County treasurer whose professional background includes work with the State Department on counterinsurgency efforts in the Middle East.
“The subjects will dovetail together,” said Baumgartner, confirming he’d worked with Leach on the materials shared over the weekend. “Mike is a pretty fascinating character. I’m not used to having second billing on things like this, but I think it’ll work well.”
WSU officials couldn’t confirm the status of the course in response to multiple inquiries made Monday. The spring semester started at the Pullman campus last week.
Leach shared the syllabus from his personal Twitter account, where the coach has made waves before. In June, Leach tweeted a video of selectively edited quotes featuring President Barack Obama, a tweet he later deleted amid outcry. The university estimated the incident cost them $1.6 million in future donations.
Leach, who did not respond to a text for comment Monday, noted that the course was “unconfirmed right now.” But the tweet had been “liked” more than 5,000 times as of Monday afternoon and several users were asking where they could sign up.
Baumgartner, who’s taught economics at Harvard University and lectured on counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Paris Institute of Political Studies last year, said the pair had been discussing ideas for the course during a trip to Cambodia last May. The former state senator met Leach through a mutual acquaintance at Texas Tech University, Ferhat Guven, who edited a book with the coach in 2011 called “Sports for Dorks” that attempted to bring fresh academic perspectives to football.
The WSU course would include academic study of the military strategies employed by commanders facing long odds against overwhelming adversaries, Baumgartner said, a situation Leach has faced on the football field coaching against programs full of blue-chip recruits.
“He’s not USC, or Alabama,” Baumgartner said. “The whole theory of the ‘air raid’ is how do you use space and speed to overcome conventional strength?”
Discussing football in military terms is nothing new. Baumgartner said the class, envisioned as a five-week course running from the end of March until late April, would instead focus on the application of Leach’s “air raid” spread offense that uses multiple receivers and unconventional formations to wear down traditional defenses. The required reading for the course includes modern accounts of counterinsurgency tactics, as well as Leach’s book, co-written with author Buddy Levy, on the life and tactics of Geronimo, the Native American leader who led raids against larger Mexican and American forces who forced the Apaches off their lands.
The syllabus includes breaking down game film with Leach, and a final assignment would require students to come up with recommendations for U.S. policy in Yemen, as well as designing three football plays for the Cougars contest with Houston next fall.
Baumgartner said there are still details to be worked out, including adding a current Washington State University student to serve as a teaching assistant for the course. He doesn’t know if WSU will offer course credit for the class, but said both he and Leach are interested in students who want to learn.
“Our hope would be to expose the subject matter to a broader audience, that would both be educational and a lot of fun,” Baumgartner said.
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