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Sports >  WSU football

Andre Dillard: Playing for ex-Washington State coach Mike Leach ‘a little bit like a dictatorship’

UPDATED: Sun., March 15, 2020

Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Andre Dillard during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Philadelphia, Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Matt Rourke / AP)
Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Andre Dillard during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Philadelphia, Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Matt Rourke / AP)

During the five years he spent at Washington State, Andre Dillard transformed from a three-star, 240-pound recruit whose only other offers came from Idaho, Portland State and Eastern Washington, to a 315-pound anchor on the left side of the Cougars’ offensive line, blocking for the nation’s top passing attack while soaring up NFL draft boards.

Dillard’s time in Pullman was surely productive, but the style of communication and leadership used by his former head coach, Mike Leach, apparently didn’t sit well with the former left tackle, who was selected 22nd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2019 NFL draft and started four games for the club last season.

While visiting his hometown of Woodinville, Washington, recently, Dillard spoke with Derek Johnson, who runs the website WoodinvilleSports.com, and offered a brutally honest review of Leach’s coaching style, causing a social media stir among former players, current players and WSU fans.

Leach has since moved on, replacing Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State in January, while Dillard is prepared to enter his second year in the NFL, vying for Philadelphia’s starting left tackle position with 15-year veteran Jason Peters.

“I had no idea that he would leave,” Dillard told Johnson. “He struck me as a guy who hated change. You could tell by the offense he ran. But I was really happy to hear that news because the boys back there needed a change.”

In his eight seasons at WSU, Leach went 55-47 and secured the most wins in a season in program history, leading the Cougars to an 11-2 record and a victory in the 2018 Alamo Bowl.

Some Cougar players seemed to agree with Dillard’s assessment, however, and indicated they were looking forward to playing under new head coach Nick Rolovich, whom they labeled a “players’ coach.”

When Rolovich was formally introduced as Leach’s successor, All-Pac-12 linebacker Jahad Woods told The Spokesman Review, “You can tell he’s a real players’ coach and it’s different than what we had previously,” and standout running back Max Borghi echoed those comments, saying “it was evident he’s a big players’ coach, which is huge. It’s a lot different than what we’re used to.”

Dillard, who did state his appreciation for Leach “giving me the opportunity to play there,” said the coach got results at WSU, but did so using a leadership style that wasn’t necessarily embraced by everyone in the locker room.

“Mike Leach isn’t exactly a coach that you’d like to play for,” Dillard said.“He’s just one of those guys who gets results. But the way he gets results is frowned upon by the players. He never gave off any vibe that he cared about his players on a personal level. Playing for him felt a little bit like a dictatorship.”

In response to Dillard’s criticism, some current and former players took the side of the former offensive lineman.

“Wow someone had to say it lol,” former WSU cornerback Marcus Strong tweeted.

“Facts on facts,” tweeted Woods, who’ll be a senior on the 2020 team.

“Haha boy if this ain’t the facts,” outside linebacker Willie Taylor III shared.

Other players took the opposite stance, backing Leach for the support he gave during their career while commending the coach for staying in touch after they graduated.

“Bro sound like a baby,” former cornerback Darrien Molton tweeted. “Leach been there for his players even after they graduate, he showed me love that I can’t (say) many other coaches did since I’ve graduated. He way outta line for this.”

Ex-WSU wide receiver Robert Lewis shared similar thoughts, tweeting “Sound like a crybaby to me !! Everybody has their different experience but me personal never felt this way. Leach was Solid & still is in my eyes”

In the article, Dillard noted Leach’s tendency to voice displeasure with his team through the media. The coach called the Cougars out for being “fat, dumb, happy and entitled” in the wake of a 38-13 loss at Utah last season. When WSU lost 33-20 at Cal later in the year, Leach questioned the resolve of the team’s leaders, suggesting “they’re either frauds, or they haven’t reached the group yet,” then doubled down on those comments during a weekly news conference days later.

“It personally bothered me,” Dillard told Johnson.

“What kind of coach throws his entire team under the bus when things go wrong? But he never put any blame on himself. Calling players out. Calling them fat and slow and saying he needs new players. He did that several times when I was there. It just wasn’t good leadership.”

Contrary to Dillard’s assertion, Leach often said he and WSU’s coaches needed to find a more effective way to get through to players, stating after the Utah game, “collectively, starting with me, we’ve failed to get through to them. I mean, we’ve let them evolve into a soft team.”

Dillard also cited comments made by Leach in the wake of a 2016 loss to Boise State, when the coach likened the Cougars to “a JC softball team.”

“He compared us to a junior college women’s softball team,” Dillard said. “I was like ‘Dude, you need to chill out.’ The guys were offended by that.”

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