PULLMAN – Back in December, when Mike Leach passed away, Washington State poured out memories and love for the former Cougars coach. Coaches, players and fans shared their favorite moments, from the way he pioneered the Air Raid offense to his insistence on a goofy personality.
Because Leach died after the football season, though, WSU never had a chance to honor him during a game. Until now.
On Saturday, when they host No. 19 Wisconsin in a primetime matchup, the Cougs will do a T-shirt giveaway to students, who will get shirts with a WSU logo on top of a pirate – a nod to Leach’s “swing your sword” mantra. Washington State coaches will also wear the shirts in some capacity. Plus, Dickert said, coaches and players will take the field with flags honoring Leach.
“I think there’ll be a lot of tributes as we go throughout the week,” Dickert said.
Dickert said he never knew Leach personally, during his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, Dickert displayed a deep understanding of Leach’s impact on WSU’s program.
“I’ve had an opportunity to talk to a bunch of coaches that have been on our staff, obviously former players that have been here,” Dickert said, “and the impact Coach (Leach) has made on their life, just listening to those stories – if people talk about me that way, when I’m done (coaching), I’ve been successful.
“No one talks about games. They talk about stories. They talk about his presence. They talk about toughness. They talk about him being hard on them, but also seeing it through. They talked about his compassion for people. They talk about his quirkiness of being late and funny things that he would give you guys (media).
“But his legacy on football, he’s touched so many people. And that term ‘Air Raid’ that I don’t really like because there’s only one man that did it – Coach Leach is very special. And what he did here, making us believe that we can win again and sticking true to his process, and doing it, we would never have this run of seven straight bowl games without what Coach Leach started here.
“Because we believed again. And this building (Cougar Football Complex) wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Coach Leach and (former athletic director) Bill Moos and the investment that they made. So to honor Coach, someone who I don’t know personally, but the impact that he’s had on so many Cougs, I’m excited about that for Saturday.”
The shirts, according to a WSU spokesman, will not be available for sale to the general public, only to coaches and players.
Limiting Leach’s impact on Washington State sports to just his accomplishments on the field would be selling him short, but just as a reminder: A two-time Pac-12 coach of the year, Leach became the first WSU coach to log 11 wins in a season. That came in 2018, with quarterback Gardner Minshew at the helm, guiding the Cougs to an Alamo Bowl win over Iowa State.
Leach, the all-time winningest coach at Texas Tech, is largely responsible for the development of the spread offense many teams run today. At WSU, he coached several quarterbacks who ran the offense spectacularly well, like Minshew, Luke Falk and Connor Halliday.
Leach coached at Washington State from 2012-2019. In January 2020, he accepted the head coaching position at Mississippi State, where he coached for two seasons.