STARKVILLE — Every newly hired football coach “wins” their first press conference.
There’s always a few prepared one-liners. Cliches are typically spouted about how tough the team is going to be or regarding the coach’s plan to return/sustain the school’s glory.
Most fans eat it all up, and coaches have the benefit of throwing said red meat to their fan bases before they’ve yet to make a baffling clock management gaffe, go for it on fourth-and-what-are-you-doing, or say something that inevitably irks a portion of the school’s supporters.
But new Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach added some wrinkles to the standard first press conference playbook during his introduction to the Starkville community Friday. In honor of the seminar he once taught on war and football at Washington State, even Leach’s biggest MSU detractors had to give his performance an A.
Leach was as quirky as his national persona advertised, calling MSU’s live mascot Jak “the dog version of a leather jacket” and “the Fonzie of Bulldogs.” He showcased his new George Sherman suit, but promised he wouldn’t be in it much. Leach was asked about competing against notable Southeastern Conference coaches, and wasn’t shy about retorting he liked playing “crummy coaches” better.
After giving a few standard answers of why he made the move to Starkville, he also acknowledged “you’re gonna be dead in 100 years anyway … You want to try to have as many experiences as you can.”
And of course, I had to ask about his comments he made last year about MSU having the worst visitor’s locker room in all of college football. There was no harm in having a little fun, especially since apparently anything goes with Leach in press conferences.
“Last night, I wanted to go down memory lane to the old visitors’ locker room, the artistry of which I truly admire … The old visitors’ locker room at Mississippi State was literally a work of art,” Leach said. “Now it’s an office. … Just the thought that went into it, the malicious intent. I counted them, and if I recall right, 37 nails in a concrete block, two toilets with no seats and no lids, and in the middle, one roll of toilet paper. The thing with football, there’s always memories. There’s stuff you remember all your life, and that’s one of them. I was slightly disappointed that the greatest visitors’ locker room of all time is no more.”
The charisma was evident and made for a very entertaining afternoon.
After he was hired, I put a few feelers out to peers in the media about what it’s like to cover Leach on a day-to-day basis. The general consensus was “he’s a quote machine, but it can be frustrating when you need him to talk about actual football-related issues.”
It was only one day, but Leach mixed a little bit of that in, too.
After he fired former MSU coach Joe Moorhead, Athletic Director John Cohen said he wanted his next coach to be a disciplinarian. Apparently, that won’t be a problem for Leach.
“If you want guys to go to class, you’ve got to make sure that not going to class becomes really inconvenient,” Leach said.
Leach also said he plans to talk with star running back Kylin Hill, who’s currently deciding between declaring for the NFL Draft or returning for his senior season. Once he was hired, it was fair to wonder where Hill would fit in Leach’s famous Air Raid offense. The new MSU coach responded by hoping Hill leads the SEC in all-purpose yards should he come back to the Bulldogs.
“In the Air Raid, one thing everyone forgets is the running back gets most of the yards and most of the touches,” Leach said. “They’re the closest to the quarterback, it’s easier to get them the ball than anybody. You can hand it to him, throw it to him or shuffle pass it to him. I feel like Forest Gump when he describes all the different kinds of shrimp. But you can do it more than one way with a running back.”
Kind words were shared about quarterback Garrett Shrader as well, and he admitted his shock over the size of most of his players’ hands.
It was only one afternoon, but Leach made quite the impression in Starkville.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.