BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 06/20/2018

Thiel: WSU needs to let Leach know he messed up

Mike Leach used a fake video to make a reckless political controversy on Twitter. Time for the quivering Cougars bosses to let him know he’s not in charge ALL the time.

Mike Leach went off the rails on Twitter Sunday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

One of the bedrock admonitions of coach Bill Belichick’s reign with the New England Voldemorts is childishly simple: Do your job. An unsaid but understood part of that principle is being accountable in doing the job. If you mess up, own up. In the popular vernacular: Wear it.

Washington State football coach Mike Leach messed up. This time it has nothing to do with clock management or injury reports or long-winded ambles down the Diagon Alley of his mind.  He jumped into politics for no reason, and so far isn’t wearing it.

This episode isn’t about the advocacy and affection he has for his pal, Donald Trump. Leach is as entitled to speak up as a citizen supporting the president as much as NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich are entitled to criticize him.

The problem in this case is that a college football coach, unprovoked, picked a political fight on social media with the general public using a provably false premise, then failed to own up to his judgment errors of fact and conduct.

In case you missed over Father’s Day weekend, Leach ignited a brouhaha by tweeting out a four-year-old YouTube video of a speech President Obama gave to an annual conference of world business leaders in Brussels.

But the video was manipulated by propagandists to make his message the opposite of its intent. The fake video makes it seem as if Obama told his audience, “ . . . ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, but order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign . . .”

In fact, Obama’s subject (the original document is here) was how civilization has taken centuries and many wars to approach the ideals of freedom of choice, equality and the importance of a democracy:

“But those ideals have also been tested — here in Europe and around the world.  Those ideals have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power.  This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign. Often, this alternative vision roots itself in the notion that by virtue of race or faith or ethnicity, some are inherently superior to others, and that individual identity must be defined by “us” versus “them,” or that national greatness must flow not by what a people stand for, but by what they are against.”

Leach posted the propaganda video in a tweet that gave him a weak excuse to invite followers to “an open discussion” on government (ironic, because he never invites open discussion of his playcalling or use of personnel):


What he learned was that his followers spotted the fraud and called him out in a blizzard of tweets that went national, some of which were catalogued here by Deadspin. By Monday, when he apparently apparently grasped the fraud, he said in a tweet the video was “incomplete.”

Leach’s original tweet since has been deleted, but his follow-up contained no apology. Nor did the Washington State administration have the stones to admonish him. A spokesman released a statement, unsigned by the president or athletics director, that read:

“As a private citizen, Mike Leach is entitled to his personal opinions. Coach Leach’s political views do not necessarily reflect the views of Washington State University students, faculty and staff.”

That profound cop-out speaks to the degree of intimidation Leach has over his employers.

It also may be a cry for help. President Kirk Schulz and athletics director Patrick Chun may be held as hostages by Leach.

It’s the only explanation for not offering a stout response, something like this:

Mike Leach engaged in inappropriate conversations on Twitter that have resulted in a controversy that is an unwelcome distraction to the university and the football program. His use of a deliberately falsified video designed to reflect poorly on a former president, apparently in an effort to stir political debate, was disingenuous and irresponsible. Once the misleading content was exposed as false, his social media responses to readers lacked candor, contrition and accountability.

These actions, while protected under the American tradition of free speech, nevertheless reflect poorly on WSU and its football program that he has otherwise led to success and honor. Since it is important that current and future students, alumni, staffers and taxpayers understand that the university does not tolerate deception in the public arena of a political nature by its employees, the university has suspended Leach for two weeks without pay. Another violation will be met with more severe sanctions.

To those suggesting any punishment is harsh, what deterrence is there in the university’s mushy non-response?  Perhaps someone in Pullman had the guts to tell Leach privately that the tweet was the stupidest stunt he’s pulled in six years, and could directly impact recruiting. But until the administration calls him out with a public sanction for his public action, Leach will continue to make himself look recklessly foolish and his bosses seem like quivering enablers.

Besides, WSU forecasts a cumulative debt in the athletic department of $68 million by the end of fiscal year 2018. A couple weeks of not paying Leach isn’t much. But it’s a start.



  • coug73

    Leach is the Great Oz of collegiate football.

    • art thiel

      We need more Totos barking at him.

  • Effzee

    While I think he is a highly intelligent fellow, and I love his sense of humor and the way he answers questions to the media, I don’t think he’s a particularly good or caring human being.

    • art thiel

      Leach did similar things in Lubbock, where he also could not admit error or shortcoming. He’s clearly a smart man, but this seems more like a personality issue.

      • D Lee

        Leach might be “a smart man”, but he’s always been known as a doofus. It’s hard to recruit talent to WAZZU, but with one self-inflicted mistake, Leach made it even more difficult. Since Leach is the most high profile coach at WAZZU, one wonders if Leach has tainted WAZZU’s other sports when it comes to recruiting. Sadly, I think WAZZU is stuck with the doofus for years to come because WAZZU owes him too much $$$ and there aren’t enough rich alumni willing to buy out his contract out of their own pocket.

        • art thiel

          I don’t think he’s s doofus. I actually appreciate his independent thinking on some matters. But football as a part of a corrupt NCAA system has prevailed this long partly because it demands conformity among its leaders. He fights conformity in ways that put him crossways with his bosses.

  • Tian Biao

    great article, Art. you are 100% correct. The coach cannot become bigger than the institution: look no further than Penn State. WSU needs to discipline their errant child.

    I agree with Effzee, below. Leach seems intelligent, and he can be refreshingly honest. He’s a great radio interview. But this is an enormous blunder, compounded by the fact that he cannot simply apologize and admit that he made a mistake.

    • art thiel

      Leach is a great storyteller, and is cunning enough to know his eccentric behavior in a highly constipated industry will charm a lot of media and fans. Win enough games, and he inoculates himself against most pressure. WSU admins are in a tough spot.

    • rosetta_stoned

      Comparing a stupid political tweet to systematic sexual abuse actively covered up. Yeah. That’s reasonable.

      • tor5

        On the other hand, maybe spreading a malicious lie about a former president should be taken a bit more seriously than “a stupid tweet.”

      • Tian Biao

        It’s an extreme example, admittedly. But I have no doubt that Joe Paterno’s eventual dictatorship over Penn State began with similar excuse-making and enabling by the administration. It’s a slippery slope once you get started.

      • art thiel

        Whoa. You said Leach’s political tweet was stupid. You getting soft?

    • Bruce McDermott

      The premise–that he just wanted to start a “discussion”–was palpably false. He wanted to denigrate Obama, and thought he was being clever by cloaking that desire in the guise of a suggestion for debate. No better proof of this was his eventual grudging admission that the clip was “incomplete.” It was not “incomplete,” it was fraudulent, and by then he knew it. He just couldn’t bring himself to admit a) that he was gullible, or perhaps even eager, enough to fall for it, and b) that it exposed his tweet for what it was–a fake invitation meant as a smear.

      As for what Wazzu should have done about it, I have no problem with genuine political speech. But the University should have called it out as grossly negligent at best, and malicious at worst, political hackery. I thought Art’s suggested statement was pretty good.

      • art thiel

        Thanks, Bruce. Glad you pointed out the phony premise — a “discussion.” He no more wanted a discussion than he wanted his stated aspiration — “maybe we will all learn something.”

    • art thiel

      Leach and Trump share the fear of being fallibie. They will blame others to a ridiculous degree and avoid responsibility. Life would be so much easier for them, but they can’t help it.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Hey. Anybody heard how the UW Men’s and Women’s teams did at the College World Series? Can’t find anything at this particular sports site.

    • Tian Biao

      have you donated to the site yet? i think that was the response last time you posted this same message.

    • art thiel

      Nice pump fake, rosetta.

      Glad you’re still reading.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Mrs. Stoned
      I’m surprised you returned after being pantsed last week with respect to the NFL getting the goalposts moved by Drumpfh.
      In any case, IF you didn’t get the answer earlier –maybe go back and see the answer and its glorious ________ (bad language–unsuitable.)
      Try harder please.

  • Parts

    Look, I love the Pac 12, it’s the conference I give almost all of my attention to. Further, I think life in the NW is a lot more fun when WSU is winning football games. But let’s be honest here, there’s a reason this guy is at WSU and not at a higher profile, big money program. Leach’s expiration date is approaching, they won’t boot him for this, but one way or the other, he won’t be there longer than a few more seasons anyway.

    • art thiel

      Leach’s football system, the Air Raid, works at smaller schools because it doesn’t have to have five-star recruits to beat some schools who get five-star recruits. Obviously, it’s not unbeatable (see Apple Cup), but it gives smaller programs a better chance against the big boys.

      He’ll be employed forever, as long as schools put sports above integrity and the academic mission.

  • tor5

    Art’s suggestions all sound reasonable to me. Heck, he even wrote an appropriate response for WSU. What more do they need? But why would anyone apologize for spreading malicious lies? Art’s living in the past, man.

    • Centiorari

      Absolutely reasonable. Problem isn’t whether its reasonable, but whether its worth the conflict. I think we all miss the days of trusting our news sources and having people feel embarrassed by spreading false information.

      • tor5

        I struggle with this. I appreciate your hesitation in a university punishing someone for the exercise of free speech, even when it’s dumb, malicious, and untruthful. I think it’s a matter of degree. We’d probably all agree that a coach could say something that’s so far out of bounds that he or she should be fined or fired. Maybe Leach didn’t cross that line and WSU should error on the side of “free speech.” But it’s still pretty outrageous for Leach to send out a bogus video that makes a former president sound like a fascist tyrant, when a mere modicum of reason should have prevailed. So maybe he did cross that line.

        In any case, it’s ironic, isn’t it, that the current president threatens to deport pro players for exercising freedom of speech, and there’s no consequence for a college coach who promotes the lie that a prior president was a fascist?

        • art thiel

          Tor, I was thinking about that irony too. Trump’s denigration of NFL players is an obvious and overt attempt to divide and distract voters, hanging it on the thread of patriotism that is irrelevant to the discussion of social injustice.

          My guess with Leach is that he is helping promote Trump’s larger agenda of destroying the administrative state by demonizing Obama as a tool of tyranny. Otherwise why would Leach invite his followers to discuss the role of government?

          • tor5

            I really appreciate how you engage with your readers, Art. One of many reasons why you’re the best!

          • art thiel

            I bow in your general direction.

    • art thiel

      I agree that I’m pining for the days of yore, about two years ago, when the honest dissemination of facts was as accepted as getting light when you flip a switch on the wall.

      I remain convinced the trend will return, and won’t stand for less.

  • Centiorari

    I don’t know about this, we can’t have it both ways. Either we want personalities to have the freedom to express their political views and protests or we don’t. Either we give it to them and take boneheaded mistakes like linking doctored videos or we ask them to stay out of it altogether. Should he of apologized? Ya, it would be the high road to take but it is enough that he admitted the video was false after it was brought to his attention. While Leach is the highest profile person at WSU at the moment, he is not a policy maker for the University and his views should not be considered as such by even the dimmest bulbs in our society. WSU did just fine admitting this fact and should not engage in the slippery slope of penalizing their staff for what is mistaken freedom of speech and at worse a stubbornness to apologize for mistakes that most of the U.S.A. make daily. This whole thing is bigger than Leach and I don’t think the board would be serving WSU well by setting this precedent and potentially costing the University millions in legal action, not to mention the loss of investment in a football program that is funded the least in the conference and just starting to recover if the conflict escalates, which Leach has been known to do. Twitter should not be considered a press release, and has dubious value as a news source when used by non-policy makers. If you go after Leach here, in fairness, something that is important in government and state operations, you have to do the same with every visible staff member’s Twitter, Facebook, etc….for UW, WSU, CWU, EWU, and WWU. That is a mess that no one wants and this situation certainly doesn’t warrant it.

    • Centiorari

      Side note: the cumulative debt in the athletic department of $68 million by the end of fiscal year 2018 is not under Leach’s control and is the result of failing to update their facilities for decades because they didn’t have the money. At worse it could be thrown at Bill Moo’s lose regulation of resources, but the upgrades were needed nonetheless. Leach is seen as more of a solution to years of putting less money into athletics than any team in the Pac-12 they have to compete against. Its hard to spend considerably less than the competition consistently and win. Leach has done that, no small feat.

      • Al Wasser

        The part about the Bilderberg Group was yet another lie on the video….this was actually given to an international youth convention.

        • Centiorari

          Ah, good to know. Somehow, this lie seems even more fitting to the silliness of the entire video.

          • 73Coug

            This is why the retweet was so sinister, many people will still think that our former president was conspiring with a hated world order. That was Leach’s and Trumpster’s hope.

      • art thiel

        I never suggested the debt was Leach’s fault. He’s been a help by winning games and increasing revs. WSU is victim of an NCAA arms race that it is not equipped financially to win, unless they get huge donations from an alumni base that doesn’t have Jeff Bezos, etc.

        I’ve read about the Bilderberg group. The speech was in a public forum, and thus irrelevant to our discussion, as is your remark about preaching tyranny.

        • Centiorari

          I apologize for my tangent. My side note was off topic.

          • art thiel

            Accepted. Very gracious.

    • Maui4ever

      These comments by Centiorari should have been the original article. Far better written and thought out than Art’s column.

    • art thiel

      As I wrote, I have no objection to any athlete/coach expressing political views, including college coaches. But he asked followers to respond to a faulty premise, a piece of propaganda, and didn’t apologize to his followers for it or his error.

      Please don’t conflate Leach’s mistakes with free speech.

      • Centiorari

        Fair points. For the record the tread of using false information to discredit individuals who served this country honorably is sickening and what Leach did saddens me as much as it disgusts me. I think we agree upon the actions but differ on what the actions of his superiors acting in accordance with the duty of fidelity to the state should be, as well as, in all fairness what mistakes Leach has the freedom to make. Over the years it has become very clear that we never get to defend a person’s freedom of speech on actions that are pleasant or reasonable. As much as we would love to regulate a person’s manners or accountability toward a better ideal, this is much better handled as a matter of libel, if President Obama should desire, rather than employer regulation of employees. Remember that the State of Washington is the employer here and regulating independent speech by a government entity is a tricky matter with plenty of pitfalls. Maybe his contract covers this behavior but if it doesn’t WSU could really lose by interfering here.

        I love the article and the fact that you called him and the college out for these actions, I hope that articles like yours help to shape idea that more attention should be paid to what you say and its consequences. I think that is the way back from this world of propaganda and lack of accountability that we have find ourselves in. I worry that if we will go overboard and with good intentions destroy the freedoms that make us who we are as a nation.

        • art thiel

          I respect your point that we cannot deny speech rights to the unreasoned or unpleasant. It’s why I wrote that Marge Schott did not deserve to be stripped of the Reds by MLB because of her pro-Hitler remarks. It was her right as a private citizen. Moreover, she should have stayed in the spotlight, so that we all know that such thoughts still live in the culture.

          I don’t think Leach should be fired over this. But not only did he err on the illegitimate video, it was plain that the stunt was a ploy to denigrate Obama and to troll Twitter followers, independent of any relevance to WSU academics or athletics. As a state employee, he has limits on actions and behaviors. And he so far has ignored any opportunity to walk it back.

          Ironically, if he had simply written something like, “Trump gives America the best chance to right itself,” or some such, it would have inspired agreement and disagreement, but the matter would have gone no further. At least he would have been honest, not relying on a duplicitous stunt that backfired.

      • djgcrimson

        Calling for the university (the state) to punish Leach would be a violation of his First Amendment rights. False statements about the government may be protected speech.

        Please understand what free speech is before opining about it. In other words, if you want to criticize Leach for something he posted on the internet that was not factually accurate, you should not do the same thing.

  • woofer

    Leach is a niche market commodity: a talented and innovative coach with an irascible anti-social streak. He can only thrive outside the constant media spotlight of a large city — in rural outposts like Lubbock and Pullman where national coverage is sparse and the locals struggle to find and keep untainted top tier coaching talent.

    But even in such forgiving places Leach will sometimes test the limits of toleration. Even in Lubbock, where the Leach prototype, the great Bobby Knight, successfully resurrected his coaching career, the school felt compelled to cut Leach loose after he abused a player with a concussion. Alas, the victim also happened to be a rich white kid with a sports and media celebrity father. Poor choice. If it had been an anonymous black kid from the ghetto, Leach would no doubt still be happily leading the band in Lubbock.

    So that’s just the way it is in college athletics. On its merits, Art’s commentary is spot-on. But it’s also a low-risk indulgence, the luxury of a writer comfortably ensconced in liberal Seattle largely talking to supportive Husky fans. Most of them are unlikely to be greatly offended by a jab directed across the state toward the arch-rival cow college. No vast rolling wheat fields punctuated with Trump signs to be found in this part of the world.

    • art thiel

      Unsurprisingly, woofer, I beg to differ. I hear all the time from the Trump crowd, many of whom are passionate sports fans. Turns out Cougars fans live in these parts too. Your sweeping generalities don’t serve well your first points, with which I agree.

      My choice of topic is not based on who may or may not take offense. If Chris Petersen had committed the same misdeeds, I would have — after recovering from a floor-denting swoon — written with a similar point of view.

      If you don’t believe I have no Dawg in the journalistic hunt, ask some longtime Huskies fans. They think I don’t like UW, which is wrong with the same degree of obliviousness that you offered.

      • woofer

        I don’t question your sincerity or integrity but think you were unfair the WSU officials who have maintain a daily working relationship with Leach. If they were to go the route you suggested, they might as well have fired him because he would likely bolt out the door in response. So for them it was a much bigger and more significant decision than it was for you. I didn’t see any recognition of that.

        Speaking of obliviousness, part of my sweeping general gripe is that in our current mass political hysteria we are taking social media far more seriously than it merits. A tweet, no matter how outrageous or nonfactual, is simply a temporary bubble on the endless sea of electronic trivia. This isn’t Penn State covering up for sexually abusive behavior. If we are going to retain any sense of proportion, we need to stop treating every bit of fluff like it’s the end of the world.

        “A spokesman released a statement, unsigned by the president or athletics director, that read:

        ““As a private citizen, Mike Leach is entitled to his personal
        opinions. Coach Leach’s political views do not necessarily reflect the
        views of Washington State University students, faculty and staff.”

        “That profound cop-out speaks to the degree of intimidation Leach has over his employers.

        “It also may be a cry for help. President Kirk Schulz and athletics director Patrick Chun may be held as hostages by Leach.”

        Please forgive me if I also suggest that you may have the implications of this kerfuffle exactly backward. As we all know, after a few years of reasonable behavior and moderate football success in Pullman Leach was beginning to draw the attention of other programs, admittedly desperate but also higher profile than WSU. This latest outburst will likely destroy or greatly shrink the national market for Leach. That puts the WSU administration in the driver’s seat, not the coach.

        • art thiel

          I understand the awkward dance the bosses must play with the “anti-social” Leach. He’s brought them success and revenues, and is given much slack for it. At the same time, pointless public acts like this make all of their jobs harder. If a line isn’t drawn, he’ll keep testing his limits, like most adolescents.

          Regarding social media, I agree in part that it amplifies thoughts that never would have reached daylight in an earlier generation. But the tyrants of the church said the same when Gutenberg invented the press, and the same rhetoric from others accompanied the inventions of the telephone and television.

          And here you are, taking time to share your thoughts on a form of social media. You must think it worthy to jump in “the sea of electronic trivia.”

          Your point about Leach shrinking his market is probably fair, but I’m going to guess there remain dozens of schools more desperate than WSU that would love to put up with him for the W’s.

          • woofer

            It’s all just good clean fun. And since it’s your show. you surely deserve the last word. I may be a bit reckless but would never dare contradict a Pacific Lutheran grad over the tyranny of the church.

          • art thiel

            I was neither pacific nor Lutheran. But I was a Lute.

  • Husky73

    Art: I have been waiting for two days to see if you were going to address this matter. I struggle for words to describe Mike Leach–oddball…unconventional….arrogant….awkward….snarky….dismissive….ignominious…repulsive…smirking….and words that do NOT come to mind are intelligent, cunning, self-aware and clever.

    • art thiel

      Leach is doing what he was hired to do — win more than he loses, and keep it interesting. The rest of his distractions haven’t changed much. But be patient. Something akin to what happened in Lubbock will happen in Pullman. That’s how he’s wired.

      • Realist

        But that’s the thing, Art. Leech hasn’t won more than he’s lost at WSU. Overall record of 38-38, Pac-12 record of 26-28.

  • guybert

    Spot on, Art. I’m a WSU graduate and bleed crimson and gray. I’ve had it with Leach. I have no problem with coaches engaging in political speech. I have a HUGE problem with a coach sending out a doctored video of a past President with the specific intent to advance his own political agenda, then refusing to acknowledge his mistake when called on it, and eventually saying that the fact the video was doctored was “irrelevant.” Unfortunately, Leach must have compromising photographs of WSU administrators: I e-mailed Kirk Schulz and his Chief of Staff my disappointment with the University’s tepid response to Leach’s conduct and received in response simply a restatement of the press release that said that Leach’s views didn’t “necessarily reflect” the views of the University, faculty or students. No response whatsoever acknowledging that the video was doctored and that Leach refused to take responsibility for his actions. And judging from posts on a Coug fan FB site, most of the participants are just fine with this response. A winning record is nice to have, but character should count for something. I’m disappointed in my school.

    • art thiel

      Thanks, guy. Glad you understand the difference between what Leach did and the issues of free speech.

      The bosses indulge Leach because his system works to allow average athletes to succeed. WSU knows it will be hard to find equivalence, especially with the debt problem.

      • djgcrimson

        Why wouldn’t an admonishment from WSU be a violation of the First Amendment? False statements of fact may be protected.

        This is a brief summary from Wikipedia. In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. (1974), the Supreme Court decided that there is “no constitutional value in false statements of fact”.[8] However, this is not a concrete rule as the Court has struggled with how much of the “speech that matters” can be put at risk in order to punish a falsehood.[9]

        The Supreme Court has established a complex framework in determining which types of false statements are unprotected.[10] There are four such areas which the Court has been explicit about. First, false statements of fact that are said with a “sufficiently culpable mental state” can be subject to civil or criminal liability.[11] Secondly, knowingly making a false statement of fact can almost always be punished. For example, libel and slander law are permitted under this category. Third, negligently false statements of fact may lead to civil liability in some instances.[12] Additionally, some implicit statements of fact—those that may just have a “false factual connotation”—still could fall under this exception.[13][14]

        There is also a fifth category of analysis. It is possible that some completely false statements could be entirely free from punishment. The Supreme Court held in the landmark case New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) that lies about the government may be protected completely.[15] However, this category is not entirely clear, as the question of whether false historical or medical claims are protected is still disputed.

        • Seattle Ray

          His employer using WSU format has every right if in his contract it has stipulations of conduct. He cannot get fined by the government, imprisoned or lose his citizenship.

    • Realist

      “A winning record is nice to have . . . .”

      But Leech doesn’t have a winning record. At WSU, he’s 38-38. And he’s 26-28 in Pac-12 Conference games.

      • Seattle Ray

        That is a winning record for WSU a small college in Pac 12 land.

  • Realist

    I’m sure this idiocy will help Leech recruit African American athletes to play football at a school located on the front porch of the Aryan Nation’s homeland. A school where the recent president of the College Republicans chapter was one of the organizers of the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer.

    • art thiel

      My guess he’s counting on 17-year-old kids being more interested in being on the Pac-12 Networks than reading about politics that even most adults can’t understand.

  • mtblaze

    Thanks Art.

  • jksparky

    The whole situation sucks for WSU:
    If they are 68 million in debt, then Leach just disabled each viable solution.
    WSU can’t afford to buy him out, they can’t just fire him either.
    He has politicized even attending WSU. Not a good way to increase revenue.
    Advertisers will not want to associate.
    PAC 12 can, and will judge WSU. PAC 12 is not a forever conference if the 11 others want to replace your university with a more viable athletic program. Colorado State??
    …On the team, at least half don’t respect him or at minimum, will doubt him a little which can turn neutral leaning players to anti-Leach players. (Remember, UW just got rid of a very successful T&F coach because of athlete uprisin
    The fans and alumni are stuck either trying to justify by saying free speech (very true) or “he’s still right about Obama” to which the other side say “free speech still gets judged” or “how can he be correct about Obama when his example is patently false?”
    Just like kneeling players have politicized the NFL, so too has Leach at WSU.