With any story of any length, there are always going to be anecdotes or asides that just don’t make the final cut. When that story is one about Mike Leach, typically, you could write a novel -- or six -- with all the things that didn’t really fit into the arc of the story.
So, here’s one of those tales that just didn’t make the final draft of the narrative of the Mike Leach story that's on the site on Wednesday.
Leach’s staff meetings feel more like Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a come-as-you-are function with people showing up in socks or sweats or with half of their dinners (literally, inside receivers coach Dave Yost came with a mixing bowl full of salad), which isn’t surprising considering Leach is running the show.
Because so many of his staff members are guys who’ve played for him or coached with him at previous stops the conversation wavers and at times goes completely off topic. Apparently, they once debated the best college town eateries (this included Leach drawing a map of the United States on the white board and different guys going state by state as they discussed the best BBQ in one town and the best beer in another), and they also debated food chains that have the greatest discrepancy among their food. If you’re wondering, Leach believes it’s Pizza Hut, and don’t get him started on it.
However, the man who spends the most amount of time one on one with Leach is one who actually didn’t play for or coach with Leach at any of his previous stops.
During the season that Leach was out of coaching, Eric Mele, Washington State's offensive quality control assistant, was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach at Wingate University.
Out of the blue one day, he starting trying to find Leach’s Key West address on Google and somehow he stumbled across it.
“It was just, ‘Hey man, sucks you’re out of coaching. When you get back into it, I’d love to get a chance to talk to you,’” Mele remembered.
He had included his phone number but didn’t really think he’d hear from Leach.
A few weeks later Mele attended a coaches clinic at Oregon and during one of the sessions his phone rang. It was an unknown number but it read: “Lubbock, Texas.” He ran out of the session and to the hallway, waiting and hoping for a voicemail. Leach’s voicemail was brief, “Eric? Mike Leach.”
Mele called him back and Leach said that if Mele were ever in Key West, he should let Leach know and they could meet up.
“I literally just booked a trip for two weeks later and told him I’d be in Florida, that kind of thing,” Mele said.
He flew down and met up with Leach, who invited him back in a couple weeks when other coaches -- including Hal Mumme -- would be in town fishing. Again, Mele visited Key West.
When Leach was announced as Washington State’s coach in November 2011, Mele realized this was his chance to get on the staff. Without an invitation, he booked a flight to Pullman for Leach’s introductory news conference and figured he’d pull a, “Hey, I’m in Pullman too, imagine that, want to grab a beer?” Unfortunately, when Mele texted Leach the morning after the news conference, Leach informed him that he had already returned to Key West but that if Mele were going to be in Key West again, he should let Leach know.
Again, Mele said he would just happen to be there in a few days.
“My wife is at home with our three kids and I’m scraping up pennies to pay for the flight to get out here,” Mele said.
He rerouted his trip and flew to Key West.
“At that point he kind of understood I wasn’t going away,” Mele said.
A few weeks later, Leach flew Mele to Pullman and offered him the job. Mele called his wife, who was pregnant with their fourth daughter at the time. It would be a quick move and a lot of transition for their young family, not to mention he’d be taking a pay cut for the job. But, he and his wife, Melissa, knew it was the right time and the right move for their young family and his career.
“The chance to work for him,” Mele said. “You’ve gotta do it.”