HOOVER, Ala. • Mike Leach stepped up to the lectern – that dreaded maroon tie around his neck making him want to strangle its creator – where four hours before Nick Saban preached what Leach now tries to instill in Starkville.
In front of a sea of reporters at Wednesday’s installment of SEC Media Days, Alabama’s Saban was asked what it takes to secure longevity as a head coach in the nation’s premier football conference.
“I think that’s simple,” Saban started. “You’ve got to win.”
A quiet laugh spread through the reporters, expecting Saban to end it there with another classic one-liner.
But Saban continued, going on to discuss the pillars that build a winning program.
“You have to have culture in your organization,” Saban said, “which comes from the mindset of the people in your organization to have goals and aspirations for what they want to accomplish and what they want to do.”
Leach is no stranger to this.
At Texas Tech he built a program that won nine games on three separate occasions, won 11 games in 2008 and appeared in a bowl game each in of his 10 seasons.
It was more of the same at Washington State where after a few years of getting the program off the ground, his teams won nine, eight, nine and 11 games from 2015-2018, respectively.
The Christmas cards with his teams only made evident how his personality was rooted in the culture he created.
Creating and implementing this culture, just like the on-field product, is difficult to achieve when the majority of your first spring season is canceled and you’re limited in contact with your roster.
With a full, somewhat normal offseason heading into his second season with the Bulldogs, Leach expects more signs of his program’s progress to surface.
“It takes a period of time,” Leach said. “Over time – the stronger it gets as you steadily improve – when you get to a point where the guys in the front of the line are pretty good examples to the guys in the back of the line as far as what to do and how to do it, I think it’s pretty powerful.”
Echoing what Saban said, Leach emphasized the importance of upperclassmen setting the tone for the next wave of playmakers to keep the program’s values strong.
It’s clear within the players he brought along with him to SEC Media Days – linebacker Aaron Brule and receiver Austin Williams – that it’s slowly building.
“They’re definitely lead-by- example-type of guys on and off the field – great representatives of our team,” Leach said. “We’d really be a great team if we have every (player) like that.”
It goes beyond the players as well. It starts with the school’s administration giving Leach and the football program the proper support. It reaches to the assistant coaches and strength staff.
It’s all facets of a program just like Saban harped about, and it’s clear Leach was aware of this before without hearing Saban’s comments.
“It’s maybe the most important piece – what everybody’s trying to build as quickly as possible,” Leach said.