‘To Coach!’ Commemorating Mike Leach’s withstanding Secret West legacy

  • Ryan McGee, ESPN Senior WriterMar 8, 2024, 08:00 AM ET Close Senior author for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com 2-time Sports Emmy winner
  • 2010, 2014 NMPA Author of the Year

KEY WEST, Fla.– I was running circles around the bar at Captain Tony’s and I was getting angrier with each lap finished. It had to be there. I knew it existed. However where the hell was it?It was Monday. Jan. 22, 2024, exactly two weeks after the College Football Playoff championship game game. My spouse and I remained in Key West. The objective of the getaway was to peaceful my college football brain amid the rum-soaked breezes of the southernmost point of the United States.But in this moment, the objective had actually changed. Since as has constantly held true whenever I am in flip-flops on the streets of the Conch Republic, all I could think about was a college football coach.Only this time was different.This was the first time I was in the land of Ernest Hemingway when I knew Mike Leach

would not be. There would be no accidental sightings as he moved by on his rusted beach cruiser. No getting up to 3 a.m. texts that check out,”Did I see you strolling down Duval tonight?”No calls from Pullman or Starkville since he understood I existed and to demand, “Listen, if you are going to stay in that hotel where you do at the end of the street then you have to get in that water and swim because that’s where Tennessee Williams swam every morning.” None of that was going to happen throughout this visit since Leach passed away Dec. 12, 2022. Now, like Hemingway, Williams, Leach’s cherished Jimmy Buffett and all the pirates and rumrunners who amazed Leach so much that he bought a home in Key West to tap into their spirits, his spirit now drifts around the island. As much a part of its environment as crucial lime and conch fritters.So yeah, I was desperate to find the area where I ‘d last seen him in a location that wasn’t a stadium or press conference podium. The corner seat at Key West’s darkest yet most colorful watering hole, the stool upon which Leach had parked himself so many times that the owners chose to paint his name atop the seat. That’s what I was trying to find, the dark-wood barstool with the golden block letters: MIKE LEACH.Editor’s Picks 2 Associated Today, as his March 9 prospective 63rd birthday approached, I have thought a lot about that January trip and that minute of anxiety, me endlessly

walking around and looking at the butts of irritated Captain Tony’s customers, hoping they might scoot over so I might see what name they were sitting on.Robert DeNiro … Dan Aykroyd …”Excuse me, ma’am, however could you move your hips so I could see if … Ok … No … Sorry … That’s Clint Eastwood.” It was 6 years ago that Leach called me while sitting at that bar.I asked him what he was consuming and he stated it was Crown Apple. Then he spent the next 15 minutes discussing to me that his answer to that question would depend upon what time of day or night it was, or perhaps the time of year.”In some cases, to mix it up, I will just consume tequila,” he said. “I like rum, however I want to make sure there’s enough left for you when you come down here since I understand you’re a rum guy. However if I am feeling particularly excellent, then I will order Brandy Alexanders.”I informed him I didn’t know what that was. He responded, “That’s because you aren’t as fancy as I am. “”Anyway … “he continued with a laugh pushed through a cough. “These guys were informing me that Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in here yesterday and I was believing,’I want to meet that guy and I know a guy who understands these NASCAR guys,’so, do you have his

number?” I did. I sent it to Leach. They satisfied up. I considered that moment in January as I kept sorting through barstools and a rather large gentleman stood up to adjust his jorts to reveal the lettering beneath his behind: DALE JR.It was at this bar atop one of those stools that Leach fell for Secret West. The story goes that in the early 1990’s, he and boss/brother/mentor/ co-creator of the Air Raid offense Hal Mumme were in South Florida on a recruiting journey for their tasks at Iowa Wesleyan, an

NAIA football program situated 1,700 miles northwest of Secret West. During their drive below Miami, rolling over the blue waters atop the Abroad Highway, they blasted Buffett to enter into the mood. Leach especially liked the tune”The Last Mango in Paris,” a biographical tune about a gambler and arms runner-turned-shrimper and business person named Anthony Tarracino. Ron Modra for The Washington Post by means of Getty Images Leach being Leach, he started researching Tarracino and discovered the former scofflaw had been chosen mayor of Secret West. Not only that, the man ran a bar simply off Duval Street, in a building that was as soon as the city morgue, where pirates were embalmed. Captain Tony’s– named for himself– was built around the Hanging Tree, an oak from which

almost 20 ne’er-do-wells took their final breaths, some buried in the ground straight underneath where the bar now sits, ideal next to the tree that still grows right through the middle of the room.”The place across the street, they declare to be where Hemingway utilized to hang out, “Leach growled to me throughout a see to see him at Washington State in 2017, describing Careless Joe’s.”However the location that became Captain Tony’s, this is where Hemingway typically was. Harry Truman went there. John Kennedy went there. So, that’s why I went there. Mumme went to sleep that night.

We had a meeting with a recruit the next early morning. But I sat there, waiting on Tony. And as soon as Hal left, a guy can be found in and took his seat. It was Tony!”Captain Tony and Coach Leach ended up being good friends. That friendship lasted till Tarracino’s death Nov. 1, 2008. The relationship made because bar extended to the guy who took over ownership from the Captain, Joe Felder. Leach and Mumme kept coming back, even as their jobs moved to Valdosta State and Kentucky, and Leach moved on to Oklahoma as an assistant coach and after that head coach

at Texas Tech. The official factor was a football camp/fundraiser for regional Secret West athletics, organized

by a school administrator called Joe Clements, who eventually ended up being Leach’s friend. It was there, on America’s southernmost football field, at Secret West High School– Go Combating Conchs!– being in metal grandstands rusted by the ocean throughout the street, that Leach and Mumme conceptualized substantial portions of the pass-happy offense that has actually gradually taken roots underneath every level football like, well, a live oak growing in the middle of a bar.”The truth is that Mike liked Secret West a lot that he found any excuse he could to come down there, even if that meant that all of us had to go down there with him,” long time Leach assistant and existing NC State unique assistant Ruffin McNeill remembered last year with a laugh.”That’s a location that has always welcomed every kind of unique character with open arms. And there’s never been a more

distinct character than Mike Leach.”Unique and imperfect. Every name on every stool, from Hemingway and JFK to Arlo Guthrie and Urban Meyer, featured flaws to choose their popularity. Leach definitely did, too. His only full-time residency in the town was in between tasks, when he was pushed out of Texas Tech amid an examination into his treatment of a player with a concussion. As he fought for his profession and track record, he soothed his mind by resting on the beach and deep sea fishing. Much like Hemingway and Williams. And just as Key West’s characters still do every day.This past January, those characters advised me of Leach, no matter where I went. At the Tipsy Rooster, as a local crooner worked his way through the Buffett brochure, a group of guys rode by on rented bikes, all using Texas Tech football jerseys. At the Key West Historic Seaport, where Leach utilized to host going to athletic directors in the area to interview him for tasks, a lady in a Washington State Cougars Tee shirts

stood up at the bar and arbitrarily toasted, “To Coach!” and we all understood who she was speaking about. Even in a Duval Street boutique called Nu Shuz, amidst shelves stocked with intense green floral ankle strap closed-toe high-heeled mules, stars-and-stripes sequined booty shorts and, in the words of the store manager,”everything anyone requires to look incredible,”there was a sequin-covered clutch bag decorated with the maroon block M logo design of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.” We have other schools, but this one stays out front since I get a great deal of requests for that one, “the supervisor discussed. “You know, the coach utilized to live here.”The manager then recalled an hourlong conversation with Leach about Secret West drag shows which they still catch themselves keeping an eye out for him, despite the fact that they know he will not be walking by again.I understood that, too. However it didn’t stop me from looking. Not at every middle-aged guy riding by on a creaky bike. Not as our tour bus went down the

street where he and his spouse Sharon used to live. Not as we drove by Key West High School headed to and from the airport. And definitely not at Captain Tony’s, where yes, I understood Mike Leach wasn’t going to be sitting on his stool at the bar, but a minimum of I could find the stool, right?

Ryan McGee/ESPN Back at the bar, my better half, tired of enjoying me run laps, asked the night manager where the seat was. “It isn’t sitting, “he stated, directing us past the bar and around the stage where, on Jan. 2, 2023, Captain Tony’s regulars watched Mississippi State’s first game after his death, a ReliaQuest Bowl win over Illinois, as they spent halftime on an open mic sharing their preferred Leach stories. We descended into the lower level and

there, in between the pool tables, he punctuated.”We had to do this due to the fact that individuals kept trying to steal it. And due to the fact that he belongs there.”Nailed to the ceiling of Captain Tony’s, at the same elevation where pirates as soon as swung dead and where their ghosts are presumed to float now, hang four barstools.PAPA HEMINGWAY … HARRY TRUMAN … JOHN F. KENNEDY … MIKE LEACH.I snapped a number of bad pictures with my phone and excused myself to strike the males’s room. There, I stopped being unfortunate and suddenly began smiling once again. There, framed over the toilet was Jimmy Buffett’s hand-scribbled lyrics to”

The Last Mango in Paris.”I decreased to Captain Tony’s to get out of the heat When I heard a voice call out to me,’Child, come have a seat’I had to browse my

memory as I looked into those eyes Our lives change like the weather, but a legend never dies.

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