CBS College Sports Network announced Monday that it hired former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach to work as an analyst on its college football package. He will make his debut (with play by play partner Roger Twibell) for the cable network's coverage of N.C. State at Central Florida on Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. CBS College Sports Network, which airs Mountain West, Conference USA and service academy games, approached Leach's representatives a couple of months ago. The former college football coach filed a lawsuit against Texas Tech University over his firing, and the case is ongoing.
"Mike stood out as guy who was opinionated. He has a point of view on life and football, and it's something we wanted to capture in our games," said Steve Herbst, the general manager of CBS College Sports Network. "He may say a few things that will ruffle a few feathers but we are ready for that, and we welcome that kind of freshness."
Herbst said Leach will have no restrictions on talking about the Big 12 conference or Texas Tech University. "If there is news to be discussed about his particular situation, the Big 12 in general, or news about his current legal situation, he is free to talk about it and we won't shy away from it," Herbst said. "I don't see a great conflict there. Mike is a football guy at heart so everything is going to be football related. We don't have a Big 12 presence on our air but at the same time I see no issues if he is talking about that conference in general."
At a production event in New York on Tuesday afternoon, SI.com spoke with Leach about his new position.
SI.com: Why do you think you'll be good at broadcasting?Leach: Well, I guess we'll find out if I am or not. I'll leave that to [CBS]. I'm just grateful they are trusting me to go into uncharted territory.
SI.com: How will you approach the subject of the Big 12 or Texas Tech if that comes up in a broadcast?Leach: I'll just answer it. I recruited all those players and it's a good team. I felt like it was the best team I had coming back in 10 years. I think they are loaded at more positions than we had been in the past, but in fairness to those guys that I did recruit, they don't need to be overly-scrutinized by me. I need to move on and so do they.
SI.com: Can an analyst who is involved in litigation with a school be objective about a school's football team?Leach: I think they can about the team, certainly. Anything that I had going did not involve the team. There are a couple of administrators at the top who had agendas of their own, and bottom line wanted to save money to the extent where they have not even paid me for last year. So I think that's on them and not the team. When I was there I thought we had the best fans in college football and it was the most prosperous 10 years Texas Tech ever had. We won more bowl games than Texas Tech had in all the rest of their history combined. We had the highest graduation rate of any public institution in America for the last two years of any Top 25 team. I think there was a lot to be proud of for our players, our fans and our coaches who contributed to that. Those other cats, they have to slay their own dragons.
SI.com: Will the experience of being questioned by the media on a daily basis -- and of being under heavy scrutiny last year -- help you be more comfortable in your current position?
Leach: I think it helps, yeah. To some extent, the heavy media coverage on me started when I went to Oklahoma. So it's been going for over 10 years. It may differ what the questions they asked but I've been asked questions for a long time. In my press conferences I didn't do opening statements, and there wasn't any 'Coach isn't taking questions."
SI.com: How do you approach broadcasting in terms of a long-term career choice?
Leach: It's a little early to tell but the newness of this has not worn off, obviously. I've always felt like I'll go back to coaching. This offseason I had a lot of different experiences and [did] a variety of things. I even went to France for two weeks and consulted with an American football team over there. The variety of things this summer has been fulfilling. I would like to be coaching in the right situation if it's a team effort and doesn't have a bunch of mini-agendas. I want something where the school wants to win and values graduation and everybody wants to work together. I certainly have my eye on something like that.
SI.com: Have you soured on college football?
Leach: No, not at all. Even at Tech, there was a lot of great years. In the 10 years I was there, a lot of the disruption was the revolving door. Tech is a school that has both a Chancellor and a President, and in 10 years we had three chancellors and five presidents. And I got along with two chancellors and four presidents, which I think is pretty high, really.
SI.com: One of the hardest things to do for an ex-coach is to be critical of coaches and players. How will you approach that?
Leach: Well, I think there is a difference between being critical of plays and being critical of players and coaches. I'd like to think I am a good coach but I've called bad plays. I've coached bad practices. I've made bad substitution choices. I've directly contributed to losses, but likewise, I'd like to think I contributed to a lot of wins and a lot of good plays.
SI.com: Will viewers watching you this year see you as a polarizing figure?Leach: I don't analyze it that much. Most of my talking has been answering questions that have been asked. The only thing I can do is be honest and give my point of view and just see how it looks through my eyes. Whether I agree with anyone else's opinion, I really do appreciate it if it's actually their opinion. There is an awful lot of things that are not actually people's opinion. They just throw it out there to be accepted and for things to remain status quo. I think that's a waste of time. I mean, if everyone sounded like everyone else, what's the point? The only way that you get a share of life experiences is to borrow from others. But if they are not being clear and honest with you, you are not sharing anything. You are just blathering.
SI.com: Is broadcasting something you were previously interested in?Leach: It's definitely a shift. I mean, I thought about it because you see it happen a lot in sports. I wondered if I would have the opportunity or be able to do it.
SI.com: Which broadcasters have done a good job in your eyes?Leach: I'd say John Madden and I've always liked Al Michaels. Al is so precise and has the ability to loosen up, too. Seems like so many of these guys are all business and Al has a lot of dimension to him. I'm lucky here to be working with Roger Twibell. Roger has been in this capacity in a lot of different directions.
SI.com: Are you nervous, excited, apprehensive?
Leach: I guess the biggest thing is to pick up as much as I can. I have a lot of respect for the profession and that I am lucky to be here. I know people go to school and strive for an opportunity to [do something] like this. I'm very lucky and I have to develop the skills to this. I am going to have to make up for lost time as far as being prepared. I have work to do.
SI.com: You won't do any practice games. Come Sept. 11, you are going to walk into the booth. What will you do to prepare to be ready?
Leach: I have that sense that it's [being thrown into the fire]. I wish I had the answer to that question. They [his colleagues] know more about this than I do so I will trust them. But, yes, I am going to try to watch some games on the teams before this takes off. Early in the season there will always be surprises on what a team will run or do and things change from year to year and there're also new coaches. I know I will not be perfect. I'll do the best I can and then evaluate myself and try to do better.