Just outside of Mississippi State cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath’s office window, he can look out and see a pit of sand that is all too familiar to him. It’s the Leach Beach – new MSU head coach Mike Leach’s infamous tool he uses to help make and mold his teams.
“On the great side of it, it’s part of a workout and on the other side of it, it can be a punishment,” McBath said of the Leach Beach. “It can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. It’s for good and evil at the same time I guess you could say.”
McBath knows all too well about the inner workings of the Leach Beach. After all, long before he got to watch players endure it, McBath is one of the many that got shaped on it.
That’s because McBath isn’t just one of Leach’s current assistants. He’s a former Leach player – at Texas Tech from 2005 through 2008. He was recruited by Leach, then played for Leach and now, he coaches alongside Leach.
Given their history, McBath has seen more angles of the new leader of the Bulldogs than pretty much anyone. So exactly what’s it like to be around Mike Leach and play for him and work for him? What’s it like to have a relationship with this man so many on the outside see as the quirky coach with a fascination for pirates and internet memes and off-the-wall press conferences? McBath sums it up succinctly.
“It’s fun,” McBath said. “It really is. You get to be who you are. I always say when people ask me about Coach Leach that the thing that sticks out to me the most is he doesn’t try to mold you. He loves different personalities. He allows everyone to be exactly who they are and you always feel that, like you can just be who you want to be around Coach Leach. He enjoys that part. That’s what makes the team, but also that’s what makes people feel comfortable and become the best player and person they can be around him.”
McBath felt a comfort early on around Leach. Some decade and a half ago, McBath was just a prospect looking for a college home. Then came McBath’s visit with the head coach of the Red Raiders at the time and the unique experience stood out.
“I was really kind of fascinated by (Leach),” McBath recalled. “He was so different, you know? You’re on these recruiting visits and sitting in the room with these head coaches and they’re very, you know, almost too serious. Then you walk in with him and you don’t even really talk football. You’re talking life. You’re talking anything that you’re interested in or that you guys have in common. He just immediately gives you a unique perspective on it all and makes you feel at ease a little bit. Everything doesn’t have to be the end of the world every day with him. That was my first impression. I thought it was cool. Football is an intense game and all of that but sometimes, it’s more simple than we make it.”
McBath of course signed with Leach and Texas Tech and went on to have a standout playing career. In his senior year with the Red Raiders, McBath led the country with seven interceptions and earned All-Big 12 First-Team honors. He was then picked in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and spent five years in the league – two with Denver, one in Jacksonville and two in San Francisco.
When McBath’s time on the gridiron was done, he was looking for a way to coach the game. There was one man in particular he knew he could call for help. Leach was at this point the head man at Washington State, but he was still there as a voice of support for his former player.
“Once I was out of football and retired and trying to figure out what to do, I reached out to (Leach) and I said, ‘You know, I’m pretty serious about getting into coaching,’” McBath said. “I was kind of looking for advice. And he said, ‘If you’re serious about it, show me you’re serious about it.’ So I actually got the opportunity with another coach of mine that was closer to home at North Texas to come on his staff and volunteer and help. Obviously, day one, I fell in love with it. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I thought that all along, I just wanted to solidify that. I did a great job there and (Leach) called me back later and said, ‘Hey, I may have an opportunity for you, would you be interested?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely’. So I convinced my wife to sell our house and move to Pullman, Washington.”
Three years later, McBath followed Leach to Starkville. He’s now responsible for molding a young group of MSU corners and giving them a window to why Leach does things the way he does them. The ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has kept McBath from getting to spend a ton of time personally around his new players these last few months, but it certainly seems like as workouts and practices crank up in the weeks to come that McBath could be an incredibly valuable voice that can relate in so many ways to what the Bulldogs experience.
“You see these guys going through the exact same thing that you went through,” McBath said. “But it’s really cool to see the method to the madness and why it happens and why we do certain things the way we do it. And why certain things have to happen. Sometimes as a player, you don’t really understand. You know you did something wrong or this is how things are supposed to go or this is what it takes to make a championship team, but to be on the other side of it and see the way (Leach) thinks about things and why he does things a certain way really gives you a unique perspective. I wish I’d have known it earlier in my life. It would’ve made things a lot easier.”
With age and experience around Leach though, McBath now has wisdom. He can appreciate all that he’s learned through the years, understand Leach’s methods and pass all that along to the Bulldogs. And not a one of those guys can ever say McBath doesn’t get what they’re going through. Whether it's the Leach Beach or anything else, McBath knows. He knows all too well.
“I’ve still got sand coming out of my trousers,” McBath said.