Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Say this for Mike Leach -- he gets people interested. I hadn't planned to write much about the Football Pirate, since it has been so clear from the beginning that Minnesota had no plans to consider him.
But with the Gophers' search dragging on, and no coach emerging publicly as the primary target, it seemed worthwhile to explore what makes this guy so popular with fans, and why, when Joel Maturi said he was looking for someone the fan base could get excited about, the former Texas Tech coach wasn't a candidate. I didn't expect Leach to be so definitive about his interest in the Gophers' job, so that made the story even better.
And what a response. Thanks for all the emails, the most I've received about any topic but Tim Brewster's firing. I appreciate the overwhelming feedback, and I'd like to point out once more: I'm not doing the hiring. Some of you make Leach's case very eloquently (and some, eh, a little more crudely), and I enjoyed reading them. But I'm not the person you need to convince.
Anyway, while Leach has a reputation for being an occasionally difficult personality and someone who doesn't always deal well with his superiors, I can say, he's an engaging and entertaining interview. As we discussed whether he had left Minnesota's Insight Bowl delegation with an unprofessional impression, he had me laughing with his denials. (Example: Is it possible they felt you were out late the night before a joint appearance? "Yes, I was -- I was out with them! They were out, too!")
He had given some thought to Minnesota, or at least knows of the challenges it faces, but was adamant that the program isn't hopeless. He pointed out more than once that Wisconsin and Iowa were once considered dormant programs.
And he clearly enjoys his connection to pirates, which he says happened innocently. He had studied pirates during on off-season and gave a speech to his team about it. "Pretty good speech," he said. A reporter, Michael Lewis of The New York Times (yes, the famous author), happened to be there working on a profile of the coach, and the publicity -- not to mention his swashbuckling style -- forever made Leach an honorary pirate.
"I've gotten all kinds of pirate gear since then. People send me stuff," said Leach, who owns a law degree, by the way. "I've got hats, swords, flags, skeletons, books -- it was all very positive. Fans all rallied around it."
No, I don't think he has a chance of being hired, not here. Maturi and university president Robert Bruininks are more aware than any of us about Leach's history, some of the loose-cannon things he says, and they're not interested. But I don't blame fans for salivating at the thought of watching the Air Raid offense in TCF Bank Stadium.
By the way, Lewis' story, which appeared in the Times' magazine in 2005, is online, and as you might imagine, it's a great read. Click here to find it, and enjoy your daydream, Gopher fans.
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