His teams win twice as often as they lose, so we know Washington State's Mike Leach is a proven football coach. But is he a sportsman? And is killing a bear sport? Hemingway thought even fishing was rigged in favor of the fisher: he should have a hook in his mouth, too, then he and the fish attached to the same line could have a fair fight. Leach, though, is happy to have ambushed a 350-pound black bear who brought claws to a gun fight.
Pawlawski, Leach, Yogi
tweeted last month. "He has been guiding for over 15 years. Over 7 feet and over 350 lbs. [The bear, not the guide.]"
The Cougs' head coach killed the bear in the wilds of Alberta, Canada, as part of an upcoming segment for the "Outdoor Gridiron" series featuring football players and coaches hunting and fishing on the Outdoor Channel, hosted by ex-Cal Bear quarterback Mike Pawlawski.
The shoot follows the controversial killing of a huge mountain lion by California Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards at an Idaho big game ranch just down the road from Pullman. Richards, forbidden to shoot such game in his own state, was asked to resign after his "barbaric" hunt, as some called it.
No one's asking new coach Leach to resign before he even steps onto the field. But reactions seemed to range in the general area of "It takes a little man to murder a big bear!" to "Kind of a dick move."
Even WSU's biggest fan, Jim Moore, thought Leach met the bear on an unbalanced playing field.
"Explain how it should be considered some kind of cool feat," wrote the Go2Guy, "the fact that you've gunned down a bear in the wilderness. Like we're supposed to say: 'Way to go, Mike! Way to get that bear in your scope and pull the trigger!'"
What's so sporting about that? Moore asked.
If you want a fair fight, take the gun away from Leach and have him go man-to-man or man-to-bear, and let's see how that comes out. Or give the damn bear a gun so he can shoot back.
His blog readers seemed evenly divided between WSU and UW fans, as they often are. Among those he didn't convince was a fellow Coug, who commented "Way to go Mike. Next time shoot a Husky!"
A number of Leach detractors wondered why he even shot the bear, and what he did with the meat and skin. Were there any redeeming values to the hunt other than future revenues for the TV show?
Last week, we finally heard from Leach, a guest on 710 ESPN's Kevin Calabro Show co-hosted by Moore.
The hunter/coach has no bearskin trophy to show for his effort. And no, he didn't eat what he killed.
"They kept it up there," he said of the bear's remains, still in Canada. "I guess it takes about a year to do the hide and all that," and he expects to hear back about the skin at some point. But since bears are apparently more toxic when they're so "close to coming out of hibernation," he said, "I don't believe they eat them much this time of the year."
The shoot involved sitting in trees with a cameraman in a forest clearing for more than five hours, he said, indicating the hunt zone was baited with an animal carcass. For hours, Leach "didn't see anything but a woodpecker. Then he came."
The 7-foot bear was majestic as it lumbered into view. "I had no way of knowing it would be as big as it was," said an amazed Leach. He raised his gun. "It was about a 70-yard shot." And that was that.
They filmed the next two days as well, and saw bears galore. But "I already had a pretty good bear so I wasn't inclined to shoot one of these," said the coach.
Leach grew up hunting, so "Was it hard for me to pull the trigger" when his target wandered into the clearing seeking food? "No."
From what he's been hearing, most feedback has been pro-Leach and anti-bear, he thought. And even if some disagree, "I don't really care ... I value my opinion a little more than I value theirs."
He can "kinda see both sides." But it's still "a massive oversimplification to just reduce it to 'cute and cuddly' and that's the end of it."
All in all, said the coach, shooting a bear is "pretty cool." After all, they don't shoot back.