Tom Lubnau: The Day A Camel Met A Bronc Who Went On To Become The Pirate

Columnist Tom Lubnau writes, "On a rainy Friday night in 1976, the Gillette Camels met the Cody Broncs on the football field. On the Bronc sidelines was a sophomore linebacker named Mike Leach who went on to become one of the greatest football coaches in history."

Tom Lubnau

May 16, 20245 min read

Mike leach 5 15 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

On a rainy Friday night in 1976, the Gillette Camels met the Cody Broncs on the football field. The Broncs won that game, and went on to beat Laramie in the State Championship in triple overtime 41 to 40.  

On the Camel sidelines was a tackle who went on to become a successful corporate executive.

On the Bronc sidelines was a sophomore linebacker named Mike Leach. Leach went on to become one of the greatest football coaches in modern football history.

After finishing his senior season with the Broncs, Leach went on the BYU. Leach had developed a passion for learning, and he followed his interests wherever they led him.  

An ankle injury kept him from playing college football, but he worked his way into film reviews with the BYU football team with coach LaVelle Edwards and football greats like Steve Young, Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon. 

From college, Leach went to Pepperdine to get a degree in law in 1986, and then a Masters of Sports Science from the United States Sports Academy in 1988.

While at Iowa Wesleyan University, Valdosta State and Kentucky, Leach teamed up with Hal Mumme, his head coach, to develop the “air raid” offense. 

In 2000, Leach was hired by Texas Tech where he led the Red Raiders to a 127 – 84 record, and became the winningest postseason coach in Red Raiders history. 

In 2012, he signed as a coach for Washington State.   When he signed, the Cougars record was 3 – 9.   He turned the program around and in his 8 years there, posted a record of 102 – 55, and 2 – 4 in bowl games.  

In 2020, Leach left Washington State for Mississippi State, where he coached until his death in 2022.   He led the Bulldogs to a 36 – 19 record and 1 – 1 in postseason play.

His overall head coaching record was 265 – 158.  In a business where half the teams lose all the time, the record is impressive.

The best thing about following Mike Leach’s career was his unbridled post-game interviews.  Leach pontificated on advice to newlyweds, pirates, the Chicago Cubs, pizza crust and Halloween Candy, where he said:

“"I think candy corn is awful. You know, it's like fruitcake. There's a reason they serve fruitcake once a year, because it's awful. There's a reason they only serve mint julips once a year, because they're awful. And there's a reason they only serve candy corn once a year, because it's awful. Now that does beg the question why they serve it at all, but, anyway, that's my opinion."

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Leach was a lifelong learner, and would deeply research his interests.  He published several books.  He became known as “The Pirate” because of his deep interest in eighteenth century pirates.   Leach used pirates in his pep talks and told this players before games to “swing their swords”. 

In and ESPN interview with Mark Schlabach, Leach was quoted as saying:

“Pirates function as a team. There were a lot of castes and classes in England at the time. But with pirates, it didn't matter if you were black, white, rich or poor. The object was to get a treasure. If the captain did a bad job, you could just overthrow him.”

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Leach also studied great leaders like Daniel Boone and Geronimo as well as a person born in Park County, Wyoming, artist Jackson Pollock.   Leach was always on a quest for knowledge and greatness. 

About forty years after that soggy Cody football game, Leach was in Bellevue, Washington signing his new book, Geronimo, Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior. A lifelong learner, he wrote this book with a Washington State history professor, Buddy Levy. 

A line of Washington State Cougar fans  snaked through the bookstore in anticipation of getting the Pirate’s autograph.  A Camel tackle, from that 1976 football game, did not buy a book.  He had something better for him to sign. 

When it was Jeff Shober’s turn, he looked at the Pirate in the eyes, and said, “Coach, I didn’t buy your book, but I’ll let you sign this [program from that 1976 game] if you can tell me how much the Sophomore Linebacker from Cody weighed in this program.”

Leach’s guess of 165 was 20 pounds heavier than his 145 at the time.

Leach signed the program, reminisced about the wet football game in 1976 and boasted about that state championship game against Laramie. The Camel tackle and the Pirate had a nice chat about football and growing up in Wyoming.

Mike Leach was a great man who is missed. Sword swung well.

Tom Lubnau served in the Wyoming Legislature from 2005 - 2015 and is a former Speaker of the House.

He can be reached at:

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Tom Lubnau