Mike Leach and the Surprising Truth about Taking Risks

Mike LeachLess than 4% of the 128 current FBS head football coaches have never actually played college football. Mike Leach is one of those rare few.

And while those odds alone are enough to discourage most from pursuing such a career path, Leach is even more unique in the fact that he planned on becoming a lawyer and earned a law degree BEFORE deciding to become a football coach.

What’s more, when Mike Leach decided to chase his dream of becoming a football coach, he was already married with a child, he was broke, and he had $45,000 in student loan debt.

Most people would have looked at Leach’s situation and told him it was way too risky to pursue coaching as a career. But, most people don’t view risk the same way Mike Leach and other high achievers do

We have too many “non-tryers” these days. They’re afraid of how things may look. Rather than experiencing the journey, they’re worried about how they’ll be perceived. It’s really unfortunate.

I’ve always believed that you will succeed if you have an unobstructed mentality, as opposed to having some Barney Fife-type frightened reaction to adversity. Don’t let fear of failure cause you to hesitate.

Trying to jump into the football coaching world without having played college ball may seem risky, especially after going through all of the effort and expense of completing law school. I never saw it that way.

When it comes to taking chances and sizing up risk, there are certainly some wrong decisions that get made, but they happen less often than you’d think. What affects an outcome more than anything else is effort and attitude.

Certainly any decision needs to be evaluated, but just because “conventional wisdom” suggests something is too risky doesn’t make it so. You think it through, and if you believe the benefit outweighs the risk, you need to do it. Life is a series of risks, and it’s about how well you manage them.

Every great thing that happened in my life is the result of taking a risk. Ask yourself, “Why not me?”

Much of (risk-taking) is rooted in your mindset. If you convince yourself that something is risky, it is. People assumed that when I walked away from a law career to pursue football coaching, it was a major leap. I didn’t see it that way. You have to be disciplined enough to do the routine day-to-day stuff, but also not be afraid to take a shot, especially when the potential payoff is bigger than the risk.

Do the best you can, and once you make the decision, live with it and go forward because if you have regrets or second-guesses, you’re going to hurt yourself.

— Mike Leach, from his book Swing Your Sword

When assessing risk, you want to accurately weigh the risk (what’s the worst that can happen?) versus the potential reward (what’s the best thing that can come from this?). The key word here is accurately. Most people have a tendency to weigh the risk (the worst-case-scenario) much too heavily. They get so obsessed with what could go wrong that they fail to envision what could go right.

Coach Leach knew that if football coaching didn’t work out, he could always go back to a law career. Sure, it would be disappointing that he failed at his dream and it would be inconvenient that he racked up more debt and started his law career later than he could have, but this “worst case scenario” would be far from a tragedy.

On the other side of the coin, Mike Leach knew that if he could succeed as a football coach, he’d be pursuing his true passion and the potential rewards would be huge.

In 2008, Coach Leach was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year. In 2015, he was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Today, he earns an annual salary of $3 million as the head football coach at Washington State.

I’d say Mike Leach proved that the rewards of pursuing his passion far outweighed the risks of not doing so.