Jeff Benedict: Saturday Night Lights in Pullman

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, Washington State head coach Mike Leach checks his plan during the opening day of NCAA college football practice at Rogers Field in Pullman, Wash. Washington State opens the 2012 season, the first under new head coach Mike Leach, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, against BYU in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Dean Hare)

Dean Hare, AP

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I'm writing this post from the air. It's a Sunday morning and I'm on a plane from Spokane to Seattle. Last night I was in Pullman for the Cal-Washington State game. It ended at 11:09 p.m. Pacific Time. By then every other college football game in America was over. This game was last, making for a very late night in the land of wheat fields and cattle ranches.

Still, I arrived at the airport this morning well ahead of my 9:30 departure time. Then the gate agent offered me the only open seat on the earlier 8:30 flight. I'm all about saving time. I took the seat, texted a friend in Seattle to tell him I would arrive early, and buried my face in the New York Times.

Next thing I know the pilot announces that the landing gear got damaged when we pushed away from the gate. What are the chances? I put away my paper. We taxied back. Everyone deplaned. All of a sudden that 9:30 flight was looking real good.

Too bad everyone else had the same idea. But it didn't matter. The 9:30 flight was full. So were the 10:30 and 11:30 flights. Lots of Cougar fans heading home.

Nonetheless, everyone on the 8:30 flight formed a long line at the counter, hoping to find a way out of Spokane. Standing in line seemed futile. Instead, I sat down and pulled out reading material. This time I chose The Book of Mormon.

Eventually the 9:30 flight had boarded and the people on the 8:30 flight were still in line. It hadn't budged. Then I heard these words: "If Jeffrey Benedict is in the gate area, please report to gate C25."

Nobody but my mother calls me Jeffrey. But I smiled at the agent when she offered me the only open seat on the 9:30 flight. I got lucky. Folks in that long line gave me dirty looks as the boarding door closed behind me.

Lesson #1: Reading the Book of Mormon brings better luck than reading the New York Times.

Lesson #2: Don't do what everyone else is doing. You won't go far.

As a writer I'm used to going my own way. Perhaps that's what attracts me to individuals who are unconventional. Washington State University's head football coach Mike Leach is that kind of guy. He's the reason I've been making frequent trips to Pullman these days. I'm shadowing him for the upcoming college football book I'm writing with Armen Keteyian.

Leach is a big-time college football coach who never played big-time college football. He has a law degree from Pepperdine and brings an analytical approach to a violent game. He's a Mormon who never goes anywhere without a Styrofoam cup of coffee in hand. He's unpretentious, true, innovative and attractively comfortable in his own skin. He's also a heck of a coach.

A couple nights ago Leach and I sat down for dinner at 8 p.m. and ended up talking until 3:45 in the morning. I can't think of another football coach that I'd want to talk to for eight hours straight. But Leach has a lot more to talk about than football. So do I.

One of the things I like about Leach is the way he handles pressure. You can learn a lot about a person by watching how they react to adversity and setbacks. At the end of last season, WSU offered Leach over $2 million annually to turn around a team that had been losing way more than it was winning. A lot is riding on Leach's performance, and WSU alumni see him as their savior.

If you think savior is over the top, you underestimate the value of football programs to colleges and universities today. Nor have you seen the RVs and campers that pack the campus parking lots days before each home game.

Alums from all over the Pacific Northwest bring generators, grills, firewood and enough food to feed a varsity roster. They are ready for football.

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