From the beginning, I knew that people were never going to understand. The pirate flag flew on John Cohen’s twitter account, and I knew instantly it was going to be a boomer magnet. Boy, was it ever. Every single piece of pirate-themed gear sold quickly, but it wasn’t long before people began to be extremely confused.
“Why the hell are they doin’ all this pirate crap on the Bulldog?” read a comment on Facebook.
To be fair, it is a question that many fans of a Mike Leach coached team have had for years. In short, most coaches have mantras that set the standard for their program. Notably, LSU has used “One Team. One Heartbeat.” this season. Other notable mantras around the country are “Row the Boat” with PJ Fleck at Minnesota or even “Championship Standard” with Joe Moorhead. For Mike Leach, he took to “Swing Your Sword.” Phrases like these look good on T-shirts, but also can be a true building point for your program. In an excerpt from his New York Times best-selling autobiography “Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and in Life,” Leach writes about where the mantra came from:
I’d thought a lot about what I was going to say before I entered the room. I jotted down a bunch of ideas on a scrap of paper, the same as I normally did before meetings. It’s important for a team to be exposed to more than just football, and as I worked at it the pirates and the metaphor of the sword just sounded right. I took that sword and laid it across the podium.
This was the start of something beautiful. The start of success and the start of Mike Leach the pirate. Leach goes on to explain the metaphor further by then saying the player’s bodies was their weapon:
“Your body is your sword. Are you going to swing your sword aggressively, or really out of control like you’re out there playing street ball?” I said as I began to haphazardly flail the sword around. “If you’re frantic, without being clear-minded, you put yourself into a vulnerable position. Are you going to duck your head and swing it timidly? Or are you going to have great technique and swing it without any hesitation?” Some of ’em nodded their heads. Some laughed watching me flail around with the sword. Some couldn’t wait till I stopped talking just so they could come up and touch the sword. But the point was made. We were pirates, and the next time we went into battle, our swords would be ready. “Swing Your Sword” became a battle cry for us. We won our next two games, then lost on a last-minute touchdown pass at No. 6 Texas. We finished the season beating Navy 38-14 in the Houston Bowl. I know the pirates speech was unconventional, but you can’t be insecure or let fear rule your life.
From then on, the pirate life was for Mike Leach. Though, you can thank the Texas Tech fans and New York Times Magazine writer Michael Lewis for making sure that it stuck outside of the football players. Pirates flags decorated the stadium in Lubbock, Texas and eye patches covered the eyes of thousands of fans after the article was released. The team went on to call themselves the “Pirate Team” and the connection between the fans and the players led to something special at Texas Tech. Following the speech, Mike Leach won at least 8 games every season after at Texas Tech. A team with a connection and a rally cry is dangerous, and Mike Leach showed just that.
When Mike Leach’s ship sailed to Palouse, pirates came with him. His old office was home to a skeleton dressed as a pirate:
Whether that pirate will join Mike Leach’s staff in Starkville is unknown, but the pirates have indeed followed Mike Leach. The biggest question that remains on Captain Leach: Will do SEC Media Day in pirate attire? He has done it before at Washington State... but will he do it again? Either way, Mississippi State fans should embrace the pirate life and get ready to sail the Starkville Seas.