The president showed him black-and-white photos and old newspaper clippings. Told Leach about the origin of Father Flanagan's motto: “He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother.”
Leach was engaged, but not enthralled. Then they reached the display for the 1938 Hollywood film about Boys Town.
Leach, a movie buff, had debated his wife earlier this week about who was the lead character. On Wednesday, he stepped close to a glass case and studied Spencer Tracy's Academy Award, which Tracy donated to Boys Town.
You'd think that the statuette would be bigger than that, the Boys Town mayor told him.
“Spencer wasn't a real big guy,” Leach deadpanned.
The line was so good, so quick, that nobody laughed. Not the mayor, not the president, not media members following the tour.
Nevertheless, Leach's humor and candor have made him a big figure in the college football world. Wednesday night, he spoke at the Omaha Sports Banquet, presented by B'nai B'rith. Hours earlier, he answered questions at Boys Town, including a few regarding his lawsuit against ESPN.
Leach sued ESPN for libel and slander following his 2009 dismissal from Texas Tech. Leach had been accused of mistreating a Texas Tech player, Adam James, whose father, Craig, is an ESPN analyst.
“You have a national network spewing out a bunch of false accusations, giving Craig James, one of their employees, the platform to do that,” Leach said. “I never felt like I had a choice.”
Leach said he expects a victory in court. He doesn't anticipate the lawsuit will affect his relationship with ESPN.
“I'm friends with a bunch of the talent there. With rare exception, I like and respect all of them. I think ESPN will always be a key factor in college football. ... But like anything else, if people misbehave, they should be held accountable. I don't see ESPN as an exception.”
More from Leach:
• On the Pac-12, which features spread offensive gurus like Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez:
“In my opinion, there was a time where it was really wide open. And then it got to where everything was kind of played between the tackles on both sides of the ball, fairly conservative. That's not the case now.”
• On Bo Pelini's defense:
“Very fundamental. Hard-nosed. Emphasizes tackling. Passionate coach. His players are flying around — everybody's running somewhere hard.
“I don't know him really well, but folks I know, like Bob Stoops and him grew up together. I have a lot of respect for Coach Pelini and his teams and always have.”
• On coming to Lincoln three times as Tech's head coach:
“One year, I did wonder if I would see Tommy Lee out here somewhere.”
• On college football playoff proposals:
“It's funny to me because this playoff question comes to Division I football and there's a lot of quizzical expressions like, ‘How would this happen? How would this ever work? ... ‘Can you give me an example?' Yes. Virtually everybody else.”
• On the size of a playoff:
“I don't think a four-team playoff is satisfactory. It's a step in the right direction. Kind of like in Nebraska if you were all of a sudden going moose hunting and you aim for the antler. You want to shoot a moose? OK, let's aim for the antler. That's what we're doing, we're firing bullets toward the antler.
“I think anything less than eight teams is a waste of time. Sixteen teams or more would be ideal.”
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