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Stories from the Barstool: Late football coach Mike Leach celebrated at his favourite Key West hangout.

Joey Faber, the owner of Capt. Tony’s Saloon, one of the town’s most famous landmarks, knew it was time.

The period of mourning for Mike Leach, the head coach at Mississippi State and one of Key West’s most beloved figures, had moved on. The stage’s bar stool bearing Leach’s name had been removed. The memorial candle had done the same. And the symbolic drink of choice for Leach: grape vodka and water.

It was time to locate a suitable location in the ceiling to hang the stool.

Faber looked at the empty space to the right of the Ernest Hemingway stool and to the left of two U.S. Presidents, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman.

“I really believe we need to put someone like Mike between Hemingway and two presidents,” Faber said that day. “I know he can tell better stories than Hemingway and is smarter than Kennedy and Truman.

“They’re all big liberals, which is ironic.”

Leach, a staunch conservative, would have agreed.

Leach’s favourite place to tell stories was Capt. Tony’s, a legendary hangout located just feet from another famous Key West landmark, Duval Street. Back in the day, the 171-year-old structure housed a mortuary, a cigar factory, and a bordello, among other things. It is where Jimmy Buffett got his start and where Ernest Hemingway went to drink. It’s the original Sloppy Joe’s and is famous for its bar stools with the names of famous people who have sat on them, including Bob Dylan, Ted Kennedy, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Dan Marino, and, of course, Mike Leach.

Capt. Tony’s became a place for those to do what Leach did best after walking the half mile from his home to Capt. Tony’s on Monday, with Mississippi State playing its first game since Leach died at the age of 61 after suffering a heart attack.

Tell your story.

Nothing made Leach happier than telling stories.

“We talked about Geronimo, pirates, the bar being haunted, Shel Silverstein, Hunter Thompson,” said Faber, who has owned the bar since 1988, when he bought it from Captain Tony Tony Tarracino.

Football was something they rarely discussed.

“Whatever you want to talk about, Mike has the knowledge to pick it up,” Jerry Hughes, a long-time high school football coach, said. “Sometimes he just threw me a curveball and I had no idea what he was saying.

“But we never talked much about football.”

Except when Hughes noticed Leach sitting on his bike at Key West High. Hughes, the football coach at the time, was leading a practise. Hughes approached Leach and asked him to assist. The next day, Leach, who had been laid off from Texas Tech in 2009, was coaching the Key West High quarterbacks.

Capt. Tony’s stories about the storyteller

By the time Mississippi State kicked off against Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl, Capt. Tony’s was filling up with tributes to Leach, who took over the programme in 2020 after eight years at Washington State.

The place erupted at the end, following the Bulldogs’ come-from-behind, dramatic 19-10 victory.

The stories flowed as freely as the drinks, with reminders of Leach all around – the barstool, the autographed Washington State and Mississippi State helmets, the four posters under the big screen.

Heather and Chris Baranzyk, both Texas Tech graduates, travelled from Austin. They recall the night they first met Leach at Capt. Tony’s in 2016. They talked until the bar closed, then walked Duval Street until the sun came up, eating a cheesesteak sandwich.

“I was moved to tears seeing them meet for the first time,” Heather said.

When Leach coached at Washington State, Allie and Ty Saathoff were students. Allie worked at the school but didn’t meet Leach until they met at Capt. Tony’s.

“Seeing the people of Key West come out means so much,” she said. “It was a tremendous loss for our community.”

People from all walks of life, such as Joe Carter, a professional body painter who has toured with Ozzie Osbourne, worked Woodstock ’99, and is now the go-to guy in Key West during Fantasy Fest.

Leach once told Carter that he wished he could live Carter’s carefree lifestyle.

Carter never slapped a Mississippi State logo on Leach’s body, but he did accompany Joe Weed and Andrew Lint, both from Key West, to Starkville for the Arkansas game this year. That night, they watched college football games with Leach at his house.

‘Pretty damn crazy cool,’ says one.

In Key West, Captain Tony Tarracino was larger than life. A boat captain, a gambler, and Key West’s mayor. He had a unique ability to tell stories and connect with people.

Captain Tony died in 2008, aged 92. Mike Leach, who has lived in Key West part-time for more than two decades, took his place not only in the bar that bears his name but also on the streets.

“We’d walk down Duval Street,” Faber explained. “A normal five-minute walk would take 45 minutes because he would stop and take pictures and talk to everyone.”

Billy Schott, from Austin, was the University of Texas kicker from 1972 to 1974. Schott met Leach while officiating an Iowa Wesleyan game in the early 1990s while wearing a Mississippi State shirt and hat given to him by Leach, as well as a patch that read ‘COACH LEACH’ with a skull and cross swords.

“He just yapped with the white-boy ‘fro,” Schott said.

That friendship lasted over three decades. Schott didn’t hesitate when asked what they talked about. “We always talked about what’s the best flip flops,” he said. We exchanged opinions on flip flops. And we were both big fans of cargo shorts.”

Shoes with flip flops. Shorts with cargo pockets. Geronimo. Pirates. Journalists from Gonzo.

Mike Leach was open to any topic.

“Everyone came here to see him and photograph him with the stool,” Weed explained. “He had a deep appreciation for life and other people’s interests.

“He was pretty insanely cool.”

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