Hilinski showed no outward signs of depression, coach Leach says
PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State coach Mike Leach said Saturday there were no outward signs that would have alarmed coaches or teammates before Tyler Hilinski took his own life.
A day after an emotional vigil on the Washington State campus that included Hilinski’s family and teammates, Leach spoke on a conference call and made his first extensive comments about Hilinski’s death. Hilinski died Tuesday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Leach, who was in Florida at the time of Hilinski’s death, said the 21-year-old had shown no signs of depression. Hilinski was Washington State’s presumptive starting quarterback going into next season.
“Just talking to really everybody, there were no real signs. Everybody has got some dark space in there that they work through I’m sure. Nobody really saw anything like that,” Leach said. “He didn’t have signs of depression. He didn’t have periods where he was moping around or anything like that. He was honestly a very steady guy and he was the type of guy who would lift up others that were down. Hadn’t really had any issues. Some ups and downs as a college student, but nothing that would stand out or be recognized as a problem.”
Leach has been trying to help his players deal with the difficult, sad situation. Hilinski was discovered in his apartment after he didn't show up for practice Tuesday. A rifle "was recovered next to Hilinski and a suicide note was found," according to the Pullman Police Department.
Leach said there have been daily team meetings with counselors present to help Hilinski's teammates. One of those meetings included Hilinski's parents addressing the team, Leach said.
"Helping (the Hilinskis) heal through this is one of the most important things because there is nothing more difficult than the circumstances they're in right now," Leach said.
Leach said he last spoke with Hilinski a couple of days after the Holiday Bowl, and the pair talked about offseason plans. Hilinski appeared in eight games during his sophomore season, throwing for 1,176 yards and seven touchdowns. His most memorable outing came in the second week of the season, when he led Washington State from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Boise State 47-44 in triple overtime. Hilinski threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns coming off the bench and was carried off the field after the victory.
His only start came in the Holiday Bowl against Michigan State, although he played extensively in a loss to Arizona.
Leach said he's never been in a situation like this and said he's reached out to a number of veteran coaches to try and help his players.
"I've dealt with guys passing, but never like this under these circumstances," Leach said. "Listen to the players, get as many counselors around them as you can, which is a continuing process, and then the counselors help you set a course to heal and everybody does that at a different pace and in a different way."
Hilinski's funeral will take place next week in Southern California, and Leach said the school is working to provide transportation for any players who want to attend.
"Tyler was always a very optimistic guy. Tyler was one of those guys who would always come bouncing in the room," Leach said. "He would make everybody happy and brought an energy to rooms and groups of people and huddles and all of that."