Where Could Mike Leach End Up Next?
Mike Leach has been out of coaching since after the 2009 season, when he had a messy exit from Texas Tech. Leach has been embroiled in a wrongful termination lawsuit thanks to an incident involving receiver Adam Jones.
But there’s no doubt about Leach’s ability as a coach - he was 84-43 in a decade in Lubbock - especially on the offensive side of the ball, where he directed some of college football’s most-explosive offenses.
It’s only a matter of time before Leach returns from college football purgatory. And with Mike Locksley’s recent firing at New Mexico, “Mike Leach Watch” is officially underway.
Where will he land? We examine the likeliest landing spots.
If FAU wants to replace Howard Schnellenberger with another high-profile coach, Leach could be its man. Leach would destroy Sun Belt defenses just as Schnellenberger’s Miami (FL) teams did to opponents in the 1980s. But it would be an extremely low-profile job for Leach - even though he already lives in the Florida Keys, which would make it a logical move for the coach.
Would Leach wait for a bigger job to come along? Well, considering that he has been persona non-grata in college football, Leach might have to take a step down from the Big 12. But Leach would have to be desperate to take this gig.
9. Washington State
Paul Wulff has posted a 7-33 record through three-plus seasons with the Cougars, who haven’t made a bowl game since 2003. Needless to say, Wulff is hanging onto his job by thread. Yes, Wazzu is 2-1 this season, when it started with consecutive wins over Idaho State and UNLV before a loss to San Diego State. We’ll see what happens when Wulff’s club starts Pac-12 play. We don’t think it will be pretty.
Leach would be an immediate upgrade for the school and an opportunity for the exiled coach to make his return in a top league. He eventually could find himself as a head coach in a Pac-16 super-conference. Not a bad way to make a comeback. That being said, we think that there are other programs on Leach’s wish list ahead of this struggling program in the Pacific Northwest.
The major questions in Athens: Would Georgia’s athletic department roll the dice and hire Leach? He certainly would be the polar opposite of current head coach Mark Richt, who is well-liked and doesn’t ruffle many feathers despite coaching some under-achieving teams. Bringing Leach aboard certainly would raise some eyebrows. Even so, it’s clear that Georgia fans want him in a desperate attempt to shake up the program.
It’s hard not to love coaching in the SEC at a tradition-rich program like Georgia. However, it’s unclear if the Bulldogs will fire Richt. By the time we find out, Leach might be on his way somewhere else.
UAB isn’t in a BCS conference like Washington State and Georgia, but it could be a diamond in the rough for Leach. The offensive guru would be able to work wonders with the talent the Blazers could haul in - behind Leach’s name, of course - from their fertile state. Speaking of Alabama, UAB plays third banana in the state behind the last two national champions. But that shouldn’t bother Leach, who was in a similar situation in Texas behind the Longhorns and Aggies.
If things don’t work out elsewhere, we can see Leach making his comeback in Conference USA, putting up video game numbers and using the Blazers as a stepping stone to bigger and better things after the underwhelming Neil Callaway Era.
We know that Leach has made his name in Big 12 country, but he is a native of Northeast California, where he was born before moving to Wyoming. He graduated from BYU and generally was bred a West Coast guy. And the Bruins certainly are a high-profile West Coast program. The hiring of Leach no doubt would be welcomed in Westwood, where Rick Neuheisel has failed to live up to expectations. In fact, we think Leach has a better shot at reclaiming at least part of Los Angeles from USC than Neuheisel ever had.
Leach would have access to a ton of great recruiting - it’s UCLA; pretty easy to sell, right? - and already has some familiarity with the program. Leach already was rumored to be in the running for the offensive coordinator role in recent years. But would UCLA really roll the dice with Leach when it can pick from so many great candidates? It seems a little far-fetched.
Bob Toledo is on the hot seat; he has yet to have a winning season with the Green Wave since taking over in 2007. While Tulane hasn’t been a historically good team, it has had some history of great offenses and, like many of the schools on this list, is located in a good area for recruiting.
But this is low-profile job in Conference USA. We can see Leach succeeding here, but he may have to write another book just to get noticed. That being said, life in New Orleans is good - just as it is in the Florida Keys. And AD Rick Dickson is looking to make a big splash while trying to get a $60 million, on-campus stadium built.
It sounds crazy, right? Hear us out.
Memphis is currently the worst team in the FBS. Hiring Leach would serve a great purpose for Memphis, which is looking to boost its football program in order to earn an invitation to a BCS conference. In fact, the Tigers simply need to be consistently competitive in football, something that has eluded them for years. From Leach’s perspective, Memphis is a school that has poured gobs of money into its basketball program; why couldn’t it do that for football as well?
As we mentioned, Leach would be a perfect fit in the Arena League, er, Conference USA, which is a defense-optional conference. We can already picture the Air Raid lighting it up in Memphis and Elvis impersonators becoming Leach impersonators on fall Saturdays. Throw in the possibility of a Big East invite and this becomes an awfully attractive opportunity.
3. New Mexico
Rumors have already started to swirl about Leach landing at UNM, where its athletic director reportedly already laid out the school’s desires when looking for its new coach after firing Mike Locksley. CBSSports.com reported that the Lobos want a coach with ties to the Albuquerque area, recruiting experience in Texas and with a considerable head-coaching background. Leach satisfies the criteria, but are the Lobos - one of the worst teams in the FBS - beneath the successful coach?
We don’t think so, but it’s unclear how Leach feels about it. He would destroy the Mountain West, and New Mexico - not far from Leach’s former home in Lubbock - wouldn’t be as bottom of the barrel with Leach as it is now.
One thing’s for sure: If New Mexico wants Leach, it better act fast.
Time looks like it’s running out on Joker Phillips. Leach has ties to the program - he was the offensive coordinator in Lexington from 1997-98 - so it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to come back. A spot at a mediocre SEC football team certainly would be a step up from other options on this list, so we definitely can see Leach landing here.
But more than anything, this would be a great grab for the Wildcats, who have been known for making big-splash hires in basketball. We know to be careful in comparing UK’s basketball and football programs, but the athletic department and AD Mitch Barnhart are not afraid of spending big on a sport. John Calipari proves that a controversial coach that wins in Lexington isn’t just defended by ‘Cats fans, he is deified.
Hey, it would only be a matter of time before Leach’s likeness appeared next to Calipari’s in a Kentucky cornfield, right?
1. Ole Miss
The perfect storm exists in Oxford, MS, where coach Houston Nutt looks on his way out, as evidenced by his spot atop our weekly coaching hot-seat watch. Leach would get to coach in the SEC for a fan base dying for him, be located within a fertile recruiting ground and arguably in a better situation than what he had at Texas Tech. Winning in the SEC West isn’t easy, but you can bet AD Pete Boone will be willing to pay a pretty penny to land a high-profile coach after whiffing on Ed Orgeron and now watching Nutt’s team implode.
And Ole Miss hasn’t shied away from controversial coaches. The Rebels hired Nutt after his infamous text message scandal and stuck with Andy Kennedy after an arrest for allegedly assaulting a cab driver.
Could Leach ask for more? Well, other than leading a bunch of 18th century pirates on the open sea, we’d say no.