UPDATED 12/8, 11:30 a.m. with Oregon hiring Mario Cristobal.
When a coach ventures to Pullman, Washington, and takes a Washington State Cougars program that was 9-40 in the previous four seasons and turns it into a program that is contending for division championships and heading to its third consecutive bowl, that coach is going to have his name bandied about for coaching vacancies.
When that coach is Mike Leach, you can count on it doubly so.
So it is that we’ve now reached the silly season, as schools both justifiably (Florida, Nebraska, UCLA, Arkansas, etc.) and maybe unjustifiably (ASU? Really?) look for the next guy to take them to the promised land that only a few schools reach with regularity anyway.
Given WSU’s success, fans’ (and media members’) infatuation with Leach’s personality, as well as Leach’s propensity over the years to float his name in connection with openings (this happened regularly at Texas Tech), it only makes sense that we’re hearing his name pop up quite a bit right now.
Of course, this also is contingent on a school being willing to take a chance on a guy who actually has never won a conference championship, as well as put up with his shenanigans off the field.
Let’s round up the more popular potential destinations.
With Willie Taggart’s departure for Florida State, Mike Leach’s name surfaced in connection with the Oregon Ducks. Wrote John Canzano:
(Leach) is super interesting to me as a possible hire. Not just as an interview, but as a football coach. He brings immediate identity. Compare the records between Leach and Taggart. Compare awards. Compare body of work. He's won impressively everywhere he's been without resources and a recruiting base. National personality. Also, he's beat Oregon three straight times. I'm told Phil Knight likes him.
Today, Oregon put that to rest by naming offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal the new coach:
Oregon rips the interim tag off and makes Mario Cristobal its permanent head coach, a source confirmed. He rode a wave of player support to succeed Willie Taggart: https://t.co/YdBIPVfof6— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) December 8, 2017
There never appeared to be much more to it than Leach’s name getting floated; the question is always whether it would make sense for both sides and it was a little hard to imagine the culture of liberal western Oregon being a fit with the culture of #MAGA-stumping Leach, but weirder things have certainly happened in the pursuit of college football victories.
Status: Leach to Oregon is dead.
The first big rumor came in connection with the Tennessee Volunteers’ vacancy:
Washington State / Mike Leach folks should take a look…. https://t.co/PpFC1dcLO5— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) November 25, 2017
It was thought to be credible enough that Leach was asked about it after the game last night. He issued the standard non-denial denial: “The biggest thing is I’m focused on Washington State, excited about that and we’re going to a great bowl and I for one couldn’t be happier.”
That looked moot:
UPDATED: Tennessee hoping to finalize agreement with Greg Schiano to be its next coach today https://t.co/J7K9rH2UKC via @usatoday— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 26, 2017
But then it wasn’t!
The Greg Schiano to Tennessee deal is dead. Following a public outcry among fans and state politicians, Tennessee backed out of a memorandum of understanding with Schiano that had been signed earlier in the day by both parties.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) November 27, 2017
And Leach was firmly back in the mix — so much so, that it was reported he actually interviewed for the job with Tennessee AD John Currie, and that a job offer was extended. Then things got weird.
Just filed to ESPN: Tennessee has parted ways with AD John Currie on the heels of what has been a disastrous Tennessee coaching search. He met with university officials on Friday morning, and the decision was made then.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) December 1, 2017
Apparently Currie wasn’t the one making decisions at Tennessee and his meeting with Leach wasn’t well-liked back home:
Industry source: “Throughout this entire (#Tennessee) coaching search Phil Fulmer has tried to undermine AD John Currie in hopes of becoming the AD there.” https://t.co/Z2v03Nkd2h— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 1, 2017
Phillip Fulmer was named the new AD, and the school moved on from Leach. Finally, Fulmer has his man.
Jeremy Pruitt has been named the 26th head coach of the Tennessee football program.— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) December 7, 2017
Welcome to Rocky Top, Coach Pruitt!
STORY » https://t.co/umAqTlyJ8D pic.twitter.com/tTDYmtBtXr
Status: Leach to Tennessee is officially dead.
The Arkansas Razorbacks fired Bret Bielema before he even got off the field of his last game, and the program is in the sort of location that would make sense for a guy like Leach.
As we reported during last night’s Apple Cup game on FOX Mike Leach has some support among some influential #Arkansas folks for the Razorbacks vacancy. Not sure if he’d go but given the big win for Gus & Auburn Sat things are pretty interesting w the Hogs HC job.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 26, 2017
Turns out, it doesn’t appear that there was any interest after all. Leach’s name never seriously surfaced in this search, and the Razorbacks dipped down to the Group of 5 to find their next guy:
Boom. Welcome to The Hill, @coachchadmorris! pic.twitter.com/epffmWjnh7— Arkansas Razorbacks (@ArkRazorbacks) December 6, 2017
Status: Leach to Arkansas is officially dead.
This job came open when Dan Mullen bolted for Florida:
Sources: Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen has reached agreement to become Florida’s coach— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 26, 2017
But Missisippi State decided to go the coordinator route:
BREAKING: Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will become the new head coach at Mississippi State, a source told ESPN's Mark Schlabach.— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 29, 2017
(first reported by Brett McMurphy) pic.twitter.com/pa5QaEoPUe
Status: Leach to Mississippi State is dead.
With each domino that falls, we expected to hear Leach’s name come up. For example ... when it was presumed Scott Frost presumed would leave for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, we wondered if the Central Florida Knights might throw a boatload of cash at him in order to try and entice him back to a location much nearer Key West? (The answer to that turned out to be “no.”)
We’ll update this post as the landscape shifts, but it’s starting to look like the carousel is slowing down, with nearly all of the major openings having been filled, and Leach only having been a serious candidate in one place. Perhaps that’s an indication that Leach isn’t as desirable as we all assumed?
Mike Leach is a good coach. He’s also spent much of this season on Twitter railing against his former employer years later b/c he wasn’t allowed to sue them. From an employer’s perspective, that is, uh, interesting? https://t.co/8PbZGkjLMd— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 29, 2017