Breaking Down the Pac-12's New Head Football Coaches: Starting with Mike Leach
The Pac-12 welcomes four new head football coaches in 2012. All four have a past—some more dramatic than others.
I thought it would be interesting to take a hard look at each of the four and what they might bring to the mix in the Pac-12 this upcoming season. Today we'll start with Washington State's exciting new hire, Mike Leach, and follow it up in the next three weeks with the other newbies.
Why did I decide to start with Leach? Because I can't quit dreaming about him and that scary 350-pound bear, and I thought this might excise the demon.
If you are a member of PETA, you might want to skip the next slide.
In His Spare Time
On a recent hunting trip to Alberta, Canada with former Cal quarterback Mike Pawlawski, Leach reportedly bagged a 7', 350-pound bear—witness left.
I guess if you're not afraid to challenge Craig James and ESPN, you're not afraid of anything, right?
Personally, I feel that this is probably the perfect way to launch the Mike Leach Era in Pullman. Go Cougs!
And now, moving on, I hope to never see that photo again.
Leach's Past Record as a Head Coach
Prior to being hired by Washington State in November, 2011, Leach was unemployed for two years after being dismissed by Texas Tech.
Clearly, the whole Texas Tech fiasco—and I'm not going into the story here because it's been done to death—made Leach a pariah in the college football fraternity. Whether or not you believe Leach mistreats players and is a terrible human being, you can't deny his coaching ability.
A breaking news update on the Texas Tech story: perhaps Texas voters weighed in on whose side they took in the Leach vs. James story in Tuesday's election. Craig James, running for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary, earned a pitiful 4 percent of the overall vote.
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos probably made the hire of his lifetime when he hired Leach. In 10 years at Texas Tech, Leach's head coaching record was 84-43, and his teams never had a losing season. "The Mad Scientist of Football" is one of the best coaches in the country.
According to the Washington State website, Leach's Texas Tech offense led the nation in passing six times and three times accumulated the most total yards. In 2009, The Red Raiders were ranked as high as second in the nation.
Leach was awarded the Woody Hayes Trophy recognizing the top collegiate coach in 2008. Known as an offensive genius, the Red Raiders increased their yards per game by more than 150 and averaged nearly 20 points more per game after Leach took over as head coach.
Get ready to see a dynamic passing game by Wazzu this year: Texas Tech threw for 300 yards more per game while Leach was at the helm than under the previous Tech coaches. When Leach was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 1999, just prior to getting the Texas Tech head job, the Sooners set six Big 12 Conference passing records.
Same story at Kentucky, Valdosta State and Iowa Wesleyan—wherever Leach has been involved with a team's offense, records have been broken like dinner plates at a Greek wedding.
Texas Tech went to a bowl game every year that Mike Leach was their coach. In fact, their bowl game appearance streak ended in 2011, just about the time that the last of Leach's players would graduate.
Record-setting offenses, lots of wins, lots of bowl games—that, friends, is what Mike Leach brings to Wazzu.
Mike Leach's hiring immediately re-energized the Washington State fan base. According to AD Bill Moos, in an excellent article by foxsports.com's Lisa Horne, in the months since Leach's hiring, Wazzu has seen an increase of 2,000 new football season tickets.
The Cougar Athletic Fund has 1,144 new donors since Leach was hired, and almost $1.8 million in new donations and pledges as of March, 2012. The Cougs number of total donors has pulled ahead of UCLA and Arizona State.
Moos, who was Oregon's AD a few years back until, rumor has it, he got on the wrong side of Phil Knight, saw first-hand how important facilities are to recruiting the best young players. Washington State has announced that they are planning to build a 77,000-square foot football training complex that will be, according to Leach, "state-of-the-art, certainly one of the best in the conference, if not the best."
The Pirate Thing
I wanted to label this slide "The Pirate of Pullman" so badly, but I imagine that someone somewhere has already coined that term.
Mike Leach has a fondness for all things pirate. He collects pirate paraphernalia and studies pirates in 18th century history. He gives speeches with pirate references like "swing your sword" and "find your inner pirate." He has favorite pirates—Blackbeard, and a few others I can't remember. (I'm not much into pirates personally, except for Johnny Depp, of course.)
In Lisa Horne's article with Leach, he says his nickname started with a magazine interview:
Michael Lewis wrote that article in The New York Times Magazine. And when he interviewed some of my players, they talked about [pirates], and within days of that article coming out — which of course went world-wide — the pirate flags popped up, eye patches popped up, hats, guns, skulls, all kinds of stuff.
But pirate-ness aside, Leach is also a smart guy. He graduated with honors from BYU and went on to earn a master's degree from the U.S. Sports Academy. After that, for some inexplicable reason, he went to law school at Pepperdine, where he graduated in the top one-third of his class. And then decided he didn't want to be a lawyer.
Good call, Mike.
What to Expect in His Debut Season
I think that Mike Leach will turn around Washington State football in one year.
The Cougs start with BYU in Provo, in a night game on ESPN. How much do you think Leach wants to win his first game back after an unwelcome two-year absence? Especially against his alma mater. It will be a tough challenge, but I'm picking Wazzu.
Then the Cougs get Eastern Washington (do they have a football team?) in Pullman, followed by UNLV in Las Vegas (they have pirates there!). Then they return to Pullman to meet Colorado in the first conference test, and I use the word loosely.
It's not inconceivable to think that Wazzu will be 4-0 by the time they play Oregon on Sept. 29 in Seattle. I have Sept. 28 circled on my calendar, to remind myself to have an extra big martini that night so that I don't stress out too much about this game.
I'm not saying that Washington State will breeze through the conference winning everything in sight. But I do believe with its rabid fan base, a head of steam and Mike Leach at the controls, the Cougs could be a serious spoiler in 2012.
I have them at 7-5 and making a bowl game, perhaps even 8-4. I know what you're thinking; it's Washington State and it sounds crazy.
Just like Blackbeard.