You know that tumbleweed you just saw tumbling out of Tucson, Ariz.? That was Mike Stoops, the now-ex-football coach at Arizona, whose head hit the chopping block hard when his Wildcats followed up a disappointing 7-6 season in 2010 with a 1-5 start to the 2011 campaign.
The task for athletic director Greg Byrne now turns to finding Stoops' replacement in a search that will likely include former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and current Boise State boss, Chris Petersen.
If Byrne is smart—and, judging by his hiring of Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, he is—he will go hard after Leach and leave Petersen to his machinations up in Idaho.
First and foremost, Leach has had success at BCS schools not necessarily known for football. He posted a record of 84-43 in 10 seasons as the head coach at Texas Tech, never once failing to lead the Red Raiders to a bowl game.
More impressively, Leach managed to do so while competing with the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Missouri in the Big 12 on the field as well as the recruiting trail. His connections to high school programs in Texas will come in handy at Arizona, a school that has long leaned on the Longhorn state for talent.
Petersen, on the other hand, has no comparable experience or links to the southwest to speak of. His 66-5 record at Boise State is obviously impressive, especially when you consider the two Fiesta Bowl wins on his resume. However, most of those wins were accumulated against feeble competition in lower-tier conferences.
Peterson's early success was also built largely on the backs of players that Dan Hawkins recruited to Boise, and he's had the luxury of leaning on a spectacular college quarterback in Kellen Moore to carry his team through the last 3.5 seasons.
Perhaps the greatest knock against Petersen, though, is the poor track record of coaches coming out of the Broncos program in recent years. Dirk Koetter, the man responsible for putting Boise State football on the map, left the Smurf Turf in 2001 for Arizona State, where he posted a forgettable 40-34 record over the course of six seasons before he was fired. His successor, the aforementioned Hawkins, hardly stuck the landing himself, with an abysmal record of 19-39 at Colorado between 2006 and 2010.
Therefore, as brilliant a coach as Petersen may be, he won't easily be able to wash away the stigma that Koetter and Hawkins attached to the program.
Then again, Petersen's success in Boise dwarfs that of either of his predecessors. Furthermore, Petersen is familiar with the Pac-12 and the West Coast as a whole, having grown up in northern California and spent six years as an assistant at Oregon under Mike Bellotti. Petersen also happens to be good friends with Byrne, the Arizona AD and native of Pocatello, Idaho.
As for Leach, he lacks ties to the region, aside from being a native Californian. His reputation for eccentricity and controversy also figures to hold him back from taking over an Arizona program that hasn't posted more than eight wins in a single season since 1998, when Dick Tomey was still in charge.
With all of that said, Leach still checks out as the best option for the 'Cats to pursue. His knowledge of and experience with coaching and recruiting in the Southwest and against big-time football programs will serve him well if he's handed the job in Tucson.
Meanwhile, Petersen will get his shot to coach at a BCS school sooner or later, perhaps even alongside Leach in the Pac-12 at UCLA.