Mike Leach Named New Mississippi State HC After Joe Moorhead Firing

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist

Washington State head coach Mike Leach walks on the field before an NCAA college football game against Nevada in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Young Kwak/Associated Press

Mississippi State's coaching search has come to an end.

Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen announced the Bulldogs have hired Mike Leach to be their next head football coach Thursday. The position was open because the SEC program fired Joe Moorhead after a mere two seasons at the helm. Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports first reported the news of Leach's hiring. 

On Friday, Brett McMurphy of Stadium reported Leach would get a four-year contract worth $5 million a year. 

McMurphy and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com added some perspective to the move:

The notion of Leach leaving Washington State is not entirely unexpected, as this comes after Newy Scruggs of NBC Sports in Dallas reported Tennessee and Leach were "working on a deal," in November 2017. However, he ultimately stayed with the Cougars and led them to an 11-2 record during the 2018 campaign and 6-7 mark in 2019.

Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported Leach was "really torn" about leaving Washington State but did so "because of the added resources, a much deeper local recruiting pool and because it was a shot to coach in the SEC."

Part of coaching in the SEC means going against rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, and the Rebels' new head coach even weighed in on the move:

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Leach is coming off eight seasons as the head coach at Washington State, where he directed the Pac-12 program to a 55-47 record. There was notable improvement during his tenure considering he finished with a losing season in each of his first three years in the Pacific Northwest but made a bowl game in each of the last five years.

Leach is known for his aerial attack and explosive offense, and Mississippi State figures to throw the ball plenty in the coming seasons with him in charge. Washington State led the nation in passing attempts with 713 in 2017, 628 in 2018 and 710 in 2019, while the Bulldogs threw it 315 times this past season by comparison.

He was also the head coach at Texas Tech for 10 seasons before the Washington State job, although he was fired in 2009 after a suspension following an investigation of his treatment of a player who suffered a concussion.

Leach was a consistent winner in the Big 12 and posted an 84-43 record with nine bowl appearances. He would have coached in 10 were he not fired before the Alamo Bowl in his final season with the Red Raiders.

While Leach has never won the elusive national title, he will be in the thick of the College Football Playoff race if he finds a way to win the SEC with the Bulldogs. Doing so in a daunting SEC West that includes Alabama, LSU and Auburn, among others, will be a difficult task, but he will have the chance to unleash his high-powered aerial attack on a new conference.

There will need to be incremental improvement first seeing how the program is coming off a 6-7 effort and has won double-digit games just once in the last 20 seasons.

The immediate focus will be on beating Ole Miss and new head coach Lane Kiffin in the Egg Bowl and competing for bowl games as Leach builds up the program. He did just that at Washington State and will look to replicate the formula with the Bulldogs.

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