Why Mike Leach trumps every realistic candidate that Arkansas could consider
I took some heat, and rightfully so.
It was a tweet that, in the heat of the moment, was a bit short-sighted. It was poorly worded by me, and it wasn’t until the replies started rolling in that I realized there was a better way to phrase it.
Here was that tweet:
Who in the world is gonna take that Arkansas job?
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) November 10, 2019
My thinking was, I truly don’t know what the list of candidates is going to turn out to be and here’s why. In this decade, Arkansas stole a successful coach from Wisconsin in Bret Bielema, who had hoped to bring his “beat you in the trenches” philosophy from Madison. That didn’t work in the SEC West. Arkansas then replaced him by going in the other direction by hiring the up-and-coming offensive mind from the Group of 5 who wanted speed and tempo to be the program’s calling card.
So, like, what’s next?
Selling anything resembling a repeat of either vision would be, in my opinion, difficult to a fan base that’s desperate just to be mediocre again.
There are a whole bunch of possible candidates who fit one of those aforementioned descriptions. Mike Norvell from Memphis and Josh Heupel from UCF are both young, offensive-minded coaches from the AAC who would try and incorporate a lot of the things Chad Morris set out to, be ultimately failed in.
Then there’s Mike Leach.
The pirate-loving, quarterback-molding, attention-grabbing viral sensation of coach at Washington State who actually made less money than Morris did in 2019 (via USA Today). And while he would surely take a pretty penny to poach, he wouldn’t break the bank like, say, Gus Malzahn. Plus, there’s no guarantee that Malzahn is gone at season’s end.
Even if he was, though, I’d argue that Leach is a more proven offensive mind with lesser talent. Most recently, as everyone knows, Leach took a guy who Nick Saban was recruiting to be a 3rd-string quarterback as a grad transfer and turned him into the nation’s leading passer and top-5 vote-getter for the Heisman Trophy. How many Gardner Minshews could Leach get to come to Arkansas? Plenty.
We all need that:
Mike Leach on Gardner Minshew’s mustache: pic.twitter.com/OvdfOSEFEv
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) November 10, 2018
And Leach did spend a decade in Texas, which is a pretty important area to be able to recruit in that job.
That’s the thing I’d like about Leach at Arkansas. It’s not just that it’d be a splashy hire for a fan base that could use some good news for once. Splashy hires don’t win football games and give a team an identity. What was Texas Tech’s identity before Leach got there? What about Washington State? Think about either of those programs and you think of Leach with his Air Raid offense, and obviously, it doesn’t hurt that the guy has 12 seasons of 8-plus wins during his 17 completed seasons as a head coach at those places.
While the Cougars aren’t having the year some thought they would, they have the nation’s No. 1 passing offense by 54 yards per game. Barring a total collapse, Leach will have a top-10 passing offense for the 8th consecutive year, which spans the entire time he’s been at Washington State.
So why would Leach leave Pullman for Arkansas? Well, there’s obviously no guarantee of that. He’s been a wild card candidate at numerous places in recent memory.
That’s also a sign that Leach isn’t married to the idea of staying in Pullman forever. Bill Moos, AKA the guy who hired him out of his post-Texas Tech hiatus when he was riding a bike in Florida, left for the Nebraska athletic director position in 2017.
That’s when Leach became a critical cog in the mess that was the Tennessee coaching search. Emails showed then-Tennessee athletic director John Currie telling the Tennessee administration that Leach was going to take the job. But Currie was summoned back to Knoxville to be fired, and the Leach-to-Knoxville marriage died a sudden, painful death.
There’s always been a belief that Leach goes to places like Pullman and Lubbock because he’s an atypical personality who relishes the opportunity to say and do what he wants.
If he wants to teach a class called “Leadership Lessons in Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies,” he’s gonna do it. If he wants to throw the ball 70 times a game, he’s gonna do it. If he wants to spend 10 minutes of his weekly availability explaining how to plan a wedding instead of breaking down the upcoming opponent, he’s gonna do it.
Nobody in college football goes to the beat of their own drum like Leach. That doesn’t fly everywhere. Considering how big of a mess Arkansas is right now, I’m guessing Hunter Yurachek would hand Leach the drum and march alongside him for eternity if he decided to come to Fayetteville.
Besides selling Leach on what would likely be an extremely favorable contract relative to the deal at WSU that paid him less than 10 SEC coaches in 2019, Leach might relish the opportunity to finally battle elite competition again (once upon a time in the mid-2000s the Big 12 was actually pretty good). I don’t know how much Arkansas’ recent $160 million stadium renovation would appeal to the non-materialistic Leach, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
It’d be fascinating to see if Leach did express interest in Arkansas. Perhaps the idea of a new challenge would appeal to him. Arkansas would certainly be a challenge. There’s no guarantee that Leach would start cranking out 8-win seasons overnight.
But if I’m Arkansas, I’m making Leach say “no” before I hitch my wagon to anybody else. Actually, Leach doesn’t seem like a wagon guy.
Get him on the first pirate ship to Fayetteville.