John Cohen's Hail Mary connected, and now, Mississippi State has an exciting new identity with Mike Leach
It started to feel like a pipe dream. The idea of Mike Leach coming to the SEC almost became a fantasy.
First, there was the meeting with Tennessee athletic director John Currie before he was summoned back to Knoxville so he could be fired instead of offering Leach a job after the 2017 season.
Then there was the flirting with Arkansas and Ole Miss after this past season. We even had about 2 minutes on Twitter when it appeared that Leach was set to become Ole Miss’ next coach, but it was snuffed out as a fake account tweeting out the news with the photoshopped graphic of Leach in Rebels gear.
And then after the dust settled on that fun in December, Leach signed a contract extension to stay at Washington State through 2024. The pirate-loving, passing game guru, part time professor was staying in the Pacific Northwest.
But 1 Hail Mary later, Leach is coming to the SEC.
Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen made the Leach dream a reality on Thursday. Days after reportedly meeting with him in Key West, Cohen confirmed reports that Leach’s ship was making its way to Starkville in 2020:
— John Cohen (@JohnCohenAD) January 9, 2020
In a few short days, MSU went from the program who fired a coach post-bowl game and appeared to be running out of options to fill the vacancy, to a program that now has a hire just as splashy as their not-so-friendly in-state neighbors.
Lord, have mercy on the 2020 Egg Bowl.
Oh, and have mercy on 2020 SEC Media Days, which now has an SEC West that consists of:
- Nick Saban
- Ed Orgeron
- Jimbo Fisher
- Sam Pittman
- Gus Malzahn
- Lane Kiffin
- Mike Leach
That’s a reality show, not a list of coaches from a big-time college football division.
But that’s what Leach will ultimately join. He’ll try to establish his brand at a place that has 1 winning season in conference play in the 21st century. That, to Leach, is nothing new. That’s what he did at Texas Tech, and it’s what he did at Washington State. Both programs were far from the dominant program in their own state, yet Leach owns 12 seasons of 8-plus wins in the 21st century.
Oh, and that identity that MSU lacked the last couple years? Leach will establish that in a hurry.
Leach is the guy who will take 5-minute tangents to rant about wedding planning mid-press conference, but he’s also the guy who just put together his 8th consecutive top-10 passing offense. Leach is the guy who taught a class called “Leadership Lessons in Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies,” but he’s also the guy who told Gardner Minshew that if he didn’t want to be the third-string quarterback at Alabama, he could come to Washington State and lead the nation in passing.
Yes, the media loves Leach from an entertainment standpoint. But his act would’ve worn thin long ago had he not been an elite offensive mind.
For some, Leach’s act will rub them the wrong way. He’s not afraid to openly criticize players in press conferences. Leach once called his Washington State players “fat, dumb, happy and entitled” after a disappointing performance. The worst kept secret is that the reason he’s never had a big-time job despite his status as a household name and a revolutionary offensive coach is because athletic directors and boosters don’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t always play the politically correct game.
Who knows how Leach is going to gel with Cohen. One thing is clear, though. Cohen will be more motivated to make Leach work than he was with Moorhead, who was fired after 2 years and was seemingly on the hot seat in the midst of Year 2. One can disagree with Cohen’s handling of the Moorhead situation and still believe that Leach was an impressive get.
And what Leach will do in 2020 is that something that even a Moorhead believer can’t deny — he’s going to excite this fanbase in a way that perhaps no hire ever has at Mississippi State. The tone of 2020 is different with Leach than it is with say, Steve Sarkisian or Todd Grantham, both of whom were rumored to be candidates for the job.
As fun and exciting as Leach to MSU is on a variety of levels, there are still a few hurdles standing in his way. MSU has higher expectations than any place he’s been as a head coach. If you need proof of that, go check out the fired coach who had lost fan support after going 14-12 and beating Ole Miss twice in 2 years.
There’s also the defense that Leach has to take care of. A division that has offensive minds galore with Joe Brady, Lane Kiffin, Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahn and Steve Sarkisian is going to be brutal to defend. Years like 2018 when MSU had 3 first-round defensive players are far from the norm. It’ll take the right defensive mind on Leach’s side to make the Bulldogs anything more than those 2010s Texas Tech teams who put up points, but flirted with overall mediocrity on an annual basis.
But if you’re an MSU fan, you’re fired up right now and understandably so. You probably had plenty of moments this week when you wondered if your athletic director really had a plan after making an atypical, but drastic decision.
Now, it’s only a matter of time before the Bulldogs start leading the SEC in passing and Leach is giving us the oral history of cowbells.
The Leach-SEC marriage is finally happening — and to think, it only happened because of a fake dog pee celebration in the Egg Bowl.
What a time to be alive.