What's Mississippi State going to do about Mike Leach's contract?
The word “quiet” and “Mike Leach” aren’t often used in the same sentence.
Leach is, by all accounts, out there. The man who delivers must-see press conferences has been making noise as a household name in college football for the past 2 decades.
But as it stands on March 31, 2022, there’s a quiet storyline about Leach that surprisingly hasn’t warranted more chatter.
Take advantage of Underdog's special Jimmy Butler Game 4 offer!
What’s going to happen with Leach’s contract?
On the surface, one might look at that and laugh at the notion that action is needed for a coach who just finished Year 2 on the job. Mississippi State, however, isn’t most jobs. And Leach isn’t most coaches.
By state law, contracts in Mississippi for public employees cannot be longer than 4 years in length. Leach is still working off his initial contract, which was from 2020-23 and it paid him $5 million annually (go figure that Leach left Washington State for MSU a month after he signed an extension that was supposed to keep him at WSU through 2024). In other words, Leach is coaching with 2 years left on his contract.
In this era of 8-figure buyouts for coaches, that’s almost unheard of. Power 5 coaches don’t enter a season with just 2 years left on their contracts. That’s supposed to be a recruiting killer.
Nobody is talking about this probably for a few reasons. One is that Leach isn’t a candidate to be on anyone’s hot seat. It wasn’t like MSU was a major letdown in Year 2. It was a roller-coaster season that saw the Bulldogs go in and out of the Top 25 rankings (the Playoff poll was a bit more MSU-friendly).
At the same time, MSU finished that ride in a valley. Blowout losses in the Egg Bowl and then in the Leach revenge bowl against Texas Tech spoiled what would’ve been one the program’s best finishes of the 21st century. Had Leach won either game, he likely would’ve already had at least a year added on to his contract.
That, however, didn’t happen. Instead, Leach had egg on his face after talking about the millions of dollars he was owed over his controversial firing at Texas Tech in 2009. There was no revenge, and perhaps more importantly, there was no new contract.
That beckons the question — what will MSU do about Leach’s contract?
For all I know, Leach’s camp is in process of negotiating this deal with MSU athletic director John Cohen as we speak. Or, perhaps, those talks aren’t happening and Leach will enter the 2022 season without any sort of extension.
If that happens, that’s significant. Why? It means that if things totally fell apart for Leach, they could pay him $5 million to walk away at season’s end. For the man who became the highest-paid coach in school history, that scenario seems unlikely. But Cohen fired Joe Moorhead after things went south after 2 years, and Moorhead had more success in his first 2 years than Leach. Remember, Moorhead even got an extra year added to his contract after a somewhat disappointing 8-5 mark in his first season.
What’s interesting is that even if MSU simply adds another year to Leach’s deal, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s locked in for the long haul. If that were to happen and the terms stayed the same, MSU could pay Leach the remaining $10 million on his deal if fired at season’s end.
Remember that around this time last year, Dan Mullen’s contract was a popular topic of conversation. After 3 years at Florida, he had yet to receive an extension or a new contract. Then in May, he got an extension to stay at Florida. His annual salary bumped up to $7.6 million, but his $12 million buyout remain unchanged. Six months later, Florida agreed to pay Mullen that buyout after a disastrous Year 4.
And that was for a coach who had been to 3 consecutive New Year’s 6 bowls. Obviously Florida’s history is a bit different than MSU’s history. Florida has more national titles in the 21st century than MSU has winning seasons in SEC play.
But it is interesting to think that a sour ending to the season could’ve impacted extension talks with Mullen and Leach.
The good news for Leach is that his offense did take another step in Year 2. For the third time in as many chances at Power 5 programs, his offense improved by at least a touchdown in his second season on the job. Will Rogers returns as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country, and Zach Arnett will lead an MSU defense that’s loaded with more returning production than any SEC team.
In theory, Leach should avoid a potential landmine season, even playing in the toughest division in college football. In a weird way, there’s a world in which Leach could actually get 2 extensions in the next 12 months. That wouldn’t be stunning, as long as the first extension happens prior to the 2022 season and it’s only an extra year added to the back end of the deal.
I suppose as is often the case, though, anything is on the table with Leach. Some questioned if Leach would be a fit in the SEC with his unfiltered, what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality. Outside of a controversial tweet with a punchline about lynching that prompted an apology and a social media hiatus before he ever coached a game in 2020, Leach has mostly avoided the foot-in-mouth moments. So far.
What does all of this mean? It’s pretty simple — we’re in for another interesting chapter of the Leach story.
Something tells me it’ll be a little less quiet than the last one.