Mississippi State Director of Athletics John Cohen spoke to the media the day that head coach Joe Moorhead was fired and said that people should take any rumors of the coaching search with a grain of salt and not believe anything unless he said it.
That proved to be true on Thursday morning when he shocked the college football world by hiring Washington State coach Mike Leach to run the program in 2020.
Leach comes to Starkville after years in the Power 5 producing one of the nation’s highest powering passing offenses. Year in and year out. His innovative style has influenced countless coaches and quarterbacks at schools across the country and now he’s bringing it to the SEC.
So how did Leach ultimately find himself in Starkville? A timeline of what he’s done over the last 30 years or so in college football.
1997 – KENTUCKY OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
(Photo: Vaught News )
Let’s fast forward all the way back to Leach’s first and only trip inside the Southeastern Conference back when MSU was preparing to be the best of the Western division and make its only SEC title game appearance.
Leach was getting his first major assistant coaching gig after 10 years of working his way up the ladder. He was a brilliant young mind with three different degrees. He graduated with honors from BYU, got his master’s from the U.C. Sports Academy and was in the top of his class at Pepperdine law where he earned a degree as well.
Football would be where he was called, however, and after three years on the job he first met up with a coach by the name of Hal Mumme. These two would change each other’s lives at Iowa Wesleyan in 1989. The two worked in some concepts from BYU coach LaVell Edwards and popularized an Air-Raid offense that would make both of them successful.
After coaching at Iowa Wesleyan under Mumme from 1989-91, he followed the coach to Valdosta State for five years before Mumme earned the Kentucky job. Leach took over the offense as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Leach took on quarterback Tim Couch in a league that was known for running the football and they would set records across the board.
In 1997, Couch threw for 3,884 yards in 11 games with 37 touchdowns. They improved the Wildcats’ win total by a game that year to go 5-6, but Couch was developing into a superstar. In 1998, UK went 7-5 and made its first bowl game since 1993. It was also the most wins by the team since 1984 as Couch threw for 4,275 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was a Heisman Trophy Finalist, the SEC Player of the Year and first-team All-American and that senior season was the greatest in SEC history until Tim Tebow came along in 2007.
It began to open eyes across the country that Mumme and Leach’s offense worked and was something that hadn’t been seen before. It gave him bigger opportunities ahead and he ran with it.
1999 – OKLAHOMA OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
Leach joined Bob Stoops’ first staff in Norman, Okla., as the first-time head coach needed someone to resurge the offense. Boy, did he.
The Sooners averaged 293 yards of total offense the year prior to his arrival. They were 11th in the Big 12 in 1998 and were 101 nationally in total offense. In one year, Leach took that offense to 427 yards a game and 11th nationally. They would set 17 school records and six Big 12 records in that one season as they went 7-5.
The Sooners did this with a junior college quarterback by the name of Josh Heupel. The first-year quarterback threw the pigskin around 500 times and for 3,460 yards with 30 touchdowns. The year after Leach left, the Sooners won the national championship with the foundation laid and Heupel was the Heisman winner. Heupel has taken some of the concepts he learned from Leach and incorporated it into his own head coaching spot at UCF.
But that one season in Oklahoma sealed the deal on Leach getting his shot as a head coach and he’s been one for the last 20 years.
2000 – TEXAS TECH HEAD COACH
Leach really burst on to the scene when he went to Texas Tech in 2000 and brought his Air-Raid with him. The Red Raiders went to a bowl game all 10 years that he was there and finished inside the top 25 five of those seasons. He had an 84-43 record and was 47-33 in Big 12 games, but controversy would be his undoing in Lubbock. Six times in his 10 years they were the top passing team in the country.
Quarterbacks like Kliff Kingsbury, Graham Harrell and Cody Hodges became household names. Harrell was one of the most prolific quarterback in the history of the NCAA when he left when he amassed 5,705 passing yards in a season. He was one of three Red Raiders to throw for over 5,000 yards, something that had only been done by six players in the history of NCAA football. He threw for 15,793 yards in his career and was the all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 134 when he left in 2008.
After winning seven games in the first two seasons at TTU, Leach never won less than eight the rest of the way including nine-win years in 2002, 2005 and 2007. His breakthrough season came in 2008 when he rode Harrell to an 11-1 regular season and a 7-1 record in the Big 12. Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree were the top offensive duo in the country and the Red Raiders were in the running for a national championship.Marquess Wilson Jersey
They ended the season 11-2 with a loss to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl, but Leach was the Big 12 Coach of the Year. He was a hot name on the coaching circuit interviewing with Washington and being rumored for the job at Auburn as well. He chose to come back to Lubbock and he would face his final year judgement.