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Like it or not Coug fans, Mike Leach coaching carousel is coming

VIP ByBARRY BOLTON 90 minutes ago
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Mike Leach (Photo: Cougfan.com/Whittney Thornton)
WASHINGTON STATE FANS don’t have to like it, but they should be used to it by now. November is when the college coaching carousel heats up -- and ever since 2015, Mike Leach’s agent, Matt O’Hagen, has made a practice of inserting Leach’s name into various openings. And reporters often bite.

Some of the Leach-to-such-and-such reports will eventually be revealed to have zero substance -- see Texas Tech this past November; Oregon the year before, etc. But the published reports at first seem legitimate, and that inevitably leads to several angst-filled days for Cougar fans.

And then there are the other kinds of reports, such as Tennessee in 2017, that was shown to have merit.

The bottom line: if recent years have proven anything for Coug Nation, it’s that O’Hagen starting this month, and on into December, will try to insert Leach’s name into any Power 5 opening that may come up.

According to Bruce Feldman and several others, the coaching merry-go-round is projected to be tame compared to previous cycles. But the reality is nobody really knows for certain. In addition to any surprise coaching dismissals/departures, there is always the domino effect to consider, where multiple coaches across several jobs suddenly come into play with agents like O’Hagen working the phones overtime.

Here are five jobs that, as of this writing, have been oft-mentioned as having the potential to come open, and also the potential that Leach could be linked to them. In no particular order:

Florida State / Willie Taggart / 4-4 this season, 9-11 in Year 2
The obvious connection is Leach’s home in Key West. But if FSU fires Taggart at the end of this year, it would owe him more than $17 million – FSU isn’t awash in cash and it’s hard to see the Seminoles eating that much. While it would still be painful at $12.75 million next year, FSU is more likely to give Taggart one more season before seriously considering a change. But … ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg recently reported Leach “has eyed the ACC as a potential next landing spot.” Rittenberg didn’t expand beyond that. Perhaps O’Hagen is already hard at work.

Tennessee / Jeremy Pruitt / 3-5 this season, 8-12 in Year 2
Forget it. Oh sure, Pruitt might very well get fired, despite the $9.12 million buyout he’d be due. But AD Phil Fulmer was the puppet-master-in-chief behind the scenes in scuttling Leach-to-Tennessee in 2017. And even more than that, there is virtually zero chance Leach and Fulmer could co-exist in Knoxville. It would be like Iron Man and Thanos deciding to open a food truck together.

Arkansas / Chad Morris / 2-6 this season, 4-16 in Year 2
This might be the one WSU fans need to worry about most. Morris still hasn’t won a conference game at Arkansas (0-13) and upset Razorback fans want a change. The buyout is still pricey, but much more manageable than Taggart’s – if Morris is fired before Dec. 31 it’s $9.8 million. On Jan. 1, it drops to $7.35 million. Would Leach want the job? He was interested in the SEC two years ago. And he’d be a hero in Fayetteville if he could turn the Razorbacks around quickly. But for a coach who has yet to win a conference title, Arkansas would be a tough place to get that first one.

USC / Clay Helton / 5-3 this year, 37-20 in Year 5
Regardless of USC’s injury woes, it will be a stunner if Helton isn’t fired by year's end. A new AD is coming, Trojan fans remain apoplectic after missing out on a bowl last year at 5-7 and Urban Meyer is out there. But even if Meyer isn’t interested, it’s hard to see Leach being a fit, even if he wasn’t continually trashing California’s politicians. USC is still trying to navigate a number of high-profile scandals, and the outspoken Leach seems the opposite of what USC would want. By the way, even if Chip Kelly at UCLA were in danger, which he doesn’t appear to be, it also seems unlikely Leach would be a good fit in Westwood.

Mississippi State / Joe Moorhead / 3-5 this year, 11-10 in Year 2
This is a good example of how the dominoes could start to fall. Moorhead isn’t as likely to be fired as he is to jump ship with numerous reports Moorhead, with strong ties to the area, is in line to fill Rutgers’ opening. Moorhead also received the Paul “I am a Gargoyle” Finebaum kiss of death recently. The reasons arguing against Leach in Starkville are the same as with Arkansas: coaching at an SEC school facing an uphill climb against the perennial powers-that-be.

NOTABLE NOTES:

South Carolina’s Will Muschamp has been mentioned often as being on the hot seat. But with a $22 million buyout before Dec. 31, and an 18.6 million buyout after Jan. 1, it would seem far more likely South Carolina looks to satiate its fans on the promise of the win over No. 3 Georgia this season as evidence things are trending up.
Auburn? Gus Malzahn’s buyout is an eye-popping $32.1 million.
For various reasons, Other coaching jobs that bear watching: Boston College, Missouri, Michigan, South Florida, Virginia Tech, South Florida.
RELATED STORY: Mike Leach's WSU salary ranks him No. 33 nationally

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Record Over the Past 15 Games:

1. WSU 13-2
2. UW 11-4
3. Utah 10-5
3. Oregon 10-5
3. Stanford 10-5
6. ASU 9-6
6. Cal 9-6
8. Colorado 7-8
8. USC 7-8
10. Arizona 6-9
11. UCLA 3-12
12. OSU 2-13

Pac-12

In 2016, USC started 1-3, then switched quarterbacks and everything changed. They had been written off only to finish the year with a memorable win in the Rose Bowl and a No. 3 ranking in the final AP poll. The Sam Darnold effect was obvious from the start, and Kedon Slovis' debut for the Trojans feels awfully similar.

It was only one performance, so the standard caveats apply, but as Slovis dissected Stanford with such ease on Saturday, it became easy to envision the Trojans as a serious threat to win the Pac-12. -- Kyle Bonagura

1. Utah
2. Washington State
3. Oregon
4. USC
5. Cal
6. Colorado
7. Washington
8. Arizona State
9. Stanford
10. Arizona
11. UCLA
12. Oregon State
Mike Leach-Dana Holgorsen: A faceoff 28 years in the making

ByBARRY BOLTON 12 hours ago
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Dana Holgorsen and Mike Leach (Photo: USAToday/Juraij & Cougfan.com/Whittney Thornton)
MIKE LEACH AND DANA HOLGORSEN go back a very long time. But Friday’s game between Washington State and Houston will be the first time the two offensive gurus have faced one another as head coaches. They have, however, squared off once before.

In 2009, while Holgorsen was offensive coordinator at Houston, he went against Leach’s Texas Tech team. Holgorsen and Houston came out on top, 29-28.

"However smart you think he is," Mike Leach said of Holgorsen to ESPN this past November, "he's smarter than that."


Holgorsen left Houston at the end of that season for his first head coaching job at West Virginia, while the ’09 season was Leach’s last at Tech.

Leach of course has served as his own offensive coordinator all eight seasons at WSU -- but it wasn’t always that way.


Holgorsen was co-offensive coordinator (with Sonny Dykes) at Tech for two seasons from 2005-06. And then Holgorsen took the reins fully in 2007 as Leach’s offensive coordinator before leaving for Houston.

He is the first and only assistant coach under Leach to hold the title of offensive coordinator.


All told, Holgorsen was with Leach from 2000-07 at Tech. But the relationship goes back much farther.

HOLGORSEN PLAYED UNDER Leach way back in 1991 when both were at Iowa Wesleyan. Leach was the offensive coordinator and Holgorsen a wide receiver.

Holgorsen wasn’t nearly as fast as the other wideouts, but he gained Leach’s trust and caught close to 150 passes in two seasons. (He also served as long snapper, punter and kick returner).


Holgorsen’s first coaching job came under Leach at Valdosta State from 1993-95. Hal Mumme was the head coach, with Leach the offensive coordinator and o-line coach, and Holgorsen was first a graduate assistant under Leach before becoming the QBs/WRs/special teams coach.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find two people whose philosophies are more closely aligned than us,” Leach said of Holgorsen back in 2011 when Holgorsen was at West Virginia.

Still, there are differences.

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Whereas Leach has built successful programs at WSU and Tech by drilling the same offensive concepts over and over again until his players know them in their sleep, Holgorsen is known for his creativity and tweaks to the offense. With Holgorsen, it seems like he is always working on something new.

Indeed, Holgorsen likes to joke that Leach booted him out of the Air Raid club years ago as he’s dabbled with his offense: as just one example, Holgorsen at West Virginia introduced gap schemes into his run game and ran some two tight end sets.

You won’t see a tight end at WSU under Leach, let alone two.

Washington State (2- meets Houston (1-1) at 6:15 pm on Friday night, with the game televised by ESPN. Washington State is a 7-point favorite.

The Advocare Texas Kickoff usually takes place on opening weekend but this season comes on Week 3 under the Friday night lights. While technically a neutral site game, NRG Stadium is just 15 minutes away from the University of Houston campus.

NOTABLE NOTES:


Leach (58) is known for having a cup of coffee with him most everywhere he goes, while Holgorsen (48) was once described as a “sugar-free Red Bull guzzling” coach by the AP.
Holgorsen made the rare move of leaving a Power 5 job with West Virginia to a Group of 5 job at Houston. He told ESPN he returned to Houston because it felt like home.
Holgorsen is a Davenport, Iowa native while Leach was born in Susanville, Calif., though Leach considers Cody, Wyoming his hometown.
In his first year in Houston, Holgorsen has two co-offensive coordinators on staff (Marquel Blackwell and Brandon Jones).
Cougar nose tackle Lamonte McDougle originally signed with Holgorsen and West Virginia before transferring to WSU following his freshman season.
WSU's Sept. 21 home game vs. UCLA will kick off at 7:30 pm on ESPN, the Pac-12 announced Monday.

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