Like it or not Coug fans, Mike Leach coaching carousel is coming
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VIP ByBARRY BOLTON 90 minutes ago
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.
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.
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