In Graham Harrell, Mike Leach made an undrafted quarterback into a college Peyton Manning. In Wes Welker, he helped turn an unrecruited and vastly undersized receiver -- whose college offers were seemingly only from the University of Cairo and Division nine schools -- into one of the greatest players in program history and three-time Pro Bowler. But, most importantly, Leach transformed a dormant Texas Tech program that hadn't been on college football's national radar in a very long time before he stepped in.
As with Ohio State's Urban Meyer, the hiring of Washington State's newest head football coach could not have been a better move for the school. The 50-year-old Leach was 84-43 at Texas Tech, leading the Red Raiders to 10 bowl appearances in 10 seasons. While he was fired in 2009 amid allegations he mistreated a player with a concussion (which he has denied since day one), his six bowl wins make up half of Tech's all-time total.
Deemed the "mad scientist" for his forward thinking offensive approach, Leach's presence in Pullman cannot come soon enough. The Cougars -- who lost 40 games in just four years under the recently fired Paul Wulff -- haven't had a true passing attack since the grand old days of Ryan Leaf. Yet despite all of its struggles, this remains a proud football program in a football rich Northwest region.
An $80 million construction project to add premium seating, luxury boxes and a new press box to Martin Stadium is underway, as well as the initial stages of building a new $60 million football operations building, all changes that will undoubtedly bolster recruiting.
Pundits will question how Leach -- who will earn an annual salary of $2.2 million -- will lure players away from more established programs in the area, namely Washington and Oregon. In reality though, is this situation a whole lot different than recruiting against powerhouses like Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma? Even if it was, it is also worth noting that much of his success was with players that most elite schools didn't want or overlooked. Case in point? Welker and Harrell.
In an increasingly spread-based brand of offense, the college game and especially the Pac-12 has put a premium on quick-trigger quarterbacks throwing to shifty receivers and versatile backs.
At Texas Tech, Leach's offense led the nation in passing six times, three times accumulating the most total yards. He won a ton of games of course, but even when it lost, his team has always played an exciting, aggressive style of football -- a highly welcomed sign to a Washington State program that can hardly say the same.
To be sure, Leach enters his new job with the insurance policy of quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, along with a gifted receiver in Marquess Wilson -- all of whom helped lead a potent Cougar passing attack that ranked ninth nationally in passing. Halliday specifically is a better athlete. Both him and Tuel have live arms and good feet. Or, as Leach would say, they are perfect candidates to lead his "Air Raid" attack. In eight seasons under Leach, his quarterback led the nation in passing.
This is a Washington State football program that hasn't been to a bowl game since 2003 and finished dead last in the conference three years running. After winning 10 games for three consecutive seasons (2001-2003), it reached new levels of embarrassing despair. The bottom line is that it desperately needed a makeover.
In hiring Mike 'The Pirate' Leach, it got one.
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