Leach remains head coach despite rumors of departure

WSU athletic director John Johnson expects Leach to stay with team


RYAN PUGH | Daily Evergreen File

Head coach Mike Leach watches as his defense stops Boise State University in the redzone Sept. 9 at Martin Stadium. WSU won the game 47-44.

RYAN BLAKE, Evergreen reporter

University of Tennessee hired its new head football coach, ending nearly two weeks of rumors that WSU Head Coach Mike Leach was leaving the Cougars for the Volunteers.

Tennessee officially announced Jeremy Pruitt as head football coach for the 2018-19 season Thursday morning.

Leach was first rumored to be taking the Tennessee job during the Apple Cup on Nov. 25. Citing unnamed sources, Football Scoop reported that Leach “seems to have a very good shot at being offered” and “would accept the position if offered.” Football Scoop’s sources said WSU Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch would be promoted to head coach if Leach were to accept the position.

Following the 41-14 defeat to University of Washington in the Apple Cup, Leach said he expected to stay at WSU and hadn’t heard about the rumors.

“I’m focused on Washington State, excited about that,” Leach said. “We’re going to a great bowl, and I for one couldn’t be happier.”

USA Today reported Tennessee was finalizing a deal with Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano on Nov. 26 before receiving backlash from fans. The negative reaction stemmed from Schiano’s alleged involvement with Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse scandal while working as an assistant at Penn State University.

Then Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie released a statement the following day on Nov. 27 announcing Schiano would no longer be a candidate for the job, but qualified it by saying he still believed Schiano to be the right choice.

“We carefully interviewed and vetted him, as we do candidates for all positions,” Currie said. “He received the highest recommendations for character, family values and commitment to academic achievement and student-athlete welfare from his current and former athletic directors, players, coaching colleagues and experienced media figures.”

Several coaches would turn down the Tennessee job in the days that followed. Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, and North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren all were reported to have turned down the job, giving way to the rumors about Leach.

A to Z Sports Nashville reported Leach was in Los Angeles for a meeting with Currie on Nov. 30. ESPN confirmed the meeting between Leach and Currie, but reported no deal was imminent and that both flew home afterward.

Tennessee officials met with Currie the next morning and parted ways with the athletic director after just eight months, hiring former Tennessee Head Coach Phillip Fulmer in his place.

“John Currie was prepared to hire Mike Leach, but university officials wouldn’t allow him to do so,” former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy said over Twitter. “Phillip Fulmer has been sabotaging search process in hopes to become Tennessee’s AD.”

The Leach rumors died down following Fulmer’s hiring. WSU 3-star offensive line recruit Syr Riley told Cougfan.com on Sunday that Leach “gave him his word” that he was staying during an official visit to Pullman over the weekend.

Tennessee’s announcement of Pruitt as its next head coach on Thursday was not the end of Leach rumors, though. Florida State University announced Willie Taggart as its new head coach this week, creating a vacancy at University of Oregon.

Speculation has already begun as to Leach’s interest in the Ducks, but The Oregonian’s John Canzano reported that Oregon has not contacted Leach.

WSU interim Athletic Director John Johnson addressed Leach’s future with the Cougars during a conference call on Sunday.

“Mike’s our coach today and we expect him to be our coach for the bowl game,” Johnson said. “I know he’s excited about playing in the Holiday Bowl, as is the team. He is our coach and will be coaching there.”