OPINION: Leach’s departure: good or bad for the program?

Upside for the program is higher, uncertain consistency is in the near future

Head+coach+Mike+Leach+makes+calls+from+the+sideline+in+the+game+against+Eastern+Washington+Sept.+15%2C+2018+at+Martin+Stadium.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Head coach Mike Leach makes calls from the sideline in the game against Eastern Washington Sept. 15, 2018 at Martin Stadium.

CODY SCHOELER, Evergreen columnist

Mike Leach taking the job as the Mississippi State head coach was a big, unforeseen blow to the football team and entire university. Mike Leach gave WSU eight great years, including the best season in Cougar football history, and his presence will be missed in Pullman both on and off the field. While there are many negatives that come from this, it is always important to look on the bright side of things. Leach’s departure and the imminent arrival of a new coach offers both pros and cons for the future of Cougar football.

Pro: Higher Upside

Mike Leach was a great coach for WSU but he may have hit his ceiling for how good the program could be under his leadership. His 2018 year was incredible, winning 11 games including the Valero Alamo Bowl, but he still was not able to win the Apple Cup against University of Washington or appear in the Pac-12 championship game. The program under Leach was never going to go 3-9 again and fail to make a bowl game. Also, Leach was probably not going to take the program to the next level and become a Pac-12 powerhouse like most fans were hoping for when he was hired. A new coach might be able to win an Apple Cup or a Pac-12 North title, things Leach was criticized for failing to consistently deliver.

Con: Uncertain consistency

Once Leach hit his stride in Pullman, he was fielding a team that was competitive and consistent in the Pac-12. When Leach was hired, the team had not made a bowl game in nine years. He then took them to six bowl games in eight years, including five in a row for the first time in school history. A new coach is not guaranteed to bring a similar stretch of consistency with him when he comes to town. The first few years under a new coach can be tough to endure, even Leach only won three games in his first year. And unlike Leach, the next coach may not be able to bring the program back from that. A new coach could mean a new system, which could take a season or two to get the right players. This means fans will not know what to expect no matter who the next coach is.

Pro: A better bargain

WSU paid Mike Leach a lot of money to coach football, but not nearly as much as coaches like Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. He was still making around $3 million a year. He was set to make even more money in the upcoming seasons after signing an extension through 2024 that would pay him over $4 million a year. The likelihood that WSU will pay their next head football coach close to that amount is very low. Leach garnered that big of a contract because he was a big name and WSU had to compete with bigger programs whom also wanted the inventor of the Air Raid. WSU will probably look at a younger, up-and-coming guy who will not come with the expensive price tag. It is also late in the coaching change cycle to be looking for a new coach, so WSU should not be getting into bidding wars with other schools.

Con: Recruiting consequences

Early signing day period was Dec. 18-20, and WSU already had 18 high school players sign letters of intent saying they would play their college football in crimson and gray. Leach’s departure may have an impact on some of those players, especially if position coaches follow him to Starkville or are not retained by the next coach. This could set their recruiting class back quite a bit if WSU has to scramble and find new guys to take the place of any recruits who decommit. Leach also turned Pullman into one of the most attractive options for graduate transfer quarterbacks by convincing Gardner Minshew and Gage Gubrud to come to WSU each of the past two years. The Cougars’ appeal to prospective transfers may take a hit without having Leach at the helm.

Pro: New pipelines

Coaches are known for recruiting certain places very well. Leach got a lot of players from unexpected places like Florida or American Samoa. He was also criticized on social media for failing to recruit players from within the state. Washington has begun to produce a good number of prospects every year and most of them were not on the Cougars’ recruiting radar. A new coach may look to take advantage of quality players in his own backyard and begin to recruit more heavily in Seattle and other places on the west side of the state. He may also bring his own pipelines from his previous job, which could help boost a 2020 recruiting class that is ranked 61st nationally and 11th in the conference.

Con: He was one of a kind

Regardless of how people felt about Leach as a coach or a recruiter, no one can argue that he was not entertaining. Leach is not just taking the Air Raid with him, he is taking his wacky press conference topics, sideline reporter chases and hilarious social media clips. Leach was going viral on a consistent basis and had a personality that was enjoyed far beyond the Palouse. No matter who his replacement is, he will not be able to match the quirkiness and randomness of Leach, who truly is a unique college football coach. This probably mean more serious answers at press conferences and fewer opinions on mascot brawls, raccoon stories and wedding advice.