For the record, I don’t see Mike Leach ever collecting that million dollar bonus at Mississippi State. Or the half-million one, for that matter. I suspect his AD doesn’t expect that, either.
But I don’t see his situation as hopeless, either. For one thing, he’s made a decent career out of raising a program’s profile and success, as Andy Staples ($$) summarized:
… Leach has succeeded in two far-flung Power 5 outposts with marginal history already. Texas Tech has a .540 winning percentage without Leach and a .661 winning percentage (84-43) with him. Washington State had a .494 winning percentage without Leach and a .539 winning percentage (55-47) with him, and that includes the three years it took to dig out from Paul Wulff’s disastrous tenure.
Like him or not, Leach has made an also-ran SEC West program relevant in a way few other hires Mississippi State could have made.
“Ah”, you say (assuming you’re a skeptic), “but now Leach has to try to win in a significantly tougher setting than he’s ever faced before.” Skeptical you has a good point there. There are a couple of good rebuttals to offer, though.
For one, this isn’t the Air Raid’s first rodeo in the SEC. As I’ve noted before, Leach and Hal Mumme had a pretty notable run together at Kentucky in the late nineties. Don’t think Leach doesn’t lack confidence he can be an offensive PITA again. And he’s probably right.
The second rebuttal is that, while the opposition has gone up a degree in toughness, so has Leach’s access to resources. Again, from Staples:
Mississippi State is like Texas Tech and Washington State in that it is one of the more remote campuses in its league. But it is different in its proximity to talent. The state of Mississippi is rich with players, and it’s close enough to Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and northern Florida to attract players from those areas. Also, the Mississippi junior college system — which the coach at Mississippi State is expected to mine — can provide ready access to players from other places who may have needed a little extra work coming out of high school.
It’s not just players, either. Mississippi State may have one of the lowest athletic budgets in the conference, but compared to where Leach has been, it’s flush.
Leach will enter the league facing doubts about whether his offense can succeed in the most cutthroat division in college football. He’ll also do it at the place that spends the least on football in the SEC West, according to figures provided to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2017-18 school year.
Texas A&M: $82.6 million
Alabama: $62.9 million
Arkansas: $44.6 million
Auburn: $43.6 million
LSU: $31.5 million
Ole Miss: $30.2 million
Mississippi State: $23.2 million
But least is relative. Washington State spent $20 million last year. And look how close Mississippi State is to LSU, which is playing for the national title on Monday. At a certain point, you’re just rich. And everyone in the SEC is rich at the moment and about to get richer when Disney/ESPN kicks in a few more hundred million a year to buy the SEC’s top game each weekend in a deal that will replace the bargain CBS currently gets. Leach has never been at a place with this kind of resources — monetary or natural.
Washington State doesn’t have an indoor practice facility. According to USA Today, the salary pool for Leach’s assistants at Wazzou totalled $3,463,790. Mississippi State just upped that amount by more than a third. You may disagree, but Leach probably feels like he’s died and gone to heaven a little bit.
So, do I think Mike Leach is about to establish some sort of SEC West dynasty? Nah, not even close. Do I think he’s going to up MSU’s game, enjoy the occasional upset of one of the West’s powers and entertain the fan base? Yeah, pretty much. I expect they’ll be pretty happy about where that $5 million salary will be going.
What do you guys think?