Hey, as long as we’re throwing around names on who might coach the Miami Hurricanes in 2016, here’s a column I wrote five years ago. It was about Mike Leach lobbying for the job from his Key West home.
By Dave George, Palm Beach Post
Nov. 30, 2010
Mike Leach, the most unusual candidate the Miami Hurricanes will ever consider to run their football program, applied for the head coaching position at Key West High School in 1996.
Didn’t get it, but man alive, did he ever want it. Enough, at the time, to take a sizable pay cut from his assistant coaching position at Valdosta State and to risk stalling what turned out to be a highly successful and innovative major-college career.
“Key West is such a unique and exciting place,” said Leach, who lives there now and does a daily three-hour show on the Sirius satellite radio network from his island bungalow.
“Back then, I figured my kids could grow up here and go scuba diving and fishing and do things that other kids aren’t exposed to. Later they might move to the mountains or something and experience that. I thought it would be good diversification. Down here, it’s kind of us against the world.”
Clearly, this is no common coach. Leach, who has a law degree from Pepperdine University and an enduring love for pirate lore, is no common anything. He’s portrayed as some kind of outlaw, yet his Texas Tech football players graduated at a rate higher than at any other public university. He’s painted as being some kind of counter-culture kook, but how many people who meet that description would feel comfortable, or loved, in Lubbock, Texas?
Bottom line, the man is too bright and too valuable to be living at the tail end of an island chain in what amounts to exile from the coaching profession.
He’d take the Miami job in a second, installing the same crazy “Air Raid” offense that made him a spectacle in 10 seasons at Texas Tech until his ugly firing last December. So far, though, there’s been no contact with UM.
“It’s a great job and I think it would be a great fit,” Leach said. “We’d have an exciting brand of football. We’ll fill the seats and we’ll win games and we’ll win ACC championships.
“If you look at the guys on NFL rosters, in the Big 12 Texas has 32, Oklahoma has 29, Nebraska has 28 and Texas Tech has nine. Still, my record against Nebraska was something like 5-1 and we beat Oklahoma three out of the last five times.
“There are lots of Hurricanes on NFL rosters. That gives you an idea of what you can draw there. If you base it on resources and production, the chances of my success along with my staff are remarkably high.”
At the end of the 2006 season, when Miami was hunting a replacement for Larry Coker, Leach got an interview with the Hurricanes based on the nearly 450 yards in total offense he was averaging at Texas Tech and also on the Red Raiders’ string, at the time, of four bowl victories in five years.
Nothing came of the interview, which led to Miami hiring Randy Shannon instead, but you wouldn’t believe the tall tales that came out of that whole deal, like how Leach supposedly showed up for the interview in a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of flip-flops and how he spooked Hurricanes officials with some of his wild answers.
“No, no, nothing like that,” said Paul Dee, the former Miami AD who interviewed Leach, Shannon and Rutgers’ Greg Schiano at a New York City hotel. “Mike’s a fine guy, an interesting guy, but we just didn’t get the sense that he was as interested as we had been led to believe.
“We were serious about him, though. We wouldn’t have interviewed anybody we weren’t seriously thinking about.”
Leach’s recollection is that Miami didn’t think he would take a salary cut to come. He was willing to work that out, he said, but couldn’t agree to join the Hurricanes unless he could bring his own staff. Miami wanted several guys, Shannon included, to stay on with a new coach.
“My experience is that nobody believes you will work for less than what you’re getting,” said Leach, “but I will because it’s about quality of life and situations and challenges.”
Leach’s biggest problem, the one that’s keeping him on the sidelines, is the cloud that remains from his sudden parting witht Texas Tech.
Texas Tech reserve Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James, alleged that he was locked in a dark electrical closet as punishment because of a concussion that prevented him from practicing. Leach denies that, has a stack of depositions to back him up, and is going to court soon in Texas with a lawsuit against ESPN and the PR firm hired by the James family for broadcasting what he calls a false story.
“Now it’s like, well, it’s difficult to hire him because he’s in litigation,” Leach said of his year-long absence from coaching. “They accuse me of something I didn’t do, something that never happened because I never mistreated a student-athlete. If I ignore it and don’t clear my name, then they assume I’m guilty and I can’t get a job. If I take steps to clear my name, I can’t get a job because I’m in litigation.”
Of course, there will be openings next year and the year after that, should Leach decide simply to wait for the legal cloud to lift. He loves the idea of coaching Miami, however, especially after being encouraged to go for it by good buddy Barry Switzer. The pirate in Leach sees a treasure of an opportunity waiting just up U.S. 1.
“I haven’t heard anything from Miami,” Leach said. “Just little mutterings. Hopefully, there’s folks out there with a broad enough vision and understanding of things.”
Leach is a longshot, with fans buzzing about Jon Gruden and Miami AD Kirby Hocutt likely focusing on someone he knows better and trusts more. Maybe the Mad Scientist of West Texas simply bicycles around Key West a while longer, just another sunkissed dreamer in paradise. There are worse things.
But think, he says, of what Miami and any other reluctant suitor might be missing.
“They could hire me and we’d have one decade after another of success with students that graduate and don’t get into trouble,” said Leach, “or they can hire somebody else.”
Talk to the man, at least, Miami. You could get more than 27,000 people to Sun Life Stadium just to hear him talk.
(That’s how the column ended. Turns out Miami went with Al Golden and Leach hired on at Washington State, where he’s currently 6-3 behind a quarterback who has 33 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Took a little while for the Pirate to get it going out there, but he’s always interesting, and at least one of my readers wants him working at Miami.
Any other takers, following the natural assumption that Leach will become available again some day?)