Mike Leach and Washington State have a lot of people to thank.
Start with Ohio State. Jim Tressel, Gordon Gee and Gene Smith in particular. Throw in USC, Penn State and Syracuse. There’s probably a few others out there, at least accused of reprehensible behavior. In their own way, they all opened the door a little further for Leach to find work again.
After sitting out the two previous seasons, The Pirate verbally agreed to take the Washington State job per our Bruce Feldman.
How bad does it look now suing a former employer? Not even. A potential courtroom smackdown of Craig James would draw a standing-room crowd. But it’s no reason to shun an accomplished coach. Leach’s legal preferences have nothing to do with cheating to win a championship, taking extra benefits, lying or looking the other way while alleged victims suffered. In fact, Leach should be admired for sticking to his beliefs and doggedly pursuing those three lawsuits. They dragged on at the same time college athletics made most of the news -- dragging itself into a sewer.
Time and circumstances, it seems, can always turn a pariah into a savior. Especially one armed with equal parts charisma, quirkiness and offensive innovation.
We reached critical mass on Wednesday. Washington State’s desperation to win outstripped any off-field concerns there would be about Leach. His case against Texas Tech currently caught up in the Texas State Court of Appeals doesn’t seem like that big a deal at the moment. Not when Ohio State is throwing $4 million a year at Urban Meyer at the same time it is fighting the NCAA on two fronts. Not when USC is just entering the worst phase of its NCAA penalties. Not when Penn State may never be the same.
In this sometimes sordid world of college athletics, these types of lawsuits seem like paper swords. This pirate swings a much more substantial such weapon. Winning remains the currency of choice, which it should be in Pullman.
This is a program that was in the Rose Bowl as recently as 2003. It’s also a program that ran itself into the ground with a series of bad hires and bad decisions. Remember when Mike Price went to Alabama? Wazzu is a small-budget operation that exists on the edge Throw in a suddenly winnable Pac-12, stability and money – lots of money – and the choice was easy for Washington State AD Bill Moos.
Did I say small budget? That, it should be noted, is about to change. The Pac-12 is counting on what could be a $30 million per year payout per school in the near future. Armed with those kinds of Benjamins, Moos acted decisively. Kansas was the other main suitor. Jayhawks AD Sheahon Zenger has a long relationship with Leach. Kansas football is experiencing a similar football downturn. Someone needs to put a bottle of Heinz 57 on Zenger’s desk. Ketchup! He just got skunked.
Or maybe it’s just the college football landscape. Maybe Leach was balancing offers from both schools. Washington State: 9-40 over the last four years, but a member of what claims to be the richest conference in the country. Kansas: 5-19 in two years under Turner Gill in a league that is guaranteed (we think) to stay together only six more years.
A bad rich program is better than a bad unstable one.
Either way, we can only hope that Craig James never again has to do either of their games, right?