How necessary is Leach’s genius?
Thank goodness. It appears our long, national nightmare may be close to being over. For several months, we’ve been robbed of Mike Leach’s genius as a college football coach. It’s been too long since we’ve seen or read a breathless profile of just how endearingly eccentric he is, how oddball and quirky and carefree.
It’s been a long, cold year for us since Leach’s forced exile from Texas Tech. (I’ve even had to turn to Johnny Depp for my pirate fix.)
And you can tell. With every coaching opening, the media perked up like a dog that hears something at the door. Is this it?
But no. Leach chilled in Key West. Did pirate radio. Expressed interest in a few jobs (Miami, Florida) as they came open. Not even a nibble.
Until now. Maryland just pushed its 10-year coach, Ralph Friedgen, an alum, ACC Coach of the Year, out the door. And Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson has already said, yeah, Leach is on his list.
I mean, he’s a genius, right? He’s fun, right? He won at Texas Tech like no other, right?
He even had Donald Trump endorse him for the Miami opening. And we all know Trump isn’t one to use hyperbole lightly.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, despite the fact that he’s been sold to us as some new-age cross between Knute Rockne and Captain Kidd, he’s basically a 9-4 coach. (In fact, his 10-season record is 84-43, so that’s rounding up.) And yes, that is good, that’s very good.
But there’s a mile-wide line between good and genius. And though he has been featured on 60 Minutes, Leach has also never won a conference championship. (Tech was in a three-way tie in 2008 for a Big 12 South division title, then lost a tiebreaker and didn’t play in the championship game. You remember. Leach finally had Tech on top of the world, and his team promptly lost to Oklahoma, 65-21.)
And you can get guys to go 9-4 and be a lot less of a pain in the rear. So that’s what Texas Tech did.
So there you go, Maryland. That’s who you’re looking at. All the publicity in the world and 10 straight bowl bids and they still didn’t want Leach around anymore
Leach’s problem isn’t the long arm of Craig James. Seriously, you think ESPN cares about going to the mattresses for Craig James? (Now, Lee Corso, maybe.)
And Leach wasn’t run out because of what happened or didn’t happen with Adam James (the announcer’s son, who accused the coach of keeping him locked in a dark shed while he was experiencing post-concussion symptoms) or any notion of player safety. No, it’s sad to say it, but players (and support personnel, ahem, Notre Dame) have died — died! — and the beat has gone on.
The Texas Tech divorce wasn’t about money, as Leach has said. Yes, in the final stages each side wants to get as much as it can, but that wasn’t the root cause. Money? Ha! In college football? In Texas? No, money is no object if you win enough.
No, Leach lost a job and spent a year checking to see if his dial tone worked because he was deemed something worse than someone who mistreats his players and puts them at risk: He was guy deemed impossible to work with. He was a guy deemed more trouble than he was worth.
He’s a guy who wins, and, yes, that’s great. But he doesn’t win enough to be that level of a pain in the rear.
So why do the media keep telling us he’s a genius? Well, he’s a great story, a fun quote. National writers and broadcasters (except those whose kids you — allegedly! — lock in a dark shed) like to talk about pirates.
I love pirates!
But a year ago, in the wake of winning their first bowl game without Leach, several Tech players painted a picture different from any we’d read or seen in the national press.
“The Double-T,” running back Baron Batch said then, “it’s bigger than one person.”
Leach to Maryland will work in that he’s a proven magnet for buzz, hype, hits, whatever. So if that’s what you’re going for, it’s a win to hire him.
But don’t forget, Friedgen is not too far removed from being a media-beloved genuine star himself. (He’s a big man and his nickname is “The Fridge.” Get it?) That’s faded. So maybe this job is tougher than it looks.
Leach would go to bowls at Maryland, as he has in each season as a head coach. But greatness? Genius? In marketing, maybe. In building a personal brand, definitely. And maybe that’s what Under Armour needs to make its next move.
The thing is not whether he gets the hype, but whether he believes it a little too much. This is a guy who has already been forced to walk his own plank.
In the days of those fawning national-media stories, Leach unwittingly let loose with the pirate quote that would explain his eventual undoing best.
"If the captain did a bad job," Leach said, "you could just overthrow him."
You could get a guy who didn’t have to be a genius to go 9-4.