PULLMAN — Bill Moos, who has vowed to change the “culture” of Washington State athletics, may have changed the landscape of Pacific-12 Conference football for years to come when the Cougars announced Wednesday that offensive guru Mike Leach has agreed in principle on a five-year contract as head coach.
“I asked athletic director Bill Moos to select the best head football coach in the country and I am convinced that he has done exactly that,” WSU president Elson Floyd said in a news release.
From 2000-09, Leach’s Texas Tech teams featured high-scoring, pass-happy offenses. Moos stressed the need to put “butts in seats” when he fired Paul Wulff on Tuesday with one year left on Wulff’s five-year contract.
“I have spoken about the need to re-energize our fan base and take Coguar football to the next level,” Moos said. “I believe the hiring of Mike Leach accomplishes both of those goals.”
The Cougars, backed by millions of dollars of added revenue from new television contracts that kick in next year, will reportedly pay Leach almost four times as much as Wulff’s $600,000 annual salary.
Bruce Feldman, a CBSSports.com columnist who co-authored a book with Leach, reported the Cougars will pay Leach more than every Pac-12 football coach except Oregon’s Chip Kelly ($2.8 million) and California’s Jeff Tedford ($2.3 million).
Washington’s Steve Sarkisian currently ranks third at $2.250 million, according to USA Today figures that exclude bonuses. USC and Stanford, the only private schools in the Pac-12, did not release salary numbers.
On Tuesday, Moos estimated the average annual salary of a Pac-12 head football coach at $1.5 million to $1.6 million.
“In order to compete on the field, you have to compete with salaries,” Moos said.
Moos said he “ideally” wanted to hire an established head coach known for winning with a “flashy, high-octane offense.” Few coaches fit that description better than Leach, who has worked in sports broadcasting since being fired by Texas Tech in an acrimonious breakup prior to the Alamo Bowl at the end of the 2009 season.
Leach, 50, compiled an 84-43 record in 10 years at Texas Tech. All 10 teams posted winning records and went to bowl games. Prior to taking his first head coaching job at Tech, Leach had been offensive coordinator at such schools as Oklahoma and Kentucky.
Leach is known for his colorful and outspoken personality. He was fired at Tech after long-running disputes with school officials boiled over when a player suffering from a concussion (Adam James, the son of ESPN broadcaster Craig James) was sent to a shed with limited lighting during practice.
Leach said he did not know where James was sent. He was fired after refusing the school’s request that he apologize to James.
Over the years, Leach has drawn both praise and criticism from players for his demands on players.
“He pushed his players and coaches as hard anybody I have ever been around, but he is fair to every player,” former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell once said.
Leach, who alleged that his firing was tied in with an $800,000 bonus he was about to receive, has sued the school and ESPN in connection with events surrounding his dismissal.
Leach, the married father of four, has been living in Key West, Fla. Leach has reportedly gone without a car in Key West, preferring to ride a bicycle. He’s been known to dive for lobsters in the Atlantic Ocean, and he has a bar stool with his name on it at a Key West bar once frequented by famed author Ernest Hemingway.
Leach is the rare college football coach who did not play in college. Born in Susanville, Calif., he graduated from Cody (Wyo.) High School, Brigham Young University and the Pepperdine University School of Law.
Leach is expected to be introduced at noon Tuesday at a press conference in Pullman. A school spokesman said previous commitments prevent Leach from arriving sooner.
Moos selected assistant coaches Steve Morton and Chris Tormey to remain on the job until a new coaching staff is appointed. Shawn Deeds, the longtime coordinator of football operations, also continues to work for the Cougars.