Just hire Leach ... and pray it's the right move
In calling Ralph Friedgen’s ouster a “business decision”, first-year Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson made it clear that a coach’s win-loss record is no longer among the chief criteria for continued employment. Anderson needs a coach capable of bringing more fans to Byrd Stadium and selling those painfully empty luxury suites in Tyser Tower.
A coach who has proven he can win games and graduate players would be nice, too.
So why aren’t negotiations already underway to bring former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach to College Park?
Anderson said at Monday’s news conference to announce the justification for Friedgen’s firing that a search committee would be formed and a consulting firm would be hired with hopes of having a new coach on campus by Jan. 4, the first day coaches are allowed to talk to recruits to shore up commitments before national signing day in early February.
Is this merely protocol – or a smokescreen - or does Anderson really believe he will find someone with a combination of more sizzle and substance than Leach?
Randy Edsall certainly has the track record, having built on the foundation Skip Holtz established at Connecticut by leading the Huskies to their first Big East championship and BCS bowl invitation. But if Edsall turned down Notre Dame, as he reportedly did a year ago, why would he accept an offer from Maryland? More importantly, does Edsall have the same national profile as Leach? Doubtful.
Beyond that, the list of potential candidates seems limited — and flawed.
Tyrone Willingham’s star faded years ago, before he left Notre Dame for a waiting disaster at Washington. Former Maryland assistant Mike Locksley, once a hot commodity as a top recruiter and offensive coordinator at Illinois, has gone 1-11 in successive seasons at New Mexico — along with off-field controversies involving punching an assistant and being accused of sexually harassment.
Leach has his critics for the way he handled Adam James — the son of ESPN analyst Craig James — after the reserve receiver sustained a concussion last season. Leach’s refusal to apologize resulted in him being fired after leading the Red Raiders to 10 straight winning seasons and national prominence with their fast-paced, high-scoring Air Raid offense.
And, oh yes, Leach graduated nearly 80 percent of his players.
Not every athletic director uses a search committee or consulting firm to help make the decision. Florida’s Jeremy Foley, one of the most respected ADs in the country, wooed Urban Meyer from Utah when Notre Dame also beckoned and then, when Meyer retired recently, took a chance on Will Muschamp, the coach-in-waiting and defensive coordinator at Texas.
So why Anderson’s need for using a consulting firm to identify candidates and a search committee to interview them?
Because this is the way it is done at Maryland.
A little history: in 1989, after men’s basketball coach Bob Wade was fired amid a mushrooming NCAA investigation, Gary Williams was the clear favorite. He was an alum with a history of turning around programs at American, Boston College and Ohio State. What should have taken a couple of hours took a couple of weeks, nearly giving Williams pause to stay in Columbus.
Why risk losing Leach? Worse yet, why make Danny O’Brien, the redshirt freshman quarterback who was recently honored as the ACC’s rookie of the year (the same night Friedgen was feted as ACC coach of the year), consider transferring? According to his coach and his mother, O’Brien was devastated by the departure of offensive coordinator of James Franklin to Vanderbilt and Friedgen’s firing.
Leach should be in College Park as soon as possible, giving O’Brien the first few pages of next year’s playbook and selling a dwindling fan base of buying season’s tickets — and suites.
Truth is, a search committee could muddle the process. A search committee is not going to be wowed by Leach’s “four vertical” formations but could be scared off by his confrontational style and quirky personality. There might be a reason that Leach didn’t get hired at UCLA or Washington or Miami the past few years.
Leach could be to Maryland what Rich Rodriguez has been at Michigan, a big name whose personality and offensive philosophy didn’t quite fit as well in Ann Arbor as it did in either Morgantown, W.Va. or Clemson, S.C. Leach has never coached in a major media market, one squeezed between two professional teams with passionate fans.
Or he could be what Leach was at Texas Tech when he replaced a respected coach named Spike Dykes a decade ago. Dykes, a Lubbock native, had a winning record (82-67-1) and took the Red Raiders to six bowls in 13 years. He beat Texas six times. But he didn’t have the sizzle or swagger of Leach.
“Mike Leach put Texas Tech on the map,” former Texas Tech quarterback Cody Hodges said over the weekend.
Despite an 8-4 record this season and seven bowl invitations in 10 years, Maryland hasn’t been noticed on college football’s landscape since Friedgen took the Terps to their only BCS game — a 56-23 demolition by Florida in the Orange Bowl — in his first year. Forget the search committee, the consulting firm and clear up the smokescreen.Just hire Leach – and pray it’s the right move.