Gus Malzahn vs. Mike Leach
Photos (Associated Press): Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, left, appears stern, thoughtful and entirely too close to the camera. Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, right, appears much the same.
Unless we’re not reading the Maryland search committee right, it appears as if former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn are the front runners for Ralph Friedgen’s old job in College Park. Crazier things have happened where a surprise candidate emerges, but I don’t think Jim Harbaugh will suddenly have an urge to move close to his brother.
So let’s assess the strengths and weaknesses of Leach and Malzahn to see who might be a better fit for the Terps.
Head coaching experience: This is obvious, since Leach has been a successful Division I head coach (84-43 and 10 straight bowl games) for a decade and Malzahn’s only head coaching experience has been on the high school level in his native Arkansas. But the edge isn’t as wide as you might expect, since those who’ve been around Leach in Lubbock say that he spent nearly every waking hour on offense and didn’t really pay much attention to defense or even special teams. EDGE: LEACH
Offensive system: I think Danny O’Brien could be successful in either the spread run by Leach or Malzahn’s hybrid hurry-up, so it comes down to those around O’Brien. It would be easier for Maryland’s young and improving (though far from established) offensive line, not to mention tailbacks Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams, to play in a more traditional offense such as the one Auburn used. With the departure of wide out Torrey Smith, the Terps might not have their own Michael Crabtree waiting for Leach’s arrival. They don’t have a Cam Newton, but who does? EDGE: MALZAHN
Putting a staff together: Since neither Leach nor Malzahn have ties to Maryland or the ACC, both would be starting from scratch. The one edge Leach might have is that he shares the same agent with Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown and could have a better chance of convincing Brown to stay. Many of Leach’s former assistants are at East Carolina, and seem to really enjoy working for Ruffin McNeill. Malzahn hasn’t been around long enough to establish many relationships, but there will definitely be some who want to latch on to this rising star. EDGE: EVEN
Exciting the fan base: From the moment that first-year athletic director Kevin Anderson said that it was a “business decision” not to retain Friedgen, it meant that his successor would have to fill seats immediately at Byrd Stadium. Given that Leach’s Air Raid offense led to Texas Tech’s stadium being expanded twice during his tenure, Leach’s arrival would bring an immediate bump in season ticket sales and possibly in some buying up those empty suites. Malzahn might have to prove himself a little before that happened. EDGE: LEACH
Relating to the fan base: Coaching in College Park is not like coaching in Lubbock or Auburn, surrounded by the Ravens on one side and the Redskins on the other. But Leach probably met plenty of Dallas Cowboys’ fans whose second (or third) favorite team was the Red Raiders, while Malzahn only experienced not being the biggest game in town when he was in Tulsa and surrounded by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Also, considering the two lawsuits Leach filed after being fired, and the fact that he has his law degree from Pepperdine, he could certainly fit in with all the lawyers in the Baltimore-Washington area. EDGE: LEACH
Getting to a BCS game: Friedgen took the Terps to the Orange Bowl his first year – albeit using Ron Vanderlinden’s players – so I think both Maryland candidates are capable of doing the same with Friedgen’s players next season. But because of the competition Maryland has to beat out in its division just to get a shot at an ACC championship – namely Florida State – Maryland can’t simply be a one-dimensional team next season that thinks it can outscore anybody it faces. EDGE: MALZAHN
Recruiting: Leach was not known as an overly enthusiastic recruiter at Texas Tech, and really believed that he could win with marginal talent. The biggest recruiting coup for Malzahn as a D-I assistant was when he was first hired by Arkansas and brought five players, including highly-recruited quarterback Mitch Mustain, with him to Fayetteville. Both ended up leaving after a year. Those who know Malzahn said that he is good with high school coaches and in homes, while Leach by reputation doesn’t want to be bothered. EDGE: MALZAHN
Off-the-field performance: Texas Tech had nearly an 80 percent graduation rate during Leach’s decade in Lubbock, among the highest in the Big 12. The schools where Malzahn has worked are more toward the mid 60s percentage-wise – or worse – and are perennially ranked in the bottom half or near the bottom of their respective leagues. Friedgen has built a good foundation in that regard, and Leach’s numbers are certainly impressive. EDGE: LEACH
Being a team player: The word you here most often about Leach’s reputation in Lubbock is incorrigible; he didn’t take to any kind of authority. Anderson is certainly not going to tolerate that, ad that reputation (not to mention the lawsuits) could be what’s holding up an offer. Everyone who knows Malzahn talks about his character, his strong religious faith and the fact that he usually can be found watching film or drawing up plays. EDGE: MALZAHN
Baggage: The circumstances surrounding Leach’s exit in Lubbock got more attention than it deserved, in large part because it involved the son of ESPN analyst Craig James. (Adam James claimed he was put in a dark shed at practice by Leach because he had a concussion.) Even ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer said that ESPN’s coverage of the incident was biased. Many former players have come to Leach’s defense. While Auburn has been cleared by the SEC for the recruiting scandal surrounding Newton, all the facts have yet to come to light. Malzahn’s name has never come up. EDGE: MALZAHN
Who would stay longer: Friedgen made the comment after the Military Bowl that he doesn't believe the administration is committed to having an elite football program, and I’m not sure he’s completely wrong. Leach stayed in Lubbock for 10 years, in part because he couldn’t never get past the interview at a couple of other schools after being considered the favorite. Malzahn has been at three schools in five years, though his exit from Arkansas after one year wasn’t his fault. I certainly could see either bolting to the SEC or Big 12 if jobs opened up. EDGE: LEACH
It’s too close to call, but last I checked, I wasn’t making this decision. Unless Anderson and the search committee have a surprise in store – is Connecticut’s Randy Edsall lurking behind the curtain? – it’s time to make the hire and move forward.