For many football coaches, the NFL is the ultimate proving ground. You haven’t truly “made it” until you’ve made it in the NFL. It’s why almost every successful college coach at one time or another gets an offer to leave the college ranks for the greener pastures of professional football (to varying degrees of success). It’s only a matter of time before the big leagues come calling after a coach who’s shown consistent success in college. Well, Mike Leach has an impressive track record of success with a wide open and exciting brand of football which he now brings to the Palouse in his new position at Washington State University. So if he can turn the Cougars into winners, will Mike Leach be on the move to the NFL?
The environment in the NFL may never be more perfect for the Leach brand of football. Quarterbacks are growing more important every year and the passing game is key to any team’s success. Last season, four different quarterbacks were on pace to break Dan Marino‘s long-standing single season record for passing yards (eventually broken by Drew Brees and Tom Brady), marking the dawn of a wide open style of football to the NFL. It’s not the same league where Jim Brown would carry defenders down the field with a bruising attack, which is good. Mike Leach would be terrible in that league.
Leach runs an offense that is predicated on attacking the opposing defense through the air. He uses aggressive play calling, using the arm strength of his quarterback and the athleticism of his receivers, to create matchup opportunities for his offense which results in big chunks of yardage more times than not. With the culture of the NFL transitioning to a pass-first philosophy, doesn’t Leach sound like the kind of coach who would thrive?
Well…no. While Leach calls a gameplan that could be easily tailored to the NFL, his personality is anything but a sure fit. Leach is a quirky guy with behaviors that don’t do so well when examined under a harsh light. It’s why he thrived at Texas Tech and jumped on the opportunity at WSU. They’re programs well off the beaten path where a weird guy is free to be weird. There’s a reason he hasn’t taken jobs at Auburn or Notre Dame or some other high profile school: every move he would make would be analyzed by a thousand beat writers just waiting to interpret every move he made. That isn’t what he’s looking for. He’s an oddball who needs a bit of privacy from time to time.
That personality quirk is probably the biggest reason he hasn’t pursued a job in the NFL, and why one hasn’t already landed in his lap. NFL teams are multi-million dollar corporations unto themselves and the owners of those teams are extremely particular about the face they put on those teams when hiring head coaches. Most of the time, they want someone who knows how to talk to the media without really saying anything, who is safe in their opinions and won’t bring unwanted attention to the team for the wrong reasons. In short, not Mike Leach, who is infamous for being unpredictable at every press conference.
On top of that, Leach is just happier in college football. In a recent interview, Leach said that he likes the college game better and he knows it better. He’s more interested in college football because he gets to be involved in a more exciting time in people’s lives in terms of their growth and development as a person. He did get an offer once to join the Cincinnati Bengals as a wide receivers coach, but Leach turned them down because he didn’t want to take some marginal job in the NFL when he’s had great jobs in college.
While most coaches are always looking to prove themselves at the highest levels, leading them to try and succeed in the NFL, Mike Leach just isn’t that guy. He’s just a regular-Joe with a penchant for pirates who happens to be very good at coaching football without being consumed by it. So will Leach wake up one morning and make a bolt for an NFL job? Don’t count on it. He’s the type of coach who focuses just on the job he’s at and isn’t looking to turn one opportunity into a bigger one. As Leach himself says, “You do the best you can and grow where you’re planted.” So no need to worry Cougar fans because the ground is plenty fertile in the Palouse.
You can follow me on Twitter @Teeblerone and Rant Sports @RantSports