Leach makes his case that he's perfect for Gophers vacancy

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 2, 2010 - 7:20 AM

But given how his career at Texas Tech ended -- over concerns about how he treated a player with a concussion -- don't expect him to get a phone call.

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Mike Leach went from National Coach of the Year to out of a job at Texas Tech in the span of less than a year.

Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press

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Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has accepted Minnesota's vacant head coaching job. Now, he just needs someone to offer it.

Well, maybe it's not quite that simple. But the controversial coach, out of work the past 11 months after being fired over his treatment of a player with a concussion, made it clear Wednesday in a telephone interview that he believes he could turn around the Gophers' legacy of football mediocrity. And he would welcome the chance.

"It's like buying real estate -- you want a situation where it's undervalued so you can turn it into something," said the 49-year-old Leach, who also has expressed his desire this week to become the new coach at Miami (Fla.). "That's a program that's underutilized, that has a lot of advantages but is just lying dormant. ... I would enjoy the challenge."

And a certain segment of fans would enjoy watching it. As the names Brady Hoke, Troy Calhoun, Al Golden and a dozen others are vetted and debated around Minnesota, one name constantly is promoted on radio shows and fan sites, despite unsubtle hints on campus that he's not a candidate: Leach.

"Minnesota's fan base would explode if Mike Leach got the job," said Zach Johnson, publisher and operator of the Gopher Illustrated website. "He's the one guy that everyone comes back to. Dan Mullen [of Mississippi State] or Jim Harbaugh [of Stanford] might be more popular hires, but talking realistic candidates, he's by far the most popular."

With everyone but university administrators, anyway. Athletic director Joel Maturi, who hoped to make a splash with his next hire, immediately ruled out the candidate who would be a human cannonball. Maturi has not contacted him, Leach said, despite the fact that he went 84-43 and never had a losing season in his decade in Lubbock. And university President Robert Bruininks mentioned Leach by name in October when he said some candidates "have some things in their background that would make them a risk, like a Mike Leach. ... I don't think we need a checkered background."

Leach said his background includes things like a 79 percent graduation rate at Texas Tech, and 10 consecutive bowl trips for the Red Raiders.

"Those are things that are important to universities, aren't they?" Leach said. "We had an exciting brand of football that wins. We went to bowl games and won. We graduate our players -- [ranked] sixth in the nation. And when was the last time you heard about one of my players being in trouble?"

Actually, it's Leach who got into trouble, initially by allegedly sequestering receiver Adam James, son of ESPN analyst Craig James, in a darkened shed during practice while he was suffering from a concussion. The case caused the university to suspend and then fire Leach, who responded by filing suit against the university for wrongful termination and ESPN for defamation.

Leach, who now has a daily show on Sirius satellite radio, believes the lawsuits are scaring off universities, though he added: "That's short-sighted. I'm in the middle of litigation that will obviously pass in a couple of months, and I'll be vindicated. That won't affect the job I can do for several years. If I wasn't trying to clear my name, I wouldn't be the right guy to hire."

It may be more than just the suit, however. Leach has a strong personality, and reports have circulated that the coach offended the Gophers delegation at events leading up to the 2006 Insight Bowl, coming across as arrogant. Leach denied doing anything objectionable -- "except pulling off that comeback and beating them," 44-41 after trailing by 31 points, the biggest rally in bowl history.

Leach said Maturi "seemed like a nice guy. I enjoyed his company. But if they're basing [the hire] on how you're dressed or something, rather than winning football games, they're doomed to repeating history."

It's a history Leach said he knows how to change.

"The most important positions are offensive linemen and defensive linemen. You can walk to the grocery store up there [in Minnesota] and find guys who could be good ones," he said. "And nobody in the Big Ten utilizes the skill positions like we do. The fans would rally around it, would get excited about the program. That's what I bring to the table."

That, and one other thing: "He scored 70 points on Nebraska [in 2004]," Johnson said. "That would make him pretty popular."

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