STARKVILLE • If Mississippi State’s coaching search were compared to a game of UNO, athletic director John Cohen saved his wild card to play for the win.
The Bulldogs have hired college football’s resident pirate Mike Leach as their 34th head coach. The swashbuckling savant has spent the past eight seasons as Washington State’s coach and brings 18 years of head coaching experience in Power 5 conferences.
Cohen confirmed the hire in unique fashion, with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” themed tweet early Thursday afternoon.
“Mike Leach is a proven winner who has established a culture of excellence for nearly two decades as a head coach,” Cohen said in a statement. “An offensive genius and two-time national coach of the year, he has a track record of building programs to national prominence with accountability and a blue-collar approach.
“We are thrilled to welcome him and his family to the Mississippi State family and look forward to watching our football program grow under his leadership.”
Leach has a 139-90 overall record and has taken his teams to a bowl game in 16 of his 18 years at the helm. He was the Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2008 while at Texas Tech and is a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2018.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be the head football coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs,” Leach said. “I loved Washington State, but I am excited for the next chapter in the SEC. It’s a privilege to be a part of the MSU family, and we look forward to getting down to Starkville shortly.”
Leach arrived at the Bryan Airport in Starkville on Thursday afternoon and will be formally introduced at a noon press conference on Friday. It will be open to the public.
The 58-year old native of Cody, Wyoming, has experience in the Southeastern Conference as well, serving as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kentucky in 1997-98 under Hal Mumme running what was dubbed the “air raid offense” with future No. 1 NFL draft choice Tim Couch at quarterback.
Leach has also been the offensive coordinator at Cal Poly (1987), Iowa Wesleyan (1989-91), Valdosta State (1992-96) and Oklahoma (1999). He also coached linebackers at the College of the Desert in 1988 and even had a stint in Finland with the Pori Bears the following year.
Leach graduated with a degree in American studies from BYU and holds a doctorate from the Pepperdine School of Law as well as a master’s in sports science in sports coaching from the United States Sports Academy.
He is one of only four Division I coaches who did not play college football, along with Appalachian State’s Eliah Drinkwitz, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, SMU’s Sonny Dykes and Memphis’ Ryan Silverfield.
In addition to his football duties, Leach also taught a five-class seminar at Washington State last spring entitled “Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies.”
”I want to commend athletics director John Cohen and his staff for conducting a very thorough and true national search,” said MSU president Mark Keenum. “In coach Mike Leach, that search produced a charismatic leader who has proven he can both win football games at a high level and motivate teams to play up to their potential. I’m excited about the future of our football program.”