Is Leach Next Up for Maryland?

Rumors suggest Mike Leach is the frontrunner as Terps HC.

When Kevin Anderson announced the buyout of Ralph Friedgen’s contract, his list of potential replacements remained confidential. Just one named highlighted the candidates – Mike Leach.

The former Texas Tech head coach was banished from the game a season ago after accusations he locked ESPN analyst Craig James’ concussed son, Adam James, in a shed. While that report is still in question, his impact on the field is not.

Leach became the winningest Red Raiders coach after a decade-long stint with the team, never posting a losing record. Ten years, 10 bowl games, establishing Texas Tech as a regular contender in the ultra-competitive Big 12 and against traditional in-state powers like Texas and Texas A&M.

In that time, Leach turned the likes of Kliff Kingsbury and Graham Harrell into award-winning quarterbacks, and the talents of Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree into NFL superstars.

The air raid offense Leach is so prominently acclaimed for was among the top six in the nation for eight consecutive seasons, manufacturing an unheard of 500-plus yard average three times. Compare that to Maryland, who during that same time frame averaged 68th in the country.

And when the product is good on the field, as it was in Lubbock, the fan base suddenly becomes reenergized. After Leach pieced together a 22-16 record in his first three seasons, the seats at recently renovated Jones AT&T Stadium were now hot commodities.

Average attendance at The Jones rose steadily since Leach became the head coach. From 2000 to 2008, the typical 42,215-person crowd grew into a 53,625-person crowd, a distinct home-field advantage. In what would be Leach's final season, 2009, the team played Texas A&M in front of the largest home crowd in their history, 57,733.

In the Leach Era seasons, there was a point of emphasis to win against the Aggies, the team's primary nemesis. Leach had a 7-3 record against A&m, four wins came at home, while three took place on the road at College Station. And it is one thing to beat your rivals; it is another to plow over them. The combined score in the wins: 284-151.

A track record, a consistent rank in the Top 25 and a name that will put fans in the stands – sound familiar? Those were precisely the terms to which Anderson was coveting while he conducts his search for Maryland’s new coach.

It goes unnoticed, but Leach also graduated 79 percent of his players. Only seven schools ranked higher during that time. His academic progress rate, a statistic implemented by the NCAA in 2005 to measure student-athletes progress towards graduation, was 938. Compare that a nationwide average of 925.

Add in to the equation the fact that prominent Maryland booster Kevin Plank, former Terp and founder of team sponsor Under Armour, has a strong relationship with Leach. If a top booster is in Anderson’s ear, how long can he ignore the whispers?

In terms of recruiting, prospects have already told me the potential hire of Leach would allow Maryland to reinstitute their school in the pursuit for their talents. Players want to be involved in a productive offense like that of Leach’s, and there is a plethora of fitting talent in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Prince George’s County areas.

Current Terps are a different story. Reports have surfaced that the cornerstone of the program, Danny O’Brien, is upset with the university’s decision to go in another direction. Although rumors suggest he may transfer to reunite with his former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach James Franklin, now the head coach at Vanderbilt, his family has stated he will await Anderson’s hire.

Then there is also the uncertain future of wide-out Torrey Smith, the Terp’s most dynamic weapon on offense, who is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. Smith is an avid supporter of Friedgen, but must consider Leach’s past work with Welker and two-time Biletnikoff winner Crabtree.

As Anderson’s Jan. 4 deadline rapidly approaches, no name will be mentioned more with Maryland’s head coaching vacancy than Mike Leach. On his radio show, Leach said he would love to talk with the Terps about the position, making this match nearly inevitable.

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