Leach Speaks

Former Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach seems to be one of the favorites to replace Rebel Coach Houston Nutt among the Ole Miss fan base. Here's an inside look into the affable Leach.

"You have to come down here and try the garlic chicken," said Leach, talking to The Ole Miss Spirit on his cell phone from Key West, Fla., where he and his family now reside. "This stuff is phenomenal. I don't know what they do, but it's the best chicken I have ever eaten."

Welcome to the world of Leach, a personable sort who, due to a high intelligence level and assorted interests, might be the coaching version of "The World According To Garp."

There doesn't seem to be anything he's not interested in discussing and not much he doesn't have at the very least a working knowledge of.

"It's very laid back down here in Key West," said Leach. "We fish, scuba dive, snorkel, ride bikes most everywhere we go. It's a different lifestyle."

Leach, after 10 straight winning seasons and 10 straight bowls, was forced out at Texas Tech and left under a cloud in 2009, but he remains a hot topic of just about every college coaching opening that pops up.

What about Ole Miss, a school now searching for a new coach after the dismissal of Houston Nutt?

"I haven't talked to Ole Miss yet, but anyone in coaching would be interested in that job," said Leach. "The SEC is a great conference, the location is good, the campus is really nice, the recruiting base is good and the tradition there is solid.

"It's got all the ingredients coaches look for on the surface."

Having faced Ole Miss three times, winning two, in his tenure at Texas Tech, Leach doesn't believe there is a ceiling on Ole Miss football.

"There is so much upside there. I don't know why you can't win the West and go to Atlanta. Sure, there are some monster teams in the SEC, but that doesn't limit or affect what you can do with the tools available there," he added. "For instance, the talent pool in Mississippi produces better speed than most places. There is also defensive line talent in and around Mississippi. Build from that and you can compete with anyone."

Mike Leach
File Photo

Leach, who has a hot book out now entitled "Swing Your Sword," said he looks deeper than the surface, however, when considering a school.

"I'm looking for a place that wants to win and is not just signed up to play," he continued. "I am also looking for a place where academics is important.

"When I got to Texas Tech, the graduation rate of football players was horrendous. When I left, we were number one in the country in graduation rate. I am very proud of that."

Leach believes success in the classroom is tantamount to success on the field.

"Academics is part of your identity. It's all about competing at everything. It's all about everybody working at a higher level in everything they attempt," he explained. "When competing is part of your nature, no matter if it's on the field or in the classroom, it increases the desire to succeed in both arenas. Competing becomes a habit."

Another factor Leach looks for is unity.

"I want to see a level of cooperation and a high level of working together as a university. Ole Miss, for instance, is bigger than any one person," Leach noted. "Everyone should be in lock step and celebrating all university accomplishments together. It's not just about football with me. It's about anything that is successfully accomplished from all sectors of the university and the pride and joint celebration we all get from those successes."

One concern with Leach is the perception that defense is an afterthought with the offensive guru.

"When you have an offensive juggernaut, your defense never gets the credit it deserves," he said. "You have to be great on defense to win big. At Tech, by the last half of my tenure, we were somewhere between 3rd and 5th in defense in the Big 12, mostly closer to 3rd. My last year, we were only behind Oklahoma and Nebraska in the conference and that's some pretty high cotton.

"As I said, our offense was performing on a national level and sometimes the defense was unsung, but we played solid defense and understand the importance of doing so."

Leach's teams were also known for excellent special teams play.

"When he graduated, Wes Welker was the top punt returner in the history of college football. We had other standouts and always had a good kicking game. It's critical," Leach noted. "We did some good things at Tech - knocking off Texas when they were number one in the country, going 5-1 against Nebraska my last six years, winning some against Oklahoma, going 7-3 against Texas A&M. You cannot do those things unless all three phases of football - offense, defense and special teams - are good."

In 2008, when Ole Miss defeated Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, Leach was named National Coach of the Year. Many in the know felt that particular Rebel team at that particular time was as good as anyone in the country.

Right now, Leach is doing anything but biding his time, but he's anxious to get back into coaching.

"I'm doing a daily talk show, I have a book out, I do speaking engagements, I do book signings - I'm very busy, but coaching is what I want to do when the right opportunity presents itself," he said.

It's said Leach has "baggage," in the form of pending lawsuits against Texas Tech and ESPN, as well as the way he was relieved of his duties at Tech. However, he does not consider himself under any restraints to coach again.

"Anyone considering me should not let the lawsuits be a factor. It has not slowed me from doing anything else," he closed. "Those suits will be settled and if not for sovereign immunity, which only the state of Texas still has and is hiding behind, they already would have been."

Mike Leach is out there, waiting on an opportunity to coach again.

Will Ole Miss call on him? At this point, nobody but the selection committee knows.

Meanwhile, garlic chicken anyone?

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