Next UT coach: Mike Leach?

If you were looking for the polar opposite of Phillip Fulmer to succeed him as Tennessee's head football coach, Texas Tech's Mike Leach probably would be your guy.

Whereas Fulmer would prefer to "pound the rock," Mike Leach routinely calls 50 pass plays per game. Last season, for instance, Red Raider quarterback Graham Harrell threw for 5,705 yards. To put that in perspective: Peyton Manning's best season as a Vol saw him throw for 3,819 yards.

And, whereas Fulmer relies on upperclassmen whenever possible, Leach shows no hesitation to build his offense around freshmen. Last fall first-year receiver Michael Crabtree led the entire NCAA in receptions (134), receiving yards (1,960) and receiving touchdowns (22), winning the Biltenikoff Award as the NCAA's premier pass catcher.

California-born Leach, 47, doesn't just differ from Fulmer, however. Texas Tech's head man is so far outside the coaching norm that he's essentially a category unto himself. He is one of only six Div. 1-A head coaches who did not play college football. He routinely wears Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops on recruiting visits. He has a law degree. He plays a spread offense that relies almost exclusively on the pass. He has a fascination with pirates.

When you cut through the eccentricities, however, Leach is one of the more successful coaches in college football. Even at a perennial Big 12 also-ran like Texas Tech he has a 75-37 overall record, a 41-29 league mark and a 5-3 bowl record. In nine seasons at Lubbock he has never posted a losing record. His 2008 team recently shocked top-ranked Texas and currently ranks No. 2 nationally with a 10-0 record.

Of particular interest to Tennessee fans is the fact that Leach shows a knack for turning around unproductive offenses in short order. Assuming an Oklahoma attack that averaged just 16.7 points per game in 1998, he coordinated an offense that improved by 20 points per game (to 36.8) in 1999. Perhaps he could perform similar magic in 2009 with a Vol offense that is averaging a putrid 16.0 points per game in 2008.

Leach comes by his fondness for wide-open football honestly. He was a student at Brigham Young (1980-83) during an era when LaVell Edwards was head coach and Norm Chow was offensive coordinator. After securing a law degree from Pepperdine, Leach changed career paths and went into coaching.

His first college gig was as offensive coordinator (1989-91) at Iowa Wesleyan under pass-happy Hal Mumme. He followed Mumme to Valdosta State (1992-96) and then to Kentucky (1997-98).

In 22 games at Kentucky, Leach's offense set six NCAA records, 41 SEC marks and 116 school records. His quarterback, Tim Couch, was the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

Leach's next stop was as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 1999, where he fashioned an attack that averaged nearly 37 points per game.

Since taking the reins at Texas Tech in 2000, Leach has continued to fill the air with footballs and fill the stands with fans, thanks to his unique and entertaining approach to football. The Red Raiders have led the NCAA in passing offense four years in a row. His 2004 team hung 70 points on Nebraska, the most surrendered in Cornhusker history.

Leach's teams are so explosive that they are never out of a game until the final gun sounds. For instance, his 2004 team rallied from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit to trounce TCU 70-35. His 2006 team posted the biggest comeback in NCAA history, storming back from a 38-7 third-quarter deficit to nip Minnesota 44-41 (overtime) in the Insight Bowl. Last year's team scored 17 points during the final 4:00 to nip Virginia 31-28 in the Gator Bowl.

Leach has two years remaining on a contract that calls for a $1.85 million salary in 2009 but is to be renegotiated following the '08 season. Clearly, Tennessee can afford to outbid Texas Tech for his services if the Vols are willing to overlook his quirks.

Leach tends to speak his mind. He incurred a $10,000 fine – largest in Big 12 history – for lashing out at the officiating crew following a loss to Texas in 2007. When Red Raider fans donated nearly $5,000 to help pay for the fine, Leach suggested the money be used instead to buy 400 hams for Lubbock natives during the Christmas holidays.

Weeks later, after his quarterback was twice called for intentional grounding in the end zone during the 2008 Gator Bowl, Leach briefly questioned the validity of one of the calls before adding: "But I don't comment on officiating. I just give out hams is what I do."

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