Washington State has announced that head coach Mike Leach has been extended by one season through the 2023 season. They have also announced that defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has signed a three-year contract that will take him through the 2021 season.
Washington State athletics director Pat Chun had to say about the extension: “Coach Mike Leach has built a nationally prominent football program at Washington State and our student-athletes continue to excel athletically and academically under his leadership, his ability to create and steward a winning culture, combined with his vision and expertise, make him one of the elite coaches in the entire sport of football. Few coaches could have accomplished what Coach Leach did in 2018. There is no greater head football coach for WSU than Mike Leach and we are happy to have him leading our program for many years to come.”
After being out of coaching for the 2010 and 2011 seasons following his firing from Texas Tech, Leach took over in Pullman in what seemed like a really interesting hire at the time for a guy who hadn’t been in coaching for a couple years, but was successful at a very similar-level program, and a program that was as dead as any program can possibly be in college football.
It was a slow build in the Palouse, with the Cougars going 3-9 in his first season, but making a big jump to a bowl game in his second season where they went to the New Mexico Bowl and lost to Colorado State, but then the Cougars had a downslide in his third season, falling back to 3-9.
His fourth season in 2015 was when they got things going. They reached the top-25 for the first time under Leach, reaching as high as number 20 and they went on to finish 9-4 with a win over Miami (FL) in the Sun Bowl.
The 2016 season was nearly identical to the season before, but this time they went on to lose the Holiday Bowl to Minnesota, but it was another successful season and it was clear that Mike Leach could still win at nearly any program.
The 2017 season was when the Cougars really took off. They started off 6-0 and during the season reached as high as number 8 in the polls. They eventually had a little bit of a fall off during the end of the season, but they still finished the regular season 9-3, before losing the Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl.
This past season was the most special season Mike Leach has had at Washington State. The reason for this was because he was having to replace Luke Falk, who set all kinds of records, he had to replace his defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who left to take a defensive assistant position at Ohio State and they unfortunately had to find a way to bring someone in for Tyler Hilinski after he tragically committed suicide in the off season before. Hilinski was slated to be the starter, so losing him in that realm was huge, but the team dealing with the loss of a teammate like that was something Leach was going to have to try and regroup everyone in his program.
He went on to do that, by finding Gardner Minshew, who was maybe the most entertaining personality in all of college football this season, he was nearly a Heisman finalist and the Cougars reached as high as number 7 in the polls before losing the Apple Cup to Washington.
They finished the regular season 10-2 and then were able to get a school-record 11th win in the Alamo Bowl against Iowa State.
Overall Mike Leach is 49-40 in his seven seasons at Washington State, but if you only include the last four seasons when the program really started to take off after he took over a complete rebuild, they are 37-15, which at Washington State is amazing.
He’s really accomplished as much as you possibly can at Washington State and the only thing he really hasn’t been able to do is breakthrough and beat Washington in the Apple Cup and win the North division in the Pac-12. They have had plenty of chances to do that but have been blown out regularly by their rivals, which is something you could chalk up to just Washington having better overall rosters during that time or something Washington does schematically that gives that air raid offense problems.
Other than the Washington problem, Leach has been everything that Washington State could’ve hoped for and more when they hired him.
Tracy Claeys is also getting a three-year contract after his first season in Pullman. When Alex Grinch left for Ohio State there were a lot of people, myself included, that thought the Washington State defense would suffer as a result and at least after one season, they haven’t suffered at all. They actually had about a 2 points per game improvement on defense this season from Grinch’s last season. It’ll be interesting to see how Claeys is able to coach up that defense going forward, but he’s a good defensive-mind and things clearly clicked between him and those players in his first season.
Overall these moves were obvious ones to make. Washington State hasn’t really ever had a stretch like this and Mike Leach nearly became the Tennessee head coach last off season, so Washington State doing whatever they can to keep him as long as they can is the smart move to make.
Whether Leach stays throughout that contract is up in the air, but for now this is great news for Washington State because he should already be a legend in Pullman.
Overall grade of this move: A+