Leach had long been one of the names speculated for the Tennessee opening, but he said after the Apple Cup he expected to be back at Washington State.
UPDATE (Friday a.m.): Tennessee has now reportedly fired athletic director John Currie, who was “prepared to hire” Leach but that his coaching search was sabotaged from within the athletic department, as some administrators were angling to get him fired. More »
Read the final story from Thursday night below.
Tennessee might have finally found a football coach, and it could be Washington State’s Mike Leach.
Multiple reports surfaced Thursday night that Washington State’s Mike Leach interviewed for the Tennessee job over lunch with Vols’ athletic director John Currie in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Tennessee pulled out of a preliminary deal with Greg Schiano, then had Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren decline the job, but they’ve now settled on Leach.
Leach was reportedly in Southern California on a recruiting trip Thursday. He met with Currie at an L.A. area restaurant, and Bruce Feldman, who is close to Leach and co-wrote the coach’s biography “Swing Your Sword,” tweeted that Currie’s meeting with Leach “went very well.”
Leach’s meeting with Currie was first reported by A to Z Sports Nashville, citing an anonymous source. Then, also citing anonymous sources, Dallas Forth-Worth reporter Newy Scruggs tweeted that Leach was “working on a deal to become the next head coach at Tennessee” adding that a deal could be announced as early as Friday.
But a source told ESPN late Thursday night that a deal is not imminent, and the sides have not negotiated.
Dan Harralson, who covers the Vols for SEC blog Saturday Down South, tweeted that Leach told him Thursday night, “I’m on my way.” He did not, however, specify exactly where he’s going. Leach was scheduled to fly back to Pullman Thursday night.
Leach’s named surfaced as a candidate for the Tennessee job two days after Currie fired Butch Jones, under whom the Vols went 34-27 in four seasons.
But as recently as the Apple Cup last Saturday, Leach asserted that he saw himself staying in Pullman.
“Yeah I do,” Leach said in the post-Apple Cup news conference after he was asked if he saw himself in Pullman next year. “I’m strictly focused on the Washington State Cougars. … I can’t speak to rumors I don’t know anything about. I’m focused on Washington State, excited about that. We’re going to a great bowl, and I for one couldn’t be happier.
Leach has a five-year rolling contract with WSU that pays him $3,075,000 per year. Now in his sixth season at WSU, Leach has compiled a 38-37 record in Pullman, and his 38 wins are fourth-most by a head coach in Cougars football history.
Leach did not return calls or texts seeking comment Thursday night, and WSU Athletics spokesperson Bill Stevens said he had no comment on the matter. A voicemail left with WSU’s spokesperson Phil Weiler seeking a comment from President Kirk Schulz was not immediately returned.
Schulz and Currie have a long-standing relationship that dates back to 2007, when Schulz, then Kansas State’s president, hired Currie as athletic director.
Currie took the Tennessee athletic director job this February, and endured fierce backlash from Tennessee fans this week after news broke that Tennessee had signed a memorandum of understanding to hire Schiano. Fans fiercely protested Schiano’s hire on social media, citing his alleged knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of children while he was an assistant at Penn State as reason to not bring him to Tennessee. Currie ultimately gave in to the pressure and backed out of the agreement with Schiano.
Leach’s future at WSU came into question after athletic director Bill Moos, who hired and championed Leach, shocked Washington State last month when he left to become Nebraska’s AD.