As the college football coaching carousel slows, WSU president Kirk Schulz says he'll be meeting with Cougars' football coach Mike Leach on Saturday. Schulz also provided an update on the WSU athletic director search, and the candidacy of John Currie
Less than two weeks out from the Dec. 20 early signing period, the college football coaching carousel is finally slowing down, and Tennessee, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oregon have all hired new head football coaches.
What do those four programs have in common?
At some point in the last few weeks, Washington State football coach Mike Leach was rumored as a candidate for each of them, and the concern around Leach’s future at WSU reached fever pitch last Thursday, when he reportedly met with then-Tennessee athletic director John Currie to discuss the Vols’ head coaching job.
But as the Cougars begin bowl practices on Friday and gear up for a big recruiting visit weekend in Pullman, Leach remains WSU’s head football coach, and WSU President Kirk Schulz hopes to keep it that way.
In a phone interview with The Seattle Times on Friday afternoon, Schulz made his first public comments on Leach’s reported dalliance with Tennessee, and reiterated that he’s determined to do everything possible to keep Leach at WSU.
“For several weeks now, way before the coaching carousel started, we were talking with his agent and him directly about what we needed to do to retain him as our head football coach,” Schulz said. “It’s been collaborative and collegial, and I’m meeting with Mike tomorrow afternoon, and hopefully we’ll get everything finalized.”
Schulz said he hopes his Saturday meeting with Leach will lead to an announcement of a contract extension for the coach in the near future.
Schulz also confirmed that he offered Leach a raise and extension prior to the coach’s meeting with Currie in Los Angeles last Thursday.
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Leach is in the first year of a five-year rollover contract that pays him just under $3.1 million annually. His buyout, if he accepted a new head coaching job before the end of 2017, is $2.25 million. Leach’s salary ranks 38th nationally among all FBS head football coaches at public universities in 2017, and sixth among the Pac-12’s public schools.
Schulz said he wasn’t surprised to see Leach’s name emerge as a candidate of interest with other schools looking for new head coaches because of how successful the Cougars’ football team has been over the last three years.
“There was so much misinformation on the Internet about any of it, I’ve been careful not to troll that too much,” Schulz said. “A lot of people were angry at the announcement that coach Leach might have talked to another school. But to me, when we have success, people are going to come after our coaches. That’s a compliment to our program. We have to do our best to retain them.
Since Leach’s reported meeting with Currie, Schulz says he’s been in constant communication with WSU’s sixth-year head coach, and that they have “continued to talk about the future of WSU and what things are important to him here.”
Speculation about Leach’s long-term future at WSU began after Bill Moos left WSU in October to become athletic director at Nebraska. Moos hired Leach in November 2011, and Leach, who prizes a clear-cut, steady leadership chain, has always spoken favorably of his relationship with Moos.
With Moos gone, questions emerged as to whether Leach would follow him out the door. Leach has not made any public comments on his reported meeting with Tennessee, but prior to last week, on at least two occasions, Leach has said that he wants to stay at WSU.
Meanwhile, WSU’s search for Moos’ successor continues. The school has retained Parker Executive Search firm to assist in its search for a new athletic director, Schulz said, adding that the search committee will review candidates over the next few weeks, and that the Cougars are still on track to name a new athletic director by Feb. 1, 2018.
Schulz said they’ve kept the search private in order to attract the best candidates, and declined to say whether deputy athletic director Mike Marlow – who was instrumental in recruiting Leach to WSU – is a candidate for the athletic director job.
However, Schulz did put one rumor to rest: Former Tennessee AD John Currie, whom the Vols suspended last Friday after his reported meeting with Leach, will not be a candidate for the WSU athletic director job, Schulz said.
Currie’s relationship with Schulz dates back to the president’s Kansas State days, when he hired Currie to be the Wildcats’ athletic director in 2009. Currie left Kansas State for Tennessee in February, but was suspended last week and replaced by Phil Fulmer.
“John is not a candidate and would not be an appropriate hire for us at this time,” Schulz said Friday. “John’s got to resolve his issues with Tennessee and is in the middle of a legal battle. We have other terrific candidates who have expressed strong interest.”
Conduct Board task force work nearing an end
Schulz said the student conduct board task force, which has been working to reform WSU’s student conduct system since last fall, will likely wrap up its work by the end of the year. WSU hopes to update the public on its proposed student conduct code revisions in early 2018, Schulz said.