Pay attention football fans, things are about to get very interesting in Starkville, Mississippi, as the Mike Leach era begins at Mississippi State. Over the years, the knock on Leach has been that he does not recruit well. However, Leach has been named National Coach of the Year twice. Once during his tenure at Washington State in Pullman, Washington and then at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. Pullman and Lubbock may not be Tuscaloosa, Alabama or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all part of the Mike Leach persona. Leach is arguably one of the most innovative coaches in the country and his air raid attack offenses have reshaped college football. No one in college football earns National Coach of the Year honors twice unless they know what they are doing. He has demonstrated this (both on Saturdays during football season and while recruiting during the offseason). The question that seems to be coming from college football observers is whether or not Leach can recruit well enough to contend in the SEC West. As many teams have learned over the past several years, underestimating Leach is never a wise move, so let’s look at the Mike Leach recruiting strategy over the years.
The first piece of information to understand concerning Leach is that his head coaching opportunities have not been brief appearances. Leach was at Texas Tech for eight years, and in his second stop at Washington State, he was there for a decade. Leach does not job hop, and he establishes a system that skill position players want to play in and that they can be successful at—while perhaps attracting a little national attention to themselves along the way. Having some consistency walk the sidelines at Mississippi State will be good for the Bulldogs right now, and the key to having a consistent performing team is to doing the recruiting work in the offseason.
Leach took over the Texas Tech program after being an assistant coach under Hal Mumme at Kentucky and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. He was hired to replace the legendary Spike Dykes at Texas Tech. Leach immediately began to find recruits that would fit his system. He discovered wide receivers like Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, and he put the “Air Raid” system into place. The only recruit of that group that was highly recruited would be Michael Crabtree. Leach has not always had the opportunity to go after the highly touted recruits. However, being in the SEC gives him the opportunity at landing the bigger name recruits. Now, with the arrival of Mike Leach at Mississippi State, in addition to Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, Athens and Gainesville, Florida, star recruits have another location to consider…..Starkville.
The recruiting classes at Washington State was built in similar fashion to Leach’s work at Texas Tech. During his tenure there, the offensive line talent is what stands out to me. Anytime you can look and see Andre Dillard, Cole Madison and Joe Dahl listed as players occupying NFL rosters, you have done a good job at finding and developing talent. Dillard, for example, was a three-star prospect for the Cougars and developed into a first-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. All of the Mike Leach classes would rank outside the top-40 while he was in Pullman.
As for what Coach Leach will do in Starkville, he can now recruit one of the most talent rich areas in the country. I see his recruiting improving, not because he is changing his philosophy, but because he now has access to the SEC talent pool, which was less available to him at Texas Tech and Washington State. However, I see him looking for the same type of players that made him a winner at Texas Tech and Washington State. Leach will look for athletes that are coachable, are willing to accept his approach to coaching, and are willing to put in the hard work required to become the best. In case you are somewhat unfamiliar with Coach Leach, be aware that he is unique in his approach to coaching. However, there’s no arguing with the fact that the man knows how to find players that win football games, period. The class that Joe Moorhead brought in for the 2020 period is a class that is ranked inside the top 30. My advice to everyone is to sit back and watch Leach recruit, but most importantly, watch how he coaches up the talent. Football season is going to be fun in Starkville this fall, but recruiting never stops.