The search is on for a new Washington State head football coach, and the guy leading the short list is Mike Leach.
The former coach at Texas Tech, known almost as much for his controversial words and deeds as his mastery of a high-scoring passing attack, is the most high-profile — and thus most expensive — free agent candidate that athletic director Bill Moos will consider.
After two days of meetings, Moos did the deed Tuesday afternoon in Pullman.
“Paul and I met at length Sunday, and then spoke again this morning, after which I determined the best path for Cougar football moving forward is to have a change of leadership,” Moos said in a statement. “I appreciate all that Paul has done for Washington State football. He was hired with the objective of rebuilding this program and establishing a solid foundation. For that, I thank him.”
Wulff was 9-40 in his four seasons at Washington State, including a 4-8 record this season that doubled the Cougars’ win total from 2010. But it wasn’t enough, and WSU will buy out the fifth and final year of his contract for $800,000.
Moos told the Spokesman-Review in Spokane that he is a one-man search committee and expects to make the hire within two or three weeks. He also said he is prepared to at least double Wulff’s annual salary, meaning north of $1.2 million for the new coach. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is paid about $1.8 million for 2011.
“Ideally (I want) a (current) head coach or someone with head coaching experience,” Moos said. “We have to run with the big dogs or just admit that we are doormats.”
Only once since World War II has WSU hired someone with previous major-college head coaching experience. Everett native Dennis Erickson was hired after one year at the University of Wyoming, and lasted two years, 1987-88, before moving to the University of Miami.
The advent of the Pac-12 Conference’s new, $3 billion television deal, which kicks in next year, makes possible the salary leap. Much of that money was dedicated to pay off construction bonds on WSU’s $80 million renovation of Martin Stadium.
But without a competitive, bowl-worthy team led by a coach who can induce attendance at one of the FBS’s most remote outposts, many of the new stadium suites will be dark. Leach is attractive because he pulled off the feat in Lubbock, TX., an even more remote location.
Leach, who had a five-year, $12.7 million deal at Texas Tech before he was fired in 2009, was 84-43 in his 10 years there. Leach was fired over allegations of mistreatment of one of his players, Aaron James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James. Leach filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, a case that is on appeal.
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