Mike Leach still going strong with Washington State a year after UT search

Washington State football coach Mike Leach watches the Cougars' Apple Cup rivalry matchup with Washington last Friday in Pullman, Wash.

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of Washington State football coach Mike Leach meeting in Los Angeles with then-Tennessee athletic director John Currie about the Volunteers' coaching vacancy.

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of then-Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport suspending Currie with pay and naming Phillip Fulmer to assume the reins of a chaotic search that quickly calmed and ultimately led to the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama's defensive coordinator at the time.

Leach never was extended an offer from Currie, whom Davenport summoned back to Knoxville. Fulmer, the former Vols football coach, is now the school's athletic director.

"They had a coup d'etat there at Tennessee, and it really didn't have anything to do with me," Leach said. "It just happened to be about that time. From what I understand, it was a collision of about three different sources of power as people were clawing their way to the top - sort of like a coalition government and probably not altogether different from the show 'Narcos.'

"It was tough for John, but I wasn't locked in on anything or anything like that, and I had the honor of staying right here at Washington State and winning some more games."

Texts and emails released to USA Today in March revealed Currie informed Davenport that Leach would have taken the job if offered.

Tennessee's first season under Pruitt ended last Saturday with a 38-13 loss at Vanderbilt that saddled the Vols with a 5-7 record. The Vols finished 2-6 in Southeastern Conference play, upsetting the ranked duo of Auburn and Kentucky a year after the program endured its first eight-loss season as well as a first winless run through league competition.

Leach, meanwhile, has a chance to guide Washington State to the first 11-win season in program history with a victory in its bowl game. The Cougars were 10-1 and No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings until losing last Friday night's snow-filled Apple Cup, 28-15, to rival Washington.

As a guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM this week, Leach was asked whether that was his toughest loss.

"I don't know. They're all tough," he said. "The weather hit and kind of made it a random game for everybody, and I can't take anything away from the University of Washington. The one thing that's curious to me is that every 10-win (Power Five conference) team is in the top seven, and we're 13th.

"Do the math on that. How does that make any sense?"

The Cougars indeed reside behind the 9-3 quartet of Florida, LSU, Washington and Penn State in this week's CFP rankings.

Washington State was 9-40 in the four seasons before Leach took over in 2012, and the past four seasons have yielded a 36-15 record. Stanford and Washington, with 38 wins apiece, are the only Pac-12 programs with more triumphs in that stretch.

Leach's Cougars have overcome mediocre recruiting rankings of 42nd, 56th, 44th and 45th the past four cycles.

"I don't know how they rank this recruiting, and I don't pay much attention to that," Leach said. "They typically think we're going to get our heads kicked in, and we've kind of been bending them over on that, not once or twice but four straight years, and we are honored to do it.

"We're still not interested in getting screwed out of the New Year's Six bowls, nor should we, and I think that illustrates the need for a 16-team playoff or more."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.