Back in late 2017, Tennessee football had one of the craziest coaching searches that we’ve ever seen. Perhaps the biggest name that almost landed the job was then-Washington State head coach Mike Leach, whose candidacy wound up helping cost athletic director John Currie his job.
In seeking to replace the fired Butch Jones, Currie had a productive meeting with Leach in late November 2017. As Brett McMurphy reported at the time, rather than let him extend an offer to Leach, Tennessee fired Currie in a “coup” led by former Vols football coach Phillip Fulmer, who would replace him as athletic director.
It was later revealed that Leach was prepared to take the Vols job if offered. He’d wind up staying put at Washington State for a few more years, until another shot at the SEC rolled around. He coached his first season at Mississippi State in 2020. During that same cycle, Tennessee attempted to hire former (and now, current) Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, until a fan-led campaign sabotaged that move. Eventually, they settled on Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who went 16-19 in three seasons, with a 10-16 SEC record. This year, they hired UCF’s Josh Heupel to replace him.
At today’s SEC Media Days press conference, Mike Leach was asked about that crazy process with Tennessee football. He says he’s “lucky” for not ending up in the center of the coup d’etat.
Mike Leach on what happened w/Tennessee job: "I talked to Tennessee (when he was at Washington State). Nothing ever got nailed down. Then they had a coup d’etat. You can sort that out amongst yourselves. I didn’t end up in the middle of a coup. Lucky for me."
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) July 21, 2021
Instead, he finds himself in the SEC West a few years later with the Bulldogs. Leach got off to a flashy start at MSU, beating defending national champ LSU in his first game.
Things would not go super smoothly from there. MSU finished 4-7 on the season. Of course, the LSU result probably said more about the post-title Tigers than a rebuilding Mississippi State team. While the season certainly seemed disappointing given the start, Leach is moving his program from the much different Joe Moorhead offensive system. Growing pains are not overly surprising.
Vols fans won’t get a first-hand view of what might have been until 2024, when Leach and Mississippi State host the Vols in an SEC division crossover game.