Examining who could replace Mike Leach at Washington State
Washington State is the latest Power 5 job to open in the 2019-20 college football coaching carousel, as Mike Leach left Pullman to take over at Mississippi State. Leach went 55-47 with the Cougars and guided the program to six bowl trips over the last seven years. Washington State is one of the Pac-12’s toughest jobs, but Leach and Mike Price proved coaches can win consistently in Pullman.
Who could replace Leach at Washington State? Here are 10 names to watch in the coaching search:
10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Mike Leach at Washington State
Andy Avalos, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon
Avalos might be a longshot to get consideration for this job, but the former Boise State linebacker is a rising star to watch in the coaching ranks. The California native worked as an assistant with the Broncos from 2012-15 before a promotion to defensive coordinator in ’16. Avalos directed the defense for three years in Boise and left to take over at Oregon prior to the 2019 season. The Ducks saw big-time improvement under Avalos’ watch, as this unit held teams to 16.5 points a game after allowing 25.4 in ’18.
Craig Bohl, Head Coach, Wyoming
Bohl’s style of play is significantly different than Leach’s high-powered offense, but there’s no doubt the Nebraska native could win in Pullman. Bohl went 104-32 at North Dakota State with three FCS national championships from 2003-13. He took over at Wyoming – one of the Mountain West’s toughest jobs – in 2014 and went 6-18 through his first two seasons. However, Wyoming has won at least six games in each of the last four years and has played in three bowl contests in that span.
Troy Calhoun, Head Coach, Air Force
Calhoun has experience maximizing resources at a tough job and knows how to get the most out of the roster. That combination would be a good fit in Pullman but hiring him away from his alma mater won’t be easy. Calhoun is 98-69 at Air Force and has just four losing seasons since 2007. The Falcons have 10 bowl trips under Calhoun’s watch and won the 2015 Mountain West Mountain Division title. He also has experience from stops as an assistant from time at Wake Forest and Ohio and in the NFL with the Texans and Broncos. Air Force capped an 11-win season by beating Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl.
Alex Grinch, Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
Grinch has ties to the Washington State program after coordinating the defense under Leach from 2015-17. The Ohio native brought significant improvement to the defense during his three years in Pullman and helped Oklahoma’s group take a step forward in 2019. Grinch does not have any experience as a head coach, but he has a strong resume as a coordinator and is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks.
Graham Harrell, Offensive Coordinator, USC
Harrell spent two years (2014-15) working under Leach at Washington State and played quarterback for him at Texas Tech. The transition to Harrell would be minimal if the program went this direction. Harrell also spent three years (2016-18) at North Texas as the offensive coordinator and brought marked improvement to USC’s offense in 2019. The Trojans finished third in the Pac-12 in scoring (32.5) in Harrell’s first year calling plays in Los Angeles.
Jay Hill, Head Coach, Weber State
Hill is a rising star in the FCS coaching ranks. The Utah native worked on the Utes’ staff from 2005-13 before taking over as Weber State’s head coach. After a 15-20 start to his tenure, the Wildcats have won at least 10 games in each of the last three years and the FCS Playoffs every season in that span.
Seth Littrell, Head Coach, North Texas
Littrell is another coach with ties to Leach that could pop up in this search. The Oklahoma native played under Leach at Oklahoma (1999) and later coached with him at Texas Tech from 2005-08. Littrell worked as an assistant at Arizona (2009-11), Indiana (2012-13) and North Carolina (2014-15) before taking over as the head coach in Denton. North Texas is 27-25 under Littrell’s watch and has three bowl appearances over four years. The Mean Green won the 2017 Conference USA West Division title.
Joe Moorhead, Former Mississippi State Head Coach
Moorhead didn’t work out at Mississippi State, but he still went 14-12 over two seasons and is regarded as one of the top minds on offense in college football. Moorhead previously went 38-13 as Fordham’s head coach (2012-15) and had a successful two-year stint as Penn State’s play-caller (2016-17). The guess here is Moorhead is a better coach than his stint in Starkville would suggest.
Jay Norvell, Head Coach, Nevada
Norvell is quietly doing a solid job in Reno. After working as an assistant at a variety of jobs – Wisconsin, Iowa State, Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona State and in the NFL with the Colts and Raiders – he landed the Nevada job prior to the 2017 season. The Wolf Pack finished 3-9 in his first year but are 15-11 over the last two seasons. Nevada also has back-to-back bowl trips and is 9-7 in Mountain West play in that span.
Nick Rolovich, Head Coach, Hawaii
Rolovich runs a similar system to Leach and is primed for an opportunity to run a Power 5 program after going 28-27 at Hawaii the last four years. The Rainbow Warriors have won at least seven games in three of Rolovich's seasons at the helm, including a 10-5 mark with a division title in 2019.