ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham isn’t on the Mike Leach bandwagon

Dec 16, 2011, 1:38 PM | Updated: 1:58 pm

By Michael Simeona

The hiring of new Washington State coach Mike Leach has been hailed as ‘perfect’ by many reporters and football analysts around the country. But for Ed Cunningham, a former Husky who works as a college football analyst for ESPN, he thinks the hiring of Leach was nothing more than ‘terrible’.

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New WSU head coach Mike Leach. (AP)

“I think it’s a dangerous hire because if things don’t work out you’re likely to get flapped with a lawsuit,” Cunningham told the “Brock & Salk Show” on Thursday. “Secondly, I think that the wheels may have been a little wobbly at the end of [his tenure] at Texas Tech.”

After ten successful seasons in Lubbock, Leach was fired for refusing to apologize to a player (Adam James, son of ESPN analyst Craig James) after telling him to stand in an equipment room while feeling the after effects of a concussion. Leach subsequently filed lawsuits against the university for wrongful termination, and the ESPN network for slander and libel.

While the hiring of Leach has already invigorated the fanbase over in Pullman – thanks in part to a huge boost in donations and ticket sales – Cunningham believes that any coach could have improved the football program.

“I understand the kind of splashy idea of it, but this is a guy coming in with a lot of barnacles and a lot of question marks in my mind,” Cunningham said. “I think you could have gone and gotten a FCS-level or non-AQ-level coach to come to Washington State because the Pac-12 is a big deal! The money that’s around this conference now is a significant deal – the Pac-12 is a player financially now.

“Even though Washington State may not be seen as a prime team in the Pac-12, I think you could get a guy that is ready to step into the prime of his career.”

That statement won’t sit nicely with Cougar fans who vividly remember Paul Wulff’s tenure on the Palouse (9-40 in four seasons) after a successful coaching run at FCS-level Eastern Washington (53-40). The Cougars needed someone to revive a program that had fallen on hard times, and hiring a coach with an unproven track record in the FBS wouldn’t have sat well with the proud alumni base.

But Cunningham made a point that Leach’s control over a football program, citing his time as head coach of the Red Raiders, started to wear on not only the players, but the coaches as well.

“I happened to know, that he completely lost control of the program – a lot of the players [were] wondering what was going on,” Cunningham explained. “He’s going to have a very difficult time hiring a defensive staff. That side of the building was very unhappy at the end. The coaching circle is tiny – everybody knows everybody – so it gets out that the guy is difficult to work for as a defensive coach.”

Success in college football is defined by winning, and not many coaches have done that better than Mike Leach. Leach’s career record as head coach (84-43) is enough for most, if not all Cougar fans to forget about his controversial past, but Cunningham believes his coaching style will wear on the program, eventually.

“Long term, I don’t think it’s the right solve,” said Cunningham.

“I think Mike Leach’s time as a head coach is over, and I think Washington State really stretched on this hire.”

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