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WSU football coach Mike Leach leaves for Mississippi State Bulldogs

Cougars head coach Mike Leach is leaving WSU after eight seasons in Pullman. (Getty)

After years of rumors that WSU football coach Mike Leach would leave Pullman for the SEC, he found a match.

Instant Reaction: 710 ESPN Seattle on Mike Leach leaving WSU

Leach has agreed to become the new head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the school announced Thursday.

There were several reports of Leach’s departure from Washington State on Thursday morning, the first of which came from Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. This news came a day after reports that he had interviewed for the Bulldogs’ coaching vacancy and a little over two years after Leach reportedly almost became Tennessee’s head coach.

Leach has been Cougars head coach for the past eight seasons, leading WSU to a 55-47 combined record and six bowl game appearances. In 2018, Leach’s Cougars went 11-2, setting a program record for wins in a single season.

The timing of Leach’s decision to leave Pullman is somewhat interesting in that he signed a one-year extension at Washington State just last month, which put him under contract through the 2024 season.

WSU released a statement from President Kirk Schulz and Director of Athletics Pat Chun regarding Leach’s departure on Thursday afternoon: “On behalf of Washington State, we would like to thank Coach Leach for his eight years of service to the Cougars. Mike has transformed Washington State Football into a national brand and we will be forever grateful. We wish he and Sharon nothing but the best in their next chapter at Mississippi State. Now we look forward to elevating the Cougs to the highest levels of college football.”

Chun said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that Leach’s buyout from his contract is $2.25 million. Chun added that WSU is flexible when it comes to the timeline on signing a new head coach.

“However long it takes to get the best coach at Washington State is however long it takes,” Chun said.

Leach thanks WSU and its fans in a tweet late Thursday night.

With Leach gone for the SEC, both the Cougars and the rival UW Huskies will have new coaches for 2020, as Jimmy Lake succeeded Chris Petersen as Washington head coach after a win over Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl last month.

Rumors of Leach pursuing a job in the SEC or another major southern conference were a regularity in the months following the end of each WSU season during his time in Pullman. In November 2017, it reportedly got as far as the Tennessee Volunteers preparing to offer him their head coach position, only for Tennessee to put then-athletic director John Currie on leave and go another direction.

Leach has a 139-90 overall record in 18 seasons as a college football head coach. Prior to his arrival at WSU in 2012, he was coach at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2009. While he was 84-43 with the Red Raiders, where he established his Air Raid offense and swashbuckling personality, his tenure in Lubbock ended in controversy.

It didn’t take long after Thursday’s news broke for speculation to begin about who Washington State’s next coach will be. A popular name to replace Leach is Alex Grinch, the current Oklahoma defensive coordinator who had a stellar tenure as the Cougars’ DC and defensive backs coach from 2015-17 before leaving for Ohio State in 2018.

Who will WSU get to replace Mike Leach? All eyes turn to Alex Grinch

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