Random Thoughts – Vol. VI – Farewell to the Pirate

Thin crust pizza

The Pac-12 will miss Mike Leach.

One of my favorite quotes from Leach came from his days in Lubbock, when he was the head coach at Texas Tech. In a 2004 game against Nebraska, the Red Raiders hung 70 on the Cornhuskers in a 70-14 rout.

When asked about running up the score, Leach had this to say:

“The interesting thing about football is that football is the only sport where you quit playing when you get a lead. In golf, you keep trying to score well when you’re ahead.

“In basketball, they don’t quit shooting when they’re ahead. In hockey, they don’t quit shooting when they’re ahead. In boxing, you don’t quit punching when you’re ahead. But in football, somehow magically, you’re supposed to quit playing when you’re ahead. Well, I don’t subscribe to that. I don’t do it like that. And you know, the truth of the matter is, Nebraska never has either.”

The 70 points bested the 62 the Buffs had put on Nebraska three years earlier (I kinda liked that CU had the record for the most points ever posted against the Cornhuskers) … but it was still a great score.

In more recent years, the Pirate’s name seemed to come up every off-season as a potential replacement for someone who had been fired. When asked about it, Leach replied:

“As a head coach, you’re on two lists. You’re the guy that might get fired, or you’re the guy who might go somewhere. Given the two lists, I guess that’s the one to be on.”

Mississippi State was able to lure Leach out of Pullman, and Leach’s replacement has yet to be named.

One thing for certain … Pac-12 fans will miss the entertainment.

Oh, as to the Thin Crust heading …

“I’m a thin-crust pizza guy,” Leach once said. “I respect people who like thick crust, but in my view it’s mostly bread.”

Here’s hoping Leach can find success against the SEC West blue-bloods.

Now, as to Leach’s successor … 

A name that has been circulated, and seems to make the most sense, is Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Grinch spent the last season in Norman, was the defensive coordinator in Columbus for Ohio State the year before that, and, before that … turned around the defense for Washington State.

From the Spokane Spokesman-Review

Alex Grinch

Current job: Defensive coordinator, Oklahoma

Why it makes sense: First and foremost, because Grinch is familiar with WSU and had mounds of success in Pullman as Leach’s defensive coordinator. The Cougars allowed 46.3 points per game the year before Grinch arrived and gave up just 25.8 in his final season as WSU’s DC. Grinch has already had a taste of major Power Five football, at Ohio State and Oklahoma the past two seasons, and even after his unit was strafed by Joe Burrow and LSU in the College Football Playoff, he has the Sooners’ long-maligned defense trending in the right direction.

Likeliness: 4 (out of five) Grinch surely wants to be a head coach at some point, and FootballScoop.com has reported he’ll be on the Cougars’ short list, potentially with designs on bringing Ken Wilson back as DC and Jim Mastro as OC. But he’d have to leave a great situation in Norman.

Other potential candidates … 

Jim McElwain

Current job: Head coach, Central Michigan

Why it makes sense: McElwain has had 10 gigs since then, but the former Eastern Washington quarterback started his career as a QB/WR coach in nearby Cheney, and a Power Five coaching job may lure him back to the Inland Northwest. McElwain’s only other P-5 gig, at Florida, didn’t last long amid controversy, although the coach has rebounded at Central Michigan, where his team went 8-6 last season.

Likeliness: 3. Some would consider McElwain a risk based on his tenure in Gainesville, but the Missoula native’s ties to the region make him an intriguing fit. You’d assume McElwain would at least take a phone call from Chun and the Cougars.

Graham Harrell

Current job: Offensive coordinator, USC

Why it makes sense: A variety of Leach’s pupils will be candidates to replace the 58-year-old in Pullman, but none is more familiar with WSU than Harrell, who coached the Cougars’ outside receivers for two seasons in 2014 and ’15 before leaving to be an offensive coordinator at North Texas. Despite reports that Harrell and/or Clay Helton would not return to USC next season, both have since committed to spending 2020 with the Trojans, though the opening at WSU could persuade Harrell otherwise.

Likeliness: 3. By all accounts, Harrell, at 34 years old, has enough experience to make the next step his career and the Trojans put up impressive numbers – 32.5 points per game – with him calling the plays last season.

Washington State did not have a great Recruiting Class, according to the recruiting sites. Rivals has the WSU Class at No. 54 nationally; 247 Sports has the Cougars at No. 61. Of the 19 commitments to the Class, 18 of them signed in December, so the Washington State administration does not have to have a sense of urgency when it comes to finding a replacement … at least in terms of recruiting.

That being said, many schools are back in session (CU opens this upcoming week), which means players will be back in class, with off-season workouts in full swing. Quality assistant coaches might not want to leave their current situations as preparations for the 2020 season are already underway.

The Sky is Falling

While the loss of Mike Leach might result in Washington State returning to the backwater of the Pac-12, if you read Jon Wilner at the San Jose Mercury News, the entire conference may not be far behind.

In his article, “Pac-12 media strategy: A worst-case scenario with ESPN and Fox looks something like this“, Wilner lays out a dire scenario in which the Pac-12 ceases to be considered a Power Five conference …

The SEC currently distributes approximately $44 million annually to each school.

If we estimate $325 million annually for the SEC ‘Game of the Week’ package, the net gain for the conference (over the current CBS deal) is $270 million.

Or an additional $19 million per school per year.

That would push the SEC’s annual campus distributions to about $63 million — more than the Big Ten’s current Brinks truck delivery ($52 million per school) and approximately double what the Pac-12 currently sends home to each of its 12 members.

And there’s this: The Big Ten’s Tier One deals with Fox and ESPN expire in 2023, one year before the Pac-12’s rights are up.

We should expect that $52 million per-school figure in the Big Ten to increase substantially.

In other words:

Even if the Pac-12 were to receive a whopping 50 percent annual increase in media rights from its next deal(s), it would still lag far behind the SEC and Big Ten in annual take-home pay.

… But on a broader scale, imagine a college football world in which the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC are foundational pieces of the ESPN and Fox content plans (linear, streaming, morning, noon and evening).

And imagine the Pac-12 at its own table with Turner or Apple or Amazon.

Think the three-hour time difference is a problem now?

Think the Time Zone issue undercuts income and eyeballs … that it makes everything just a wee bit more challenging.”

If the Pac-12 isn’t a key piece of the ESPN and Fox football packages, the conference might as well be on Hawaiian Time.

Its difficult to believe that the major players in college football, including ESPN, ABC, CBS and Fox, would completely divest themselves from that half of the country west of the Mississippi River.

At the same time, it’s also difficult to not see the Pac-12 falling further and further behind in overall television revenue. If Colorado is earning $20 million less per year than say, Vanderbilt or Indiana, how will the CU administration be able to pay competitive dollars for their coordinators? How will CU coaches be able to recruit when the Champions Center is considered small potatoes compared to the palaces being constructed in College Station and Lincoln?

And that’s even before we started worrying about how lop-sided the college football world is going to get when the Name, Image and Likeness debate ends with players being allowed to earn “outside” money.

Here’s hoping Coach Tucker & Co. can turn things around in short order over the next few seasons, so that the University of Colorado can be positioned as a player in the post-2024 world of college football …


3 Replies to “Random Thoughts – Vol. VI”

  1. Watching Houston Bust on the Chiefs. Ya. Oh wait………no!
    Sheesh all about the money…………..and the education you bet.
    In the conference redraw deal its the BIG They got it all.
    Old Note: The BIG has 13 of its 14 members in the prestigious Association of American AAU)Universities. There are only 65 members.

    ACC? Nobody cares. Who is in that conference? Nobody cares. Okay Clemson but??

    Big 12. Another nada made up of a bunch of texas schools.

    It is the battle of the BIG and the SEC. All others are not relevant.
    SEC can only move up and East (ACC)
    The BIG, they can never get into SEC territory.
    They are in the East already
    So Go West BIG………….. go West.
    Expansion 101………They Take
    Texas ……… yup They will sign up to play cause if not they will be left totally out.. They won’t want
    the SEC

    Wait they take 11 so they have 25 teams?
    Recall the AAU comment above
    Nope they take 11 to get to 24, and
    dump the KORNHOLERS cause they are not an AAU member

    Yup that is it.

    BIG is BIG in Athletics
    Unstoppable in academics

    Go Buffs.

    Note: Stu, bookmark this post. I may be dead when it happens but I want the credit.

  2. WOW Stuart
    All this money grubbing opens up more questions as to far far this stuff will go….and if it will ever regress or end? I almost flunked economics in Boulder so I feel akin to a pissant when it comes to digesting all this.
    If it really gets dire for the PAC 12 to be competitive (and it sounds like it may already be somewhat that way now) will the conference break up if some of the better teams in the PAC be accepted in some of the more wealthier conferences?
    You mentioned the hope that Mel would get the Buffs turned around in time to be better positioned in the face of some kind of coming apocalypse. It seems more likely before that would help anything he would be poached just like Leach was emphasizing another major money problem the conference has.
    How far will the money take football? Is there a point in the future where the fans will finally be saturated and bored with it bringing things down closer to earth?…or maybe not being able to afford it? I can see TV subscriptions going to 500 dollars a month and TV ads being afforded by only the Forbes “100”…..the other 400 SOL. On the other hand, Will football organizations start acquiring other industries and downtown Manhattan real estate? Will they make the political party nominations for elected office? I have already personally seen instances where your football team allegiance has either allowed you to get a job at a high level or cost you one in Texas and Oklahoma.
    I used to scoff at the folks who complain about football at the expense of education but I am wondering now.

  3. I will be surprised if Grinch goes/returns to Pullman. Seems he would look for a higher profile opportunity with more resources and draw. But who knows?

    As to Pac 12 media and revenue? I think that will hinge largely on product quality as those negotiations get real. If pac 12 football and basketball are on good footing, people will want to watch, and advertisers will want to reach them. Good thing those contracts didn’t expire in the latest 2-3yr cycle, when the overall product hasn’t been perceived as that compelling.

    Go Buffs

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