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The College Football Hall of Fame’s Mike Leach problem



The College Football Hall of Fame’s Mike Leach problem

LAS VEGAS — The College Football Hall of Fame will soon have a Mike Leach conundrum, and its organizers know it.

Leach, the trailblazing former head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State who revolutionized passing offenses, died in December 2022 at 61 years old from heart complications. The National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame require coaches to win 60 percent of their games to be eligible. Leach finished his career at 59.1 percent.

Immediately following Leach’s death, fans began criticizing the benchmark and calling for the Hall of Fame to let him in. So, will it?

Matthew Sign, the NFF’s chief operating officer, told The Athletic that the discussion doesn’t begin until three years after a coach’s final game if they’re younger than 70. So there are still two more seasons before that begins with Leach. But Sign knows it’s coming.

“Mike Leach is a unique case,” said Sign, who considered himself a friend of the coach. “The three schools he coached at were not easy. His influence over the sport in high school and college, you have to take that into account. These will be things that get discussed, and we’ll see where it goes.”

But something would need to change. Sign defended the Hall of Fame’s strict criteria, which has also kept Howard Schnellenberger ineligible with a winning percentage of just over 50. The requirement that a player must earn first-team All-America honors to be eligible has also been scrutinized.

“Some people don’t always agree with it, but there has to be some sort of criteria out there,” Sign said. “We’ve worked really hard to make sure we keep that. It’s something we look at every year.”

Sign said that when he joined the NFF 20 years ago, the organization was tasked with tightening the criteria at the request of schools and coaches. That’s why there are people in the Hall who don’t fit the current criteria. It was about keeping a high standard for the Hall of Fame. But leaving out someone such as Leach would be preposterous to many people around the sport.

“The guy revolutionized the game,” current Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “Talk to anybody in college football that matters an ounce, and you’ll realize that in two seconds. Let’s get the man in the Hall of Fame. Come on.”

Current Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said: “How many coaches can we truly say changed the game? He truly changed the game when it comes to offensive football.”

Leach was inducted into Texas Tech’s Hall of Fame in 2023. Washington State announced this week it will put Leach into its Hall of Fame later this year.

There’s also the unique circumstances with Leach’s passing. He was coming off an 8-4 season at Mississippi State, a second consecutive improvement from the year prior. He may have crossed the mark if he hadn’t passed away.

“He’s already a Hall of Famer, and I don’t need the NFF to tell me that,” said former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf, who was recently added to the Hall of Fame ballot as a player. Leaf became close with Leach through coaching circles in Texas and then during the coach’s time at WSU.

“He probably would’ve surpassed it the next season if he hadn’t passed away,” Leaf said.

To begin the discussion, a school must nominate the player or coach for the Hall of Fame. People at Texas Tech and Washington State plan to make the case. Mississippi State surely will as well.

“We’ll push the agenda,” Dickert said. “I would imagine we’ll unite to make a national push for coach Leach to be in the Hall of Fame, where he rightfully deserves to be.”

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(Photo: Steve Dykes / Getty Images)

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