Football

Why is Mike Leach being overlooked in SEC head coach rankings?

STARKVILLE, MS - April 17, 2021 - The Mississippi State Bulldogs compete in the 2021 Maroon & White Spring Game at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field in Starkville, MS. Photo By Austin Perryman
Mississippi State football head coach Mike Leach meets with the Bulldogs. Photo: Austin Perryman/Mississippi State Athletics.

Mike Leach isn’t getting much respect as the 2021 Mississippi State football season continues to get closer and closer to starting. The head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs is entering into his second year in Starkville, but he’s being overlooked by national football experts and pundits before the start of the upcoming season.

In recent SEC head coach rankings by a group of experts over at CBS Sports and 247Sports, Mississippi State’s head coach came in at 9th in the conference and 33rd among all Power Five head coaches.

Here’s how the folks over at CBS Sports and 247Sports ranked the SEC’s head coaches:

  1. Nick Saban
  2. Jimbo Fisher
  3. Kirby Smart
  4. Dan Mullen
  5. Ed Orgeron
  6. Mark Stoops
  7. Bryan Harsin
  8. Lane Kiffin
  9. Mike Leach
  10. Eli Drinkwitz
  11. Sam Pittman
  12. Josh Heupel
  13. Clark Lea
  14. Shane Beamer

Am I alone in thinking that that’s a bit low for everything that Leach has accomplished throughout his career?

Mississippi State’s 2020 struggles shouldn’t overshadow Leach’s impressive resume

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The main reason for dropping Leach that far down that list has to be with how Mississippi State struggled during the 2020 season. The Bulldogs got off to an incredible start by thrashing the LSU Tigers, but they fell apart as K.J. Costello struggled to keep MSU’s attempt at the Air Raid offense in the air.

The Bulldogs were able to salvage its season and got a bowl win over a pretty good Tulsa team. Still, it can’t be stated enough about how painful some parts of the 2020 Mississippi State football season were. MSU finished at 4-7 and lost the Egg Bowl in frustrating fashion.

People are going to point their fingers at Leach for his refusal to adapt his offense to fit Mississippi State’s roster. After all, that’s one reason as to why Joe Moorhead struggled so much during his brief stint in Starkville.

However, Leach, unlike Moorhead, has a proven track record of taking teams like Mississippi State to new heights. Mississippi State’s current head coach, when given enough time, has turned Power Five underdogs into dangerous teams in their respective conferences.

While Mississippi State Bulldogs really had a rough time during their first year with Leach, that really shouldn’t take away from Leach’s lengthy resume of success.

He’s won 11 games in a season at both Texas Tech and Washington State. I don’t think many people know how hard that is to do. In total, prior to arriving at Mississippi State, Leach won 139 games as the head coach of the Red Raiders and the Cougars. He’s coached in 16 bowl games (and his final Texas Tech team made it to a bowl game, though he didn’t get to coach at that Alamo Bowl).

Leach is really, really good at this head coaching thing.

Where should Leach be ranked?

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Leach is far from being the best head coach in the SEC, that’s certainly fair to say. Nick Saban will hold that crown until he retires. But, Leach deserves more respect than where he currently is on that list.

Here’s how I would personally rank the SEC’s head coaches:

  1. Nick Saban
  2. Dan Mullen
  3. Jimbo Fisher
  4. Kirby Smart
  5. Mark Stoops
  6. Ed Orgeron
  7. Mike Leach
  8. Lane Kiffin
  9. Bryan Harsin
  10. Eli Drinkwitz
  11. Josh Heupel
  12. Sam Pittman
  13. Clark Lea
  14. Shane Beamer

I know this list could draw some scrutiny, especially in some Egg Bowl circles. And honestly, if my website’s list making tool allowed for me to put a tie on Leach and Kiffin, I would. I think it’s absolutely clear that Ole Miss and Kiffin had a better year in 2020 than MSU and Leach.

Nobody should doubt that at all.

That said, Leach, unlike Kiffin, has won quite a bit throughout the entirety of his career.

You could make a very real argument in favor of Leach being one of the five best coaches in the SEC right now.

I don’t know that you could make as compelling of an argument for Kiffin at the moment.

But, when you look at the entirety of Leach’s resume, including what he accomplished at Texas Tech and Washington State, it’s hard to not put him in the upper half in these rankings. He made the Red Raiders and the Cougars into nationally relevant programs. People shouldn’t write off either of those accomplishments because those are incredibly difficult places to win.

Starkville is a pretty tough place to win too, unfortunately. Hopefully, Leach can get the Bulldogs going sooner rather than later.

For more independent Mississippi State news and commentary, follow The Underdog Tribune on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Ethan Lee on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 reply »

  1. I think when all is said and done, Leach will be right up there with Mullens as one of the best coaches ever at MS State. It’s hard to compete year and year out with the Alabama’s , Georgia’s, Florida’s and even A&M. But Mullen’s always won more games he was picked to lose and lost less games that he was picked to win. I think Leach will too. That’s a true test of a coach. It’s not a level playing field.

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