Where might both the Oklahoma football program and current Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach be today if former longtime Sooners head coach Bob Stoops didn’t hire the man known as “the Pirate” to his inaugural OU staff in 1999? Well, it’s safe to say the college football landscape might look a bit different today had Leach not gotten under Stoops’ skin way back when both were still assistants in the SEC/
In a Thursday interview on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, Stoops, who coached at Oklahoma for 18 seasons before his retirement in June 2017, recalled the frustrations from his days as Florida’s defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier that Leach gave him when Leach was the offensive coordinator for SEC rival Kentucky. So it was only natural that Stoops, upon landing the job with Oklahoma, hire the man who consistently gave the Gators defense fits when Stoops was in charge of the unit.
“The primary reason I hired Mike Leach, he was working as the offensive coordinator with Hal Mumme at Kentucky,” Stoops told Cowherd. “I’m the defensive coordinator at Florida and the team that gave me the most problems and drove me crazy was Kentucky. They had the most first downs in the league, they had the most points on and on and on.
“So, I called Hal Mumme, because I knew I couldn’t hire him, he wasn’t going to leave his head coaching position. I said, ‘Hey, can Mike Leach run the offense and do the things you do at Kentucky?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I just wanted to know could he be that kind of leader? And Mike is. Mike’s a leader, he has his own way of doing things.
And the decision to bring future Power 5 head coach on staff at Oklahoma would pay off, seemingly, at least, from a recruiting perspective.
“…When Mike arrives, we get Josh Heupel, runner-up in the Heisman Trophy and also a National Champion quarterback,” Stoops continued. “We get Jason White, the most decorated player in Oklahoma history, when you look at awards and brought us to two National Championship games, and then Nate Hybl, who won us a Big 12 Championship and is a Rose Bowl MVP. Those three guys came that year I hired Mike Leach right off to start.”
Leach’s first and only season in Norman wasn’t complete without a little bit of reckless innovation either. As documented several years ago in a feature by ESPN, Leach implemented some antics during that year’s Red River Showdown with Texas when he had a player “accidentally” drop a bogus play-call card on the Cotton Bowl field during warmups in hopes that Texas staffers would see it and take the bait. Sure enough, the Longhorns did, and the underdog Sooners rocketed out to a double-digit lead before Texas realized they had been duped and ditched trying to solve the card en route to a 38-28 win.
That 1999 campaign, of course, ultimately gave way to a Power 5 coaching career that began a year later in 2000 and has continued to this day. Leach would take over at Big 12 foe Texas Tech and remained at the helm of the Red Raiders program until his firing after the 2009 season. The air-raid guru would then return as a head coach when he took the job at Washington State in 2012. Leach’s stay in Pullman would last through the 2019 season, as he then returned to the SEC a year ago to take over at Mississippi State.
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As for his boss from 22 years ago, Stoops racked up 190 wins during his tenure at Oklahoma and led the Sooners to a national championship in 2000, ultimately ending his career with 10 Big 12 titles.