CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Coaches
Who were the top 20 coaches since CFN started in 1998? No. 20 Mike Leach, Washington State & Texas Tech
CFN Era Top 20 Coaches: No. 20 Mike Leach, Washington State & Texas Tech
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
Wins and losses are certainly a part of it all – okay, a massive part of this – but it’s also about who came up with the biggest coaching performances over the long haul. Consistency matters, championships matter, and personality plays a role, too.
Who are the 20 coaches who defined college football since 1998?
One note, accomplishments before 1998 don’t count, other than when it comes to a coach’s legacy and overall status.
Mike Leach, Washington State (2012-2016), Texas Tech (2000-2009)
Whether you think he’s an eccentric genius, a loud-mouth blowhard know-it-all, a groundbreaking innovative offensive mind, or a gimmicky head coach who doesn’t win enough big games, Mike Leach has changed college football.
One of the architects of the high-octane pass-first, pass-often offenses that made QB Tim Couch a superstar at Kentucky, and helped crank things up for Oklahoma in 1999 under Bob Stoops, Leach has been the high priest of the passing version of the spread offense.
And he’s a big part of why college football has done more with the forward pass over the last two decades than it did over the previous century.
Remember, for most of the history of sport, the passing game was along for the ride. Maybe teams would throw on third downs if they had to, but the idea was to run, keep thing relatively conservative, and play tough D.
Of course, there were always coaches and teams who bucked the trends to get the air show moving – like Houston in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and anyone with an elite NFL-caliber quarterback – but it was Leach and his offenses that created the most interesting niche that just about everyone has worked off of.
Want to make an NFL type made? Politely suggest that Tom Brady and New England’s offense – when it has to get things moving – are a souped up version of what Leach’s attacks do.
From his post-game rants, to his unapologetically daring play-calling, to getting fired from Texas Tech after the controversy around the handling of Adam James and his concussion issues, he’s never, ever been boring.
Biggest Moment: 2008 Texas Tech vs. Texas
Yeah, Texas Tech was rolling to an 8-0 start with an offense that was ripping through everyone – even by Texas Tech’s standards – but even with a strong win over Nebraska and a 63-21 whopping of a great Kansas squad, there was still a prove-it problem.
Texas was No. 1 in the nation with wins over Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State in the previous three weeks – those three would finish the season with a combined 31 wins – and came in on a nine-game winning streak over the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech got out to a 19-0 lead and was up 29-13 in the final moments of the third quarter, but Texas QB Colt McCoy caught fire, leading the Longhorn O to a 20-point run and a 33-32 lead with just 1:29 to play.
Texas Tech had one last shot, starting on its own 38. Four Graham Harrell completions got the Red Raiders close to field goal range, but in the final seconds, the offense went for one final pass play.
Was Leach going to try to get closer for his kicker to win the game? Yes, but he got so much more. Harrell connected with Michael Crabtree, who shook free for a 28-yard score and the 39-33 win.
Mike Leach’s Best Season: 2008 Texas Tech
Leach had created a consistent winner in Lubbock. In his first eight seasons, he had eight winning years, eight bowl appearances, and five bowl wins. However, he was never able to do more than tie for second in a Big 12 South dominated by Texas and Oklahoma.
But it all came together in 2008, when a team loaded with All-Big 12 performers around Harrell and Crabtree was fantastic from the start and kept on rolling, beating Oklahoma State after taking down the Longhorns for a 10-0 start and a No. 2 ranking.
A 65-21 loss to Oklahoma turned out to be a brutal reality check, but the Red Raiders still ended up in a three-way tie for the Big 12 South title.
While it was a controversial season for Oklahoma and Texas, too – the South representative in the Big 12 title game came down to the BCS rankings – any theoretical argument Texas Tech might have had dissipated with a 47-34 loss to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.
Even so, it was the only double-digit winning season in Leach’s 15 seasons, and his only division title.
Mike Leach’s Worst Season: 2014 Washington State
Leach went 3-9 in 2012, but that was his build-up-the-program first season at Washington State. He followed it up with a six-win 2013 and a bowl appearance. And then came the regression.
The offense wasn’t consistent in 2014, while the defense struggled in all phases as it got worse and worse as the season went on.
The team couldn’t catch much of a break, losing the opener to Rutgers in a 41-38 shootout, and in a wacky 60-59 firefight with Cal for a 2-4 start, but that was as close as the team would come in any of the remaining losses.
On the other side, one of the three wins came against an FCS team – Portland State – and the two FBS wins came by one point over Utah and a touchdown over Oregon State.
It was an aberration of a season, though. Washington State managed to bounce back to win nine games in 2015.
CFN Era Coaching Record: 84-43 in ten years at Texas Tech, 29-34 in five years at Washington State
2008 Big 12 Coach of the Year
2015 Pac-12 Coach of the Year
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell