PULLMAN – Washington State’s Mike Leach interviewed for the vacancy at Tennessee and could potentially strike a deal to become the Volunteers’ coach as early as Friday, according to multiple reports.
Newy Scruggs of NBC Sports Dallas/Ft. Worth reported on Twitter Thursday that Leach “is working on a deal to become the next coach at Tennessee,” and that “a deal could be announced Friday.
On Thursday evening, Leach reportedly told Dan Harralson, a Tennessee beat writer for Saturday Down South, that “I’m on my way (to Knoxville).”
Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports also reported that a “source tells me the meeting with Mike Leach went very well. And… stay tuned.” Feldman co-authored Leach’s popular book, “Swing Your Sword.”
Leach and Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie met in Thursday in Los Angeles, where the WSU coach had been recruiting, according to the Associated Press. Leach was scheduled to fly back to Pullman following the meeting, the AP’s Ralph Russo reported.
ESPN later reported that “no deal (is) imminent” between Leach and the Volunteers. At the time of press, a deal between the two parties had not been finalized.
Tennessee fired former coach Butch Jones on Nov. 12 and the Volunteers reportedly offered the job to Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, but then backed out of the deal due to backlash from Tennessee boosters and fans. Since, Tennessee has reached out to a number of candidates about the job, but to no avail. That list includes Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, Duke coach David Cutcliffe, North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm and recently-fired Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Leach’s departure would signal the end of a six-year run with the Cougars. During that span, the WSU coach registered a win-loss record of 38-37, had three winning seasons and secured four bowl berths for a program that went 9-40 in the four seasons prior to their arrival. The 2017 Cougars finished with a 9-3 record – the first time WSU won nine games in a regular season since 2003 – and notched wins over USC and Stanford, the two teams playing for a Pac-12 title Friday night in Santa Clara. The Cougars set themselves up with an opportunity to play for the conference championship in each of the last two seasons, but were tripped up by Washington in the 2016 Apple Cup at Martin Stadium and again last Saturday in Seattle.
Leach didn’t immediately respond from a text message from The Spokesman-Review.
Initial reports linking Leach to the Tennessee job surfaced on Saturday, hours before the Cougars and the Huskies played in the 2017 Apple Cup. FootballScoop reported that Leach “seems to have a very good shot at being offered the position” and that the WSU coach “would accept the position if offered.”
Asked about the rumor, and if he expected to be back at WSU next season, Leach said, “Yeah, I do. I’m strictly focused on the Washington State Cougars. I have a limited knowledge of the internet, which is pretty clear. I don’t even turn anything on, other than my phone. And then when it gets stuck, my kids turn it on. So you guys are on your own with that because I can’t speak to rumors I don’t know anything about, really. But the biggest thing is I’m focused on Washington State, excited about that and we’re going to a great bowl and I for one couldn’t be happier.”
The FootballScoop report also noted that if Leach did elect to leave, WSU would move “without hesitation to promote defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.”
FootballScoop on Thursday named Grinch one of seven finalists for Defensive Coordinator of the Year. Under the third-year DC, the Cougars have made significant strides and are currently ranked 15th in the FBS, allowing 313.6 yards per game. In addition, they’re tied for fourth in the country with 27 turnovers gained and rank seventh in tackles-for-loss per game (8.4).