PULLMAN – Two days before a handful of high school recruits sign long-term commitments to Washington State’s football program, the Cougars got an important one from their sixth-year head coach.
Contract negotiations between WSU and Mike Leach ended on Monday, when the coach who’s delivered four bowl appearances to the Cougars in the last five years agreed in principle to a contract that keeps him in Pullman through the 2022 football season.
The revisions to Leach’s five-year rollover contract are as such: the WSU coach will be compensated $3.5 million in 2018, $3.75 million in 2019 and $4 million each year from 2020-22. WSU also stuffed a $750,000 retention bonus into the contract if Leach stays after the 2020 season.
“Coach Leach has led a spectacular turnaround in the fortunes of our football program during the last six years, and we want to keep him in the Cougar family for a long time to come,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz in a school release. “Importantly, our on-field football success has reaped dividends for the entire athletic program, invigorating the interest of fans, boosting football season ticket sales and increasing donor contributions to the Cougar Athletic Fund.”
Under the agreement, Leach is eligible to earn up to $20 million if he sticks around through the 2022 football season. In 2019, his salary of $3.75 million could boost him into the upper third of Pac-12 coaches. Currently, that would only rank behind Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Stanford’s David Shaw and Washington’s Chris Petersen, according to a USA Today database that excluded the earnings of Clay Helton given USC’s status as a private institution.
“I would like to thank President Schulz and Washington State for their commitment to Cougar football and appreciate his vision and leadership for WSU Athletics,” Leach said in the WSU release. “We have accomplished some great things in our time here and my staff and I are excited to lead WSU Cougar Football into the future. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for our program.”
The school also inflated the assistant coaches’ salary pool, which will increase by $400,000 in 2018. WSU might delegate a good portion of that to defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who’s become a person of interest for coaching staffs around the country after leading a renaissance of the Cougars’ defense. Grinch, who was reportedly a candidate for Ohio State’s 10th assistant coaching position, currently makes a base salary of $600,000.
The $400,000 raise should also come in handy for WSU when Leach chooses to bring an additional coach aboard. The NCAA is permitting all programs to add a 10th assistant to their staff in 2018.
In the release, Leach and Schulz also recognized the “need for a new indoor practice facility (for the football program).”
Prior to the revisions, Leach’s rollover contract paid him an annual base salary of $3,075,000. That was the seventh-highest salary among Pac-12 coaches entering the 2017 football season, according to the USA Today database.
Excessive athletic spending has been a point of contention at WSU for some time now as the department tries to dig itself out of a multi-million dollar deficit.
Under a 2016 plan formulated by Schulz and former athletic director Bill Moos, the athletic department plans to become solvent in fiscal year 2020, The Spokesman-Review reported. The plan anticipated a fiscal year 2017 deficit of $9.7 million, which the athletic department appears ready to meet. Deficits are projected to be $4.9 million in 2018 and $900,000 in fiscal year 2019. In fiscal year 2020, the athletic department hopes to achieve a revenue surplus of $300,000 and head toward repaying its deficits of the past several years. Those deficits have an accumulated value of $59.7 million, according to various reports in The Spokesman-Review.
Contract discussions between Leach and WSU had reportedly been going on since the Cougars coach was linked to the opening at Tennessee. According to an ESPN report, WSU presented an initial sum to Leach’s representative, but the coach was “underwhelmed” by the offer. Leach reportedly agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Tennessee after supposedly meeting with former Vols Athletic Director John Currie in Los Angeles, but Currie was suspended and subsequently fired by the school the next morning.
Leach’s name also materialized when head coaching jobs opened at Arkansas, at Oregon and at Nebraska, which hired Moos away from WSU in mid-October.
Moos was responsible for making the pitch that brought Leach to Pullman in 2012. His arrival followed a four-year span that saw the football program win just nine game and lose 40 under former coach Paul Wulff. Mike Marlow, the ex-WSU Deputy Athletic Director who left last week to become the AD at Northern Arizona University, was also instrumental in luring the former Texas Tech coach to his first Pac-12 job.
Over the past month, a portion of the fan base had become concerned that Leach’s allegiance to Moos and Marlow, and their respective departures, might also drive the football coach out of Pullman. An ESPN report also claimed Leach had grown frustrated with the “lack of communication” regarding the school’s AD search.
But apparently neither of those things deterred Leach, known for his pass-happy offenses and whimsical personality, from inking a new deal.
The Leach era in Pullman has been unprecedented on many levels.
His teams have amassed a record of 26-12 over the last three seasons. Only two other Pac-12 programs have won more games during that time span. The Cougars have won 38 total games in Leach’s six seasons – second most among any WSU coach during the same period of time. Leach’s four bowl games in five years are also a first for a WSU coach.
His tenure has also coincided with a drastic spike in attendance at home games. Prior to his arrival, the Cougars were filling Martin Stadium at a 76.1 percent capacity rate. In 2017, that number rose all the way to 97.1 percent – the second-highest percentage in the last 20 years.
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