Washington State Director of Athletics Pat Chun addressed the media Thursday in the wake of Mike Leach’s departure to Mississippi State, discussing Leach’s tenure in Pullman, how the football team was informed of his exit and where the Cougars plan to go from here.
Below is a full transcript of Chun’s press conference.
We’ll start with an opening statement from Director of Athletics Pat Chun and then we’ll turn it over to questions.
Chun: “Good afternoon everybody. First and foremost, we’d like to thank Mike Leach for the last eight years at Washington State. Coach Leach is an excellent coach, a good person with a brilliant mind and it’s been a joy to work with him the past two years. Mike and Sharon will be lifelong friends to me and Natalie. We’re happier they can be closer to their grandkids. While he was here, coach Leach transformed Washington State football by setting a new standard. We’ve achieved academically. Our graduation rate and grade point average has soared under his leadership. Five consecutive bowl games is a testament to the sustainable model he built here. It is our belief going forward that all the ingredients we need to perennially compete for a Pac-12 championship are present here in Pullman today. We believe the 2020 team is as talented a team as we’ve had here at Washington State. This combined with our leadership from president Schulz, the commitment to our facilities, the passion of Cougs all around the world, that will allow us to recruit the best head coach possible for us at Washington State. We owe it to our 2020 team and our recruiting class to find the best head coach possible, we’ll work until we find the right person. Until the conclusion of our search, the only public comments regarding our search will be made today.”
When did you find out about about (Leach leaving)? Was he keeping you in the loop the whole time?
Chun: “Yeah, Mike has always been great about open lines of communication. I think everybody knows him in the room. I think he’s an open book. There’s never been anything that’s popped up that we had not talked about. We actually talked a couple days ago and actually I left that conversation feeling we were in good shape. … He called me this morning and told me he accepted the job, so it was a bittersweet phone call. I’ve enjoyed working with Mike, happy he’s able to take his career in a direction he wants to go to. But he called me this morning to let me know.”
In your search for a new head coach, do you go for an offensive coach because you have that personnel here? Does that weigh into your decision-making at all?
Chun: “Best coach possible. We don’t to put any type of parameters on what we’re going go try to do. I think what’s worked best for us. I mean there is a reality here at Washington State, if you can go and find the right coach – and history shows that whether that’s Mike Leach, Mike Price, Tony Bennett, you’ve got to go find the right coach that can win at Washington State. So we’re going to find the best coach possible for us.”
How have the players reacted? How did they find out about this?
Chun: “Well we’re still on break, so no one’s back in school yet. My assumption is, it probably broke on social media. We sent out a group message, or I did, to our team that it is true what they read. I’ll be in touch with them when they get back on campus next week.”
Then, for lack of a better way of asking, who’s in charge of the football team right now? Are any coaches taking over as kind of interim head coach?
Chun: “We’ll go through the next 24 hours. My assumption is some of our staff will go with coach Leach, it’s a great group of people there. So we have to see how the dust settles, but we’re going to move and get going. We’re already moving basically.”
In December you announced, in principle, Leach agreed to extending his rollout. He says he doesn’t need to sign something like that. Does any of that play into what you can expect now contractually in terms of his compensation?
Chun: “In terms of going forward with a new coach?”
With compensation for Leach and Mississippi State.
Chun: “Meaning what is owed to us? Yeah, that’s already been predetermined in his contract. In terms of a buyout toward us. We didn’t change any of the terms of his buyout.”
So he is signed through 2024? Committed through 2024.
Chun: “Well yeah, and there’s a buyout he needs to break the contract, which he’ll be obligated to pay.”
What is your ideal timeline for hiring a new head coach?
Chun: “Not to be vague or flippant, but it’ll take however long it needs to take. We’ll work fast, however long it takes to get the right person at Washington State is how long it’ll take.”
Do you have a list already?
Chun: “It’s just … the goal is to find the best coach possible.”
You’ve hired a football coach before in Lane Kiffin (at FAU). What did you learn from that experience?
Chun: “The goal there, too, is just to find the best coach that fits that institution at that given time, based on what’s there and what’s available. Like I said, I believe coach Leach has left us in great shape. Based on what he took over and what’s here now, this is not a rebuild anymore at Washington State. This is, we will and need to go find the right person that’s going to add to this program. So you look at the commitment that’s been made in facilities. We’ve been actively fundraising for an indoor practice field, so that will happen in due time. You look at the recruiting class. Obviously the most important position that the experts say on a field is the quarterback position, and this is a room stocked with quarterbacks right now. So we believe where we’re at, we’re poised to continue to build Washington State football so we’ve got to go find the right person that can help us in that direction.”
You talk about the right person. Is there something you’re looking for specifically that makes them the right person, and has that answer changed over the last couple years because of the success here?
Chun: “Fit does matter, but I’d also argue fit by definition, if you look at two of the most successful people that have been here in my two years. One’s from Cody, Wyoming (Leach) and the other’s from Brandon, Mississippi (Gardner Minshew). So, fit does matter. It’s got to be seamless to be a part of it. But I feel great about the coaches we’ve added here, I’ve learned a lot about Washington State in my brief time here. I think all the personnel we’ve added over the last couple years fits Washington State great. I think that’s why we’ve been able to do some really great things as an athletic department. And obviously there’s no more important hire for an institution than the head football coach and we’re going to make sure we get this right.”
It sounds like you don’t hem yourself in, but hypothetically if your football program has a highly specialized offense, does that give a person a little more incentive to stay within that philosophy offensively?
Chun: “Well it’s not a hypothetical and we have run a highly specialized offense here the last couple years. But that’s why this is a huge opportunity for some coach out there. Ultimately, I’m not an NFL expert, but I think Anthony Gordon’s going to be our third consecutive quarterback drafted in the NFL Draft. That’s significant if you’re talking about a football program. We’ve got a quarterback room right now where we think there’s some young men in there that we think have NFL aspirations, have NFL DNA and can lead. So it’s trying to find the right coach that can take all the ingredients in place and put us in position to contend for the Pac-12 championship like we’ve been the last couple years. So I think what you’re asking, it’s just another element in place that adds to the overall portfolio. This is a very different job than what Mike Leach took over eight years ago. I think we’re over 90 or 91 percent renewal rates for season tickets last year. Our community has responded to winning football here and winning the right way. So we’ve just got to go find the right coach that can add to this.”
When you take a look around the Pac-12, there’s a lot of high-profile names around the conference. Do you think maybe somebody high-profile in the Pac-12 would be willing to come to Pullman?
Chun: “I think this is one of the best jobs in college football and what Mike Leach has left us and the commitment from our president and for every Coug around the country to make sure we sustain this model. And when you look at the total package relative to the league, what we have in place, we’ll get the right person. What their profile is, that’s irrelevant to me. We’ve just got to go find the right person to lead us.”
What is the amount of the buyout that Washington State is due?
Chun: “$2.25 million.”
And how involved will Kirk Schulz be with you in choosing the next head coach?
Chun: “He’s the president of our institution, so he’ll have the final say. I’ll make a recommendation to Kirk, obviously Kirk and I are always in constant communication. But we’re fortunate to have his leadership. I think one of the great assets we have here is Kirk Schulz. He’s highly respected in college athletics and really in recruiting some of our coaches we’ve brought here, Kirk has been as big a part of that recruiting process because of his reputation in college athletics. I would argue that leadership is critical when you’re talking about building any type of program and when you start with a leader like Kirk, that gives us a realistic shot to really get the right person for this job.”
You’d said you’d already reached out to the players on the team. Have you also already reached out to the signees who came on board on Dec. 18?
Chun: “I’ll communicate directly with them in due time. Today, just with the timeliness, the priority was really getting connected with the team. Although with them not being here, it created a little bit of a challenge. Then obviously just getting everything else in order to get us moving forward.”
I know you said the most important thing is to get it right and the timeline is when we get the guy we get the guy. Is there any sense of urgency with the transfer portal not and student athletes, they go into it and the signees sometimes ask to be released from the letters of intent and stuff. Do you feel any urgency as far as timeliness and getting the hire done?
Chun: “I think getting the right person mitigates all those other variables you talked about, because if we get the right person or when we get the right person, a lot of that will be addressed?”
Were you looking at any other coaching vacancies on the team and has that plan now shifted that Leach has departed?
As far as, we had a defensive coordinator step down earlier this year. Was there anyone being looked at and have those plans changed?
Chun: “We’re just looking for the best coach possible. That’s as simple as I can put it.”
To what degree did you have a contingency plan for this, this offseason and previous offseasons?
Chun: “I think one of the great blessings of having a successful head football coach is the market is in their favor. Based on the need for winning football coaches, the assumption is, really I kind of lived with the attitude of it’s only a matter of time. Because if the right opportunity came, why wouldn’t Mike take it? So he’d done such a great job here, he earned the right to dictate what the next chapter of his career was going to be. So, we’re as ready as you can be. The hope was this day wasn’t going to come, but we always needed to prepare that if it was coming. So we’re ready and we’ll go and we’ll get the right person here.”
Are there specific advantages being that all but two college football teams are done playing. Does that make things easier for you, or does that make things harder for you to select a coach?
Chun: “We’ll find out. No matter what time of year, you’ve got to get this thing right. Whether you’re competing, I would say relative to what we’ve done in some past searches, we consciously try to beat the market on some things. And I think that worked in our favor here. That variable probably isn’t as active right now, because I think there’s only other Power Five job open in Baylor right now. That won’t factor into the pace in which we move, but at the end of the day we’re going to try to get this done at an appropriate pace.”
Do you see any irony in that now coach Kiffin and coach Leach are in the same state?
Chun: “That’s going to be great for the media there. It’s two great coaches and I’m happy for both of them and I think both of them are going to do great jobs for their respective institutions and I’ll be an active viewer of the Egg Bowl now when it comes on.”
You talked about already being underway on this and I know you’re not going to give us names, but have you already contacted people and have people already reached out to you that this is a job they want to take?
Chun: “We’re within our process. It’s an attractive job and we’re within our process and like I said, we’ll move at the pace we need to move at, and once we get to the finish line the whole world will know.”