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Why the late, great Mike Leach will never be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (unless an exception is made)

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Nine coaches appear on the College Football Hall of Fame’s ballot for 2025, including two of the biggest names in the sport over the past quarter century: Urban Meyer and Nick Saban.

Tommy Tuberville, who gained fame at Auburn, also appears. So does Miami’s Larry Coker and Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen.

Not on the ballot, which was released last week: Mike Leach.

The late Mike Leach, who made Texas Tech relevant, did the same for Washington State and, along the way, changed the game like few coaches in the past 50 years.

Leach wasn’t on the 2025 ballot for a good reason: Coaches aren’t eligible until three years after retirement unless they are at least 70 years old.

Saban, 72, was eligible the moment he stepped down at Alabama earlier this year.

But Leach was only 61 when he passed away in December 2022, from complications related to a heart condition, following his third season at Mississippi State.

There is no process to fast-track coaches for posthumous induction, according to Steve Hatchell, president of the National Football Foundation, which runs the Hall of Fame

Which means the earliest Leach could appear on the ballot is the spring of 2026 – except for one teeny-tiny problem:

He doesn’t meet the selection criteria.

The Hall of Fame requires coaching nominees to “have been a head football coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.”

Leach coached for 21 years and won 158 games.

But his career winning percentage is .596, and the Hall of Fame does not round up.

Leach is one win short.

The man whose Air Raid passing game has come to dominate high school and college football and is used throughout the NFL …

The man who posted 11-win seasons in Lubbock and Pullman …

Who mentored current head coaches Josh Heupel (Tennessee), Dave Aranda (Baylor), Sonny Dykes (TCU), Lincoln Riley (USC) and a slew of others …

Who had 16 winning seasons and just five losing seasons at three schools (Texas Tech, WSU and MSU) that will never, ever be mistaken for football blue-bloods…

That guy does not qualify for the Hall of Fame because his career record is 158-107 and not 159-106.

(At this point in the proceedings, Washington State fans are undoubtedly sifting through their mental Rolodex of games the Cougars lost because of egregious Pac-12 officiating.)

“If you don’t qualify under one of the criteria, it’s tough,” Hatchell told the Hotline on Monday.

“We’ve heard every reason why we should look beyond why someone is not in the Hall of Fame. But at some point, you have to say, ‘These are the rules.’ ”

The problem with that approach, of course, is that location impacts success.

It’s vastly more difficult to win 55 percent of your games a year at Texas Tech or Washington State than 65 percent of your games at Texas or Washington.

Yet because of the sheer number of potential inductees – more than 700 colleges and universities play football – the Hall of Fame needs a baseline for players and coaches.

That said, the Hall isn’t inherently anti-Leach. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“Mike was great to the National Football Foundation and the Hall of Fame,” said Hatchell, whose NFF office is located in Irving, Texas.

“If we needed counsel on something, I’d call him. We love Mike and what he did for the sport. What he did for Texas Tech and Washington State was nothing short of phenomenal.

“But once you get wiggly on the criteria, what do you say doesn’t matter?”

There are coaches in the Hall of Fame with a winning percentage below .600 – Iowa legend Hayden Fry, for example – but the governing board changed the criteria after Hatchell took over in 2005.

“It was made clear to me that it’s a Hall of Fame,” he said, “not a Hall of Participation.”

So Leach cannot enter the Hall through the established route for coaches. But there are two other avenues:

• The timing of his death (as an active, not retired head coach) could lead to a carveout in the rules.

Because the Hall doesn’t round up with the winning percentage, Hatchell explained, Leach’s case “would be more like: Is it different that he passed away” while still coaching?

• Leach could be admitted in the outstanding contributors category.

“We recognize people that way,” Hatchell said, “but most coaches would rather go in as coaches than the outstanding contributor category.”

The first step is a nomination: Texas Tech, WSU or Mississippi State would have to offer Leach’s name for induction once he’s eligible in 2026. At that point, the Hall of Fame would have to consider both established policy and potential precedent.

But there is only one right answer for a coach who’s one victory shy of meeting the selection standard for winning percentage.

Leach’s sustained success at two power conference outposts is unprecedented.

His Air Raid is everywhere.

His impact on the sport is incalculable.

Once eligible, he’s worthy of immediate induction.