At least in terms of name recognition, the Pac-12 is ramping up with its coaches.
First, Arizona hired former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. Now Washington State has perhaps trumped that by hiring former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, the pirate himself, to replace Paul Wulff, who was fired only Tuesday.
Leach, 50, went 84-43 in 10 seasons at Texas Tech before his controversial firing. One of the high priests of the spread offense -- the "Air Raid" -- he produced eight QBs who led the nation in passing. Five times he guided the Red Raiders to top-25 national rankings, including a final No. 12 ranking in 2008.
And, not unlike Pullman in the Pac-12, Lubbock, Texas, is considered a Big 12 backwater, a place where it's widely viewed as difficult to win consistently. Leach's replacement, Tommy Tuberville, whose team is 5-7 and 2-7 in the conference this season, is finding that out.
So Leach knows what he's getting into, although after living in Key West, Fla., for a couple of years, he might need to invest in some cold-weather gear.
Let's say it now: Perfect fit. Well done, athletic director Bill Moos.
Moos said Tuesday he wanted a guy who produces "flashy offenses." Leach is among the flashiest. Oregon's Chip Kelly now has two guys -- Leach and Rodriguez -- who want to match the Ducks' ludicrous speed approach.
Said Pac-12 defensive coordinators: "Drat."
Leach's contract is for five years and will make him the third-highest paid coach in the Pac-12, CBS Sports reported, citing an unnamed source. That means he will eclipse Washington's Steve Sarkisian, who makes $2,250,000 annually.
Wulff was the Pac-12's lowest-paid coach at $600,000.
So this signals a big transformation in thinking in Pullman. And an expectation of big results.
The job sets up well for Leach, too. He's got two quarterbacks, junior Jeff Tuel and redshirt freshman Connor Halliday, who might be more talented as passers than any of the QBs who put up big numbers for Leach at Texas Tech. Leach also has an A-list receiver in Marquess Wilson. The Cougars lose their Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, Jared Karstetter and Isiah Barton, but there are a handful of promising young receivers on the roster, most notably freshmen Bobby Ratliff and Kristoff Williams.
The offense Wulff ran wasn't that different from what Leach does. The transition should be smooth.
A big first question: How much money is left over at Washington State to pay an A-list staff, particularly a defensive coordinator? A good head coach becomes a mediocre one with a mediocre staff.
While the program dramatically improved the past two seasons under Wulff, the bottom line after four years was terrible: a 9-40 record including a 4-32 mark in conference play. Moos said his firing of Wulff was based as much on the apathy among fans -- "butts [not] in the seats" of Martin Stadium -- as where the program stood with wins and losses and talent.
Leach's hiring is generating national buzz that should invigorate the fan base. It also should immediately bolster recruiting. And fundraising, which Moos said is at a red-alert level of need.
While the Cougs have gone through a dreary downturn, this program has won before -- and recently. It's been to two Rose Bowls since 1997, and it finished ranked in the nation's top 10 three consecutive seasons from 2001 to 2003.
The short-term expectation for Leach in 2012 is a bowl game, which the Red Raiders played in every year under him. The long term will be getting the program back to where it was from 2001 to 2003.
Not unlike what he did in Lubbock.