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Sunday, June 18, 2000
Last modified at 6:04 p.m. on Friday, June 16, 2000
© 2000 - The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

photo: sports


Texas Tech welcomes Leach as new football coach


Mike Leach probably would not mind if someone described him as grateful for the chance to be head football coach at Texas Tech.

He has felt emotions similar to that ever since the Red Raiders hired him seven months ago to succeed newly retired Spike Dykes. Before he became a Division I head coach, Leach had been turned down for head jobs at four other college programs, none as well known as Tech's, and even a high school.

"I feel surprised, flattered, lucky ... ," Leach said recently.

Leach, who sprang from a string of low-paying jobs at small colleges to almost overnight prominence coaching Tim Couch at Kentucky and contributing to a turnaround at Oklahoma, represents the biggest change in Tech football in more than a decade.

A-J photo/Wade Kennedy

photo: sports

Intercepting a Colorado pass in the end zone, Tech's Kevin Curtis (31) stops a Buffalo dvire in the first half of the Red Raiders win 31-10. (A-J Photo/Wade Kennedy)
Starting this fall, Tech fortunes tethered largely to the success of tailback-oriented offense are out. The expectation of 300-yard, three-touchdown passing games is in.

A steady stream of good if not great seasons has been traded in hopes of something better.

Ultimately, that's what attracted Leach, 39, to Tech. He did not have to come to the South Plains. Last fall, in his first season as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, the Sooners improved from 101st in the nation in total offense to 11th.

"One thing that's always been important to me with regard to Texas Tech and the reason I came here it wasn't as much about where they were at or what they were doing," Leach said, "as their goals and objectives where they're headed, where they want to be and what they were going to do to try to get there. That was the biggest factor, and also support.

"I didn't want to be in a position where things were splintered up, where anytime you hoped to accomplish something, that there was going to be resistance on all sides. From an administrative standpoint, it's pretty united."

Tech's administration and the private sector backed Leach in part by expanding the football staff's salary pool. Collectively, the Raiders' nine assistant coaches enjoy the third-best pay scale in the Big 12 with annual salaries totaling $900,000.

Leach also asked for and promptly received improvements to the Raiders' practice fields and locker rooms. A Jones Stadium renovation and expansion started this summer with work on concessions, restrooms and handicapped-accessible seating.

On the field, Leach was handed a team that finished 6-5 last year and has had seven consecutive plus-.500 regular seasons. The Raiders return four starters on defense, led by three honors candidates: tackle Kris Kocurek, linebacker John Norman and safety Kevin Curtis.

Sophomore Kliff Kingsbury won the starting quarterback job in the spring, and has star running backs Ricky Williams and Shaud Williams alongside him for help. However, if the Raiders are to fly high in Leach's first season, they will need heavy contributions from receivers such as Derek Dorris, Tim Baker, Darrell Jones, Dee Jackson, Carlos Francis and James Wegener along with tight end Cole Roberts.

Leach, who had seven coaching jobs between 1987 and the end of the 1999 season, is where he wants to be, finally a head coach at a major university. He is regarded as enough of a rising star that he turned down an offer to be an NFL assistant shortly after he went to Oklahoma.

He still keeps a sizable stack of rejection letters he collected early in his career.

"The first year or whatever it upsets you," Leach said. "It's kind of, 'Can't they see that I'd be a pretty good candidate?' Well, obviously they can't because they don't know you, and all they've got is a piece of paper, and beside your piece of paper, they've got 100 other pieces of paper that look similar.

"Then after a while, it rolls off and you forget it. It almost gets to where you expect it and then anybody that's half interested, it's a pleasant surprise."

The Raiders are more than half interested. They want to see where Leach leads them in the new millennium.

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