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Bob Lutz: As Leach goes west, KU looks for right fit

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011, at 5:27 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, at 7:28 a.m.

Mike Leach has decided to coach at Washington State, choosing the one place in America — Pullman, Wash. —that makes Lubbock, Texas, look like Acapulco.

Good luck there, Mike. And please check in from time to time, just so we know Washington State is still playing football. Because most of us don't.

I could spend this entire column scratching my head about Leach and Washington State, but instead I'll scratch my head about where Kansas goes from here in its search for a football coach.

Was KU ever on Leach's radar, or vice versa? We may never know. If the Jayhawks wanted Leach to replace the recently-fired Turner Gill, they failed to act quickly enough.

And if word gets out that Leach chose Washington State over KU, well, that's not the kind of word you want to get out.

I'm not convinced this turn of events is a bad thing for Kansas. I was never able to make Leach and KU work in my head, for obvious reasons. He is too much like Mark Mangino, the coach Kansas whisked out the door a couple of years ago after he allegedly mistreated some players.

I'm not sure how KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little would have explained a Leach hiring, but I sure was looking forward to hearing her.

Won't happen now. Leach isn't bringing his Bronco Billy style to Lawrence.

So now what?

And don't give me Jim Leavitt. He carries the same baggage Mangino and Leach are carrying and, anyway, he's coaching linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers.

One advantage of getting Leach would have been not having to raid a bowl-bound team for a coach. That's always distasteful, but because most bowls are played anywhere from two weeks to five weeks after the conclusion of the regular season, it's unavoidable.

With Leach out of the picture, the man of the moment will be Kevin Sumlin, the coach at unbeaten Houston, where offense is almost as en vogue as it was at Texas Tech during the Leach days.

Of course, Kansas doesn't have dibs on Sumlin, who will be pursued by some of the other schools with coaching openings. I wonder whether KU would even be a lateral move for Sumlin.

That is the state of Kansas football, unfortunately. There's not much history to show a prospective coach. If Kansas wants to be in the Sumlin chase, it'll have to pay to be there.

And that's the reality. It's why KU gave Turner Gill $10 million over five years and why the university is paying him the $6 million remaining on his contract to go away.

Meanwhile, Leach is replacing a coach at Washington State who was making $600,000 a year and cost the school that amount to buy out.

No wonder the Cougars can pony up to pay Leach. But with so many dollars going to Gill, and a decent chunk of change still earmarked for Mangino, how much can Kansas afford?

Sumlin, it would seem, is ready to cash in big on his success at Houston. The Cougars are 12-0 and have a Heisman Trophy candidate, Case Keenum, at quarterback.

Sumlin seems like a bigger fish than Kansas can catch. Perhaps I'm not giving KU enough credit. Money, after all, speaks to coaches in a way a mother's voice soothes an infant.

Leach to Washington State is probably a punch in the gut to Kansas fans. But when you really think about it, doesn't Leach seem like more of a Pullman kind of guy than a Lawrence kind of guy?

Leach and Washington State are made for one another, the same way Leach and Texas Tech were before he wore out his welcome after 10 seasons.

The day Leach sets foot on the Washington State campus, he'll begin the process of wearing out his welcome there. That's just the kind of coach, the kind of guy, he is.

Kansas has a chance to find its own perfect fit. But it's probably not going to be someone obvious. It wasn't Leach and it won't be Leavitt. It probably won't be Sumlin, either.

The Jayhawks have to dig a little deeper.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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