PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) – New Washington State coach Mike Leach said Tuesday that some people have been asking him why he wanted to take over a downtrodden program in a remote town in the Pacific Northwest.
“I think that’s a stupid question,” Leach said, drawing a roar from about 1,000 fans, players and marching band members at a rally where he was introduced on Tuesday. “You can win here and win big, I believe.”
Leach, a former coach at Texas Tech, was hired last week to replace Paul Wulff, who was fired after going 9-40 in four seasons at Washington State.
Leach has been out of coaching the past two seasons. But he was 84-43 at Texas Tech, leading the Red Raiders to 10 bowl appearances in 10 seasons, before being fired in 2009 amid allegations he mistreated a player with a concussion.
On Tuesday, he thanked Washington State athletic director Bill Moos for hiring him and he thanked the coaches who came before him for laying the foundation for success.
He said he is contacting his former assistant coaches at Texas Tech as he seeks to fill out his staff. Leach said it’s too soon to say whether he will keep any of Wulff’s assistants.
Leach will make $2.25 million per year in salary and other guaranteed income. His contract also includes bonus payments for things such as winning the Pac-12 championship or going to a BCS bowl that could push his pay to more than $3 million. That includes $25,000 for winning the Apple Cup against rival Washington.
Washington State could not have afforded Leach without revenue from a new Pac-12 television contract that will eventually pay each school up to $20 million per year, Moos said.
Leach was at the top of Moos’ list of candidates, in part because Moos wants a high-powered offense at Washington State. While at Texas Tech, Leach’s offense routinely led the nation in passing and set numerous records.
Leach was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky and Oklahoma before becoming the Red Raiders head coach in Lubbock in 2000.
In 2009, Texas Tech fired Leach two days after suspending him after it was alleged he mistreated receiver Adam James, who had a concussion. Leach denied the allegations and later sued for wrongful termination.
Leach has said he suspects an $800,000 bonus he was due the next day was the reason he was fired.
In a separate case, Leach has also sued ESPN Inc. and a Dallas public relations firm, accusing them of libel and slander after he was fired. James is the son of ESPN analyst Craig James.
Asked Tuesday if parents of recruits should worry about the concussion issue, Leach called the allegations “lies and falsehoods.”
“Your son will not be mistreated,” he said.
During his time away from coaching, Leach has put out two books, worked in television and hosted a satellite radio show.
He said he is thrilled to be back.
“All for one and one for all is the part you miss the most” about coaching, he said. “The journey and the battle is exciting.”
Leach said he does not tend to think in terms of multi-year plans. “I tend to have one-day plans,” he said. “Win one game a week.”
He said his impression of the team is that it is young and that quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday are highly skilled. Leach met with his new team briefly on Tuesday afternoon in Pullman before flying across the state to an evening reception in downtown Seattle that was attended by former Washington State stars Drew Bledsoe, Rueben Mayes and Jack Thompson.
Leach said his message to his new team was brief and that he wouldn’t let them out of the meeting room unless they asked some questions.
“I guess it was exciting for everybody. I was thrilled to talk to the team,” Leach said in Seattle. “I think the biggest thing you struggle with on the thing is you’d like more interaction, you’d like a little more give and take, but the trouble is you have these narrow windows.”
Asked if he would use Washington State as a stepping stone to a bigger job, Leach noted he won 29 games in his final three seasons at Texas Tech and was in no hurry to leave Lubbock.
“I’m excited to be here and stay here,” he said.
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