When Washington State athletic director Pat Chun got the phone call Thursday morning, it was less surprise and more a feeling of it finally happened.
After eight seasons Mike Leach is moving on from Washington State, leaving the Cougars pondering their next move relatively late in the college football coaching carousel.
“I think one of the great blessings of having a successful football coach is the market is in their favor. Based on the need for winning football coaches the assumption was really I kind of lived with the attitude it was only a matter of time because of the right opportunity came, why wouldn’t Mike take it?" Chun said.
“He had done such a great job here, he had earned the right to dictate what the next chapter of his career is going to be. We’re as ready as you’re going to be. The hope is that this day wasn’t going to come but we always needed to prepare if it was coming. We’re ready. We’ll go and we’ll get the right person here."
Leach was hired as the coach at Mississippi State on Thursday. He left Pullman for Starkville, the Pac-12 for the SEC — although he still owes a $2.25 million buyout to Washington State.
And he left questions about where the Cougars go next with most of the openings around the country already filled.
Plenty of names are being thrown around, including a couple with connections to Leach like former Washington State and current Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and Southern California offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. A number of current and former head coaches were seeing their names attached to the opening on Thursday like Nick Rolovich, Jim McElwain, Bryan Harsin, Jeff Choate and even Steve Sarkisian.
Chun has been through a coaching hiring before in his last job at Florida Atlantic when he hired Lane Kiffin.
“The goal there too was to find the best coach that fits that institution at that given time based on what is there and what is available," Chun said.
Chun didn't give much detail about what he's seeking and whether he wants to stay with the specific style Leach coached which made Washington State an attractive destination for quarterbacks and skill position players. He didn't give a timeline, only reiterating he understood the urgency of landing a head coach while not wanting to rush the process.
But he knows this is not the same job it was when Leach was hired in late 2011. Washington State was 9-40 before Leach arrived. They were 55-47 with six bowl appearances in Leach's eight seasons.
“I believe that coach Leach has left us in great shape," Chun said. “Based on what he took over and what is here now this is not a rebuild anymore at Washington State. We need and will go find the right person that is going to add to this program."
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