Both Ole Miss and Mississippi state have spent a small fortune on their football coaching hires this offseason, but Mike Leach is the better bet.
The two most prominent college football programs located in the state of Mississippi have taken big swings on big-name coaches to elevate their respective programs this offseason. There’s an argument to be made that both Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach are good hires for Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but it’s clear that Leach is the better bet to win control of the talent-rich state.
Neither hire is free of risk for the schools involved. Kiffin has a checkered history of NCAA violations and numerous other off the field issues. The former Tennessee head coach also struggles to really commit to long-term projects anywhere he works. Ole Miss officials should be concerned about whether they can hang on to Kiffin if he catches lightning in a bottle and wins big in Oxford.
Leach can also be characterized as a polarizing head coach. He’s enjoyed a tremendous amount of success at both Texas Tech and Washington State, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Red Raiders fired him due to issues surrounding his treatment of a player with a concussion. He successfully rehabilitated his reputation in Pullman, but there’s always a chance those issues could crop up again in Starkville to derail his career again.
On the flip side of the equation, both schools can reasonably bet on their new hires to breathe much-needed life into their mediocre programs. Kiffin will use his ability to connect to high-profile recruits to elevate the talent level at Ole Miss. Leach will bring his high-flying offensive system to Starkville to bring in the most dynamic offense in school history. Both schools have plenty of reasons to be excited about their new hires.
The Bulldogs still deserve credit for making the better bet. Leach has proven his ability to attract his sort of players to off the radar destinations. Neither Pullman or Lubbock is known as a particularly attractive place for recruits. Starkville isn’t a great fit for every recruit either. The unique nature of Leach’s high-flying offensive system will overcome all of those concerns. Leach doesn’t need to secure a raft of five-star recruits at Mississippi State to win big. He can continue to do the same recruiting he did at Texas Tech and Washington State and still win plenty of games in the SEC.
In sharp contrast, Kiffin cannot succeed at Ole Miss unless he regularly lands big-time recruits. He recruited well at Tennessee and USC but he had more resources and a more attractive destination to sell to recruits in Knoxville. He succeeded at FAU by bringing in talent superior to the other schools in Conference USA. Attracting those players to Boca Raton wasn’t a difficulty for Kiffin and his charismatic staff.
If Kiffin is going to secure the top talent in the SEC he’ll need to outdo LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. Kiffin’s charisma isn’t going to be enough to overcome the resources and tradition of other schools in the conference. He’ll reel in some big-time recruits, particular some in-state Mississippi kids, but there is a real chance he can’t get enough of them to win big in the nation’s premier conference.
The simple truth is that the chances of Leach’s system successfully translating to Mississippi State is a safer bet than the idea that Kiffin can out recruit the rest of the SEC. Leach’s unique offensive system gives his school the ability to outperform Kiffin at Ole Miss. The Bulldogs deserve credit for making the best hire in the state of Mississippi this offseason.