Mike Leach's nightmare tour in first year at Mississippi State heads to Alabama on Halloween | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

"I'd be surprised if we don't lose more (players) ... If you're stunned or nervous, you better brace yourself because we might lose more." Mike Leach on the SEC Wednesday teleconference. 

That’s the premise of every Hollywood Halloween horror-fest. If you are the protagonist, through 90 minutes of the evil monster/slasher/ghost wreaking havoc. If your adversary is Jason or Michael Myers or Ghostface, Dracula or Godzilla, some teammates are guaranteed to fall by the wayside. Things will get worse before they get better.

Mike Leach, Welcome To Your Nightmare.

That’s not singling out Leach, who brings his remaining loyal Bulldogs to Tuscaloosa  on Saturday night to play Alabama. He says what he thinks and that makes him an easy target sometimes. What’s more, through no particular fault of his own, he made national headlines with one of the major upsets of the 2020. Mississippi State beat an underprepared LSU team 44-34 in the season opener. He was hailed as instant savior. The Air Raid had arrived. 

Then reality set in.

Taking over a major-college program is tough, and in the unprecedented circumstances of 2020, that’s doubly true. The all-conference schedule allows no respite, no week to learn, no extra playing time for the dissatisfied. A couple of hours away, Lane Kiffin, Leach’s adversary at Ole Miss, is having ups and downs (the same was true in his short stint at Tennessee). Sam Pittman at Arkansas and Eli Drinkwitz at Missouri came with less fanfare but are having smoother transitions. But Leach was brought in for radical change and that has meant some immediate pain.

These things do happen and not just to Leach. In his case, when he has taken jobs at programs that, to put it kindly, have not been historically dominant, there has been a transition period. He fared fairly well at Texas Tech, going 3-5 in the Big 12 in his first season. Starting with New Mexico, Utah State, North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette eased the transition certainly, but no questions that his Texas Tech teams, especially 2005 and 2008, ranged from competitive to excellent. Things took longer at Washington State, where the Cougars didn’t have a winning season until Leach’s fourth year but were a tough out after that. He made both programs competitive and if you have ever been to Lubbock or Pullman, you know there are obstacles.

Most coaches face transition periods. Nick Saban was 7-6 in his first year at Alabama and that included a loss to Mississippi State. (Remember the coaches who were “Croomed?”)  Alabama, though, was a rocket just waiting to be loaded with rocket fuel and the right astronaut and Saban did both. The ground floor at Mississippi State is different and a roster turnover will take time to navigate. 

Leach seems unworrried about the short-term ramifications. 

“It’s positive from the standpoint we have certain roles and expectations we expect to be followed. If they’re not, you’re not going to be part of the program,” he said on Wednesday. “Because we have to think about the whole team and not individuals. 

“We want (Mississippi State) to be a program that has certain expectations and rules that are best for everybody. And those that don’t follow them won’t be a part of the program. That’s a service we have to continue to provide.”

While “a service we have to continue to provide” makes Leach sound like an exterminator who will chase the squirrels out of your attic while spraying for termites, he seems ready for a total rebuild, painful for 2020 and perhaps more hopeful by 2022. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt