How Mississippi State football coaching search landed Mike Leach

    Starkville: John Cohen has hundreds of pages of notes from his last coaching quest.

    on Friday, Jan. On January 3, Cohen stood before members of the local media in Starkville and told them why he, the Mississippi State Athletic Director, fired head coach Joe Moorhead.

    Reading: Mississippi state football coach search

    The following Friday, Cohen stood before the same members of the media, and hundreds of Mississippi State fans, inside the Leo Seal Jr. soccer complex and told them why he hired mike leach as moorhead’s replacement.

    cohen said he was pleased with how the week-long coaching search went, though it may have dragged on too long for anxious fans reacting to countless reports based on anonymous sources.

    “I think it was pretty quick,” Cohen said. “we wanted to be very thorough and take our time, but time is of the essence. we didn’t have a football coach. obviously, we needed to get a football coach. we had some recruits sign with us, a really nice recruiting class, and our team of football needed a leader. Two things: you have to be quick, but at the same time you have to be very thoughtful and deliberate about what you’re doing.”

    New Mississippi State NCAA college football coach Mike Leach speaks at a news conference Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, at the Starkville, Miss., based university, after being officially introduced as the head coach. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

    ‘I think we connected immediately’

    leach was one of 16 different coaches cohen interviewed for the open position. but leach’s name came up after a few other names were reportedly struck off the list.

    Louisiana head coach Billy Napier told Cohen he didn’t want the job, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger. Napier later said publicly that he was not a candidate prior to his team’s participation in Monday’s loan tournament.

    Cohen lobbied hard for Joe Judge, special teams coordinator for the New England Patriots, to become the next head coach of the New York Giants. Giants owner John Mara told a local New York radio station that he felt pressured to make an offer to the judge because he feared the judge would land in Mississippi if he didn’t. p>

    the judge also spoke about the work of the state of mississippi.

    “There was interest and opportunity,” the judge told reporter art stapleton of, which is part of sports network usa today. “It’s my alma mater. So it’s cool. My wife went there. I went too. But once the giants called, this was the right opportunity for me.”

    espn’s adam rittenberg reported that florida defensive coordinator todd grantham and alabama offensive coordinator steve sarkisian were under serious consideration by cohen as of Tuesday night, just a day and a half before they were Announce Leach as Mississippi State’s head coach.

    But Cohen did not speak publicly about the search before Friday. Just because Leach didn’t publicly emerge as a serious player until the last minute doesn’t mean he wasn’t on Cohen’s radar. The two spoke on the phone the same day Cohen fired Moorhead.

    “I think we connected right away and had very, very good conversations,” Cohen said.

    ‘it’s amazing how much credit they give mike leach’

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    The conversations were so good that Cohen twice visited Leach in Key West, which is where Leach is located during the off-season. Leach said Cohen went once in the early days of the search and then came back on another trip when other options had run out.

    It started to become clear that he wanted Leach to be his guy, so Cohen started pushing hard. Leach was a bit more reserved throughout the process, though he said the prospect of becoming Mississippi State’s head coach interested him immediately.

    “I think he thought it would happen faster,” Leach said. “I was surprised it happened so quickly, to be honest with you.”

    Between visits to the florida keys and interviews with other candidates, cohen spoke with some “iconic coaches” in the nfl to ask them about leach.

    “It’s amazing how much credit Mike Leach is given for the nature of the game itself,” Cohen said.

    “what an impressive young man that guy is”

    Cohen also called out former Leach players, including Gardner Minshew, the Brandon High product who played quarterback at Washington State and just finished his rookie season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    leach coached minshew in washington state for a while. he threw for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns that year. In Jacksonville, Minshew started 12 games and threw for 21 touchdowns with only six interceptions

    cohen asked minshew about leach’s stance on discipline and responsibility, and minshew told him exactly what he wanted to hear.

    “What an impressive young man that guy is,” Cohen said of Minshew. “It’s no accident that guy is where he is and did what he did in washington state. but all those questions were asked and answered to my satisfaction. you can’t do what mike leach has done without having discipline on a football team .”

    ‘A Hard Edge’: Why Mississippi State Fired Head Coach Joe Moorhead

    ‘victories come with it’

    Cohen spoke to numerous sources about the 16 coaches, just as he did with Leach.

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    “It was significant,” Cohen said of the time involved. “It was a lot of ‘oh my god, it’s 11:30 at night already. I can’t call this guy right now because it’s too late.’ and you don’t want to shut it down because you’re involved so you start calling everyone West Coast guys you want to talk to. It was a really cool process.”

    but even with all that work, it all kept turning back to leach.

    Two words made Leach stand out from the other candidates in the pack: track record. Cohen couldn’t forget how Leach transformed Washington State from a show that had five straight losing seasons before getting there to one that has four straight winning seasons between 2015 and 2018.

    Washington State hadn’t had four consecutive winning seasons since the 1930s.

    “what was going on in an institution before coach leach came and what happened after? that’s all about changing your culture, having accountability,” cohen said. “victories come with it.”

    more:how mike leach swept starkville in his first press conference

    ‘we all want the same thing’:what mike leach told the players at the first team meeting

    cohen hopes the victories come with him at mississippi state now. he is sure they will.

    “I’ve had very moving conversations with some high-level ads who say they should have hired you,” Cohen said. “Really powerful comments that say, ‘I had a chance and I didn’t.'”

    Time will tell if the pirate makes them pay.

    contact tyler horka at [email protected] follow @tbhorka on twitter. To read more about Tyler’s work, subscribe to Clarion Ledger today!

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