"It took nearly 20 years, but it’s finally happening. Mike Leach, SEC head coach!" Stewart Mandel tweeted on Thursday afternoon in reaction to reports Mississippi State hired Mike Leach as Joe Moorhead's successor. Dozens of other prominent college football reporters echoed Mandel's celebratory tone, as did the Twitter masses. And while it was far from a scientific confirmation, in the hours after Leach's SEC arrival, it feels like the most celebrated coaching hire in college football since…
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Leach's future Egg Bowl counterpart Lane Kiffin created a stir when arriving at Ole Miss last month and while Kiffin has a similarly interesting (?) background, Leach's celebration felt bigger.
Les Miles got the "great to have him back in college football" treatment, as did Mack Brown and Chip Kelly to a lesser extent, though none were celebrated like this. Scott Frost's return to Lincoln was widely applauded as one of the best hires in recent memory, as was Dan Mullen to Florida and Tom Herman to Texas. Most were happy to see Mark Richt land the Miami job, and Lincoln Riley was a highly regarded successor to Bob Stoops, though Riley's takeover wasn't celebrated. And there was plenty of intrigue when Buffalo hired Division-III legend Lance Leipold. Intrigue, though, not a celebration.
In December 2015, Virginia finally yanked Bronco Mendenhall away from his home state after 13 seasons at BYU, though, again, more applause than national celebration.
More celebration came three weeks later when Jim Harbaugh was introduced as Michigan head coach. The former Wolverines' quarterback who engineered one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football history at Stanford and built the San Francisco 49ers into an immediate title contender was back in college football. Like Leach, Harbaugh's arrival and impossibly high expectations were met with dollops of skepticism, though they were hardly visible amongst the overwhelming celebration.
Is Mike Leach's arrival at Mississippi State the most celebrated coaching hire since Jim Harbaugh? Or does it top Harbaugh to Michigan? If the latter, how far back do we go? I don't know, so ping me on Twitter if you have a good answer to that question.