We've all talked about it as though its already happened. There was a report from a semi-reliable source, plus some Twitter chatter, and now everyone - including me - is acting like Mike Leach to Maryland is a done deal, waiting for little more than an official announcement. Not so fast, says the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker.
But was Anderson merely trying to throw me off (I don't think so) when he also said the following about Leach?
"Is he interested because it's Maryland or is he interested because he wants to get back in coaching? I want somebody here because it is Maryland and what it stands for and everything else. I'm not looking for somebody who wants to come in and coach because they want and need a job."
Or when he said this:
"I know a lot of people who just went through the coaching search, and they sat down and they talked to him. And these are people in my business that I have a high regard for. At the end of the day, they didn't hire him. But you know what? I need to know [more]."
I'm going to take a leap of faith here and say that Maryland is going to conduct an actual search, not a sham search.
Barker isn't necessarily an insider, and he's not using insider quotes here. For the most part, he's taking Anderson at face value. That's dangerous.
But that's not to say he's wrong. We've heard enough talk that Leach is the main guy - even a direct reference in name from a source in that Washington Post story - that I won't doubt it. It's logical enough and when there's this much smoke, there's fire somewhere.
The problem is that "main guy" doesn't always particularly equate to "hire," particularly if Anderson does what he says and conducts a legitimate national search. It gets dicier when you hear that Maryland athletics' old nemesis Brit Kirwan is opposed to Leach's hire. Even though he says he won't actively block it, I imagine that many others, both in the athletic department and academic staff, will be less than enthused with some of Leach's baggage. He has his rough patches for sure, and no one knows how exactly Maryland's athletic department will take them when they see them up close.
I'd be shocked if Leach wasn't the top guy and not at all surprised if they already had a contract set up, most likely through the Under Armour channels. But I wouldn't be particularly surprised if Leach isn't in the bag right now, either. While I still find it tough to believe they end up with anyone else, it's still a possibility that deserves discussion. Heck, even Torrey Smith wants to know.
The first thought that the "Leach or bust" school will pop up with is that the switch would be a "failure" if Leach wasn't the head man. And considering the move was allegedly made as a Ralph-Leach swap, they'll be kind of right. But Leach is far from a sure thing in terms of wins, particularly if the Texas Tech fiasco has him more jaded than experienced. He would sell seats and come relatively cheap, that's for sure, but he also holds more potential for implosion than anyone else Maryland's looking at. We ain't striking out on Jim Harbaugh, here.
Plenty of candidates, especially ones with Under Armour ties, would be available and attractive. Some may be more expensive than Leach, some less. No one would bring ticket sales right out of the gate like Leach would, that's for sure, but they all have their own positives.
Gus Malzahn is the obvious mention. Even Sporting News already thought of it. Malzahn's reputation with an exciting offense that's succeeded at every level makes him a kind of Leach without the baggage, as does his recruiting skill. The fact that he's currently at an Under Armour school in Auburn could only help. But he just turned down nearly $3mil a year at Vandy, and I can't imagine he'd take significantly less at Maryland - UMD is a way more attractive job, but he's obviously committed to Auburn right now. His lack of head coaching experience is worrisome, as well.
Before we go any farther, we're going to entirely discount Mike Locksley and Tyrone Willingham, both of whom were mentioned early in the process as potential candidates. Willingham flunked out at Washington after getting a raw deal at Notre Dame, while Mike Locksley is just straight flunking out at New Mexico. Locks would be a solid offensive coordinator or recruiting coordinator, and nothing else.
That said, the other name that came up early - Randy Edsall - would deserve some measure of consideration. He built UConn's program from the ground up, climaxing this year with a birth to a BCS bowl. He's done a lot with very little at UConn, and his potential with Maryland's talent, particularly if he could attract Locksley or Larry Johnson Sr. to be an assistant, would be very high. He's still not a sexy name and isn't going to sell tickets the way Leach would right out of the gate, but I would consider him a minor upgrade.
Heather Dinich came up with two more names: Larry Johnson, Sr., and Kevin Sumlin. I'll completely discount LJ Sr., same as I did Tyrone Willingham and Mike Locksley, because there's no way any of them have enough experience or success to be the type of hire Maryland's looking for. Sumlin is a name I've mentioned a few times before: he's Houston's head coach, young, energetic, and runs a very successful offense. He was a Bob Stoops protege at Oklahoma. In many ways, he's James Franklin with better playcalling, more experience, and less local connections.
The dream name is and always has been Brian Billick, the Pete Carroll of the East Coast. But that's a longshot. A more efficient way to look at it would be identifying some Under Armour-tied coaches, which is where Kevin Plank will be most likely to spend his money: Malzahn is the first name to come to mind, with a guy like Kyle Whittingham, who was making nearly $.5mil less than Friedgen was, being a possibility as well, I would suppose.
Ultimately, I'd still be surprised if it's not Leach. (And if it isn't, there's not a group I feel more sorry for than the Texas Tech fans that have made the Maryland leap.) But that potential is still there, as surprising - and, for some, as disappointing - as it may be.