What if Texas Tech hired Rich Rodriguez instead of Mike Leach?

I hope y’all enjoyed the first installment of our new “What if…?” series last week. Sorry for the delay before my second post, but work got very hectic with this COVID-19 stuff so I didn’t have much energy to write. Anyway, here’s your new 10-minute distraction from the virus.

Rich Rod vs. Mike Leach

Today, we’ll explore what might have been if Texas Tech hired Rich Rodriguez instead of Mike Leach in 1999. These coaches were the apparent finalists for the job after Spike Dykes’ retirement.

Admittedly, I was very young when this coaching change occurred and not yet a Texas Tech fan. But from what I hear, the Leach hire wasn’t met with instant satisfaction among the fan base. Of course after he started winning so consistently, that naturally changed. But at first, fans were allegedly weary of Leach’s pass happy offense.

I think it’s fair to say that apprehension would have also existed with Rich Rodriguez’s spread option offense that he made famous at West Virginia after being hired there in 2000. As a young college football fan, there wasn’t an offense too much more exciting than the one Pat White and Steve Slaton were running in Morgantown. It’s strange how similarly those two parallel Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, stars at Texas Tech during roughly the same time period.

On-field Results

Just like winning cured all for Leach, I think the same would have happened under Rodriguez. Rich Rod started slow at West Virginia with a 3-9 record in 2001. After that he rattled off three very Leach-esque seasons, amassing season records of 9-4, 8-5, and 8-4. The Mountaineers really broke through in 2005 and 2006, combining to win 22 games during that span and finished both seasons in the top 10.

In 2007, Rich Rod had his version of Leach’s 2008 season at Texas Tech. West Virginia was ranked No. 2 in the country heading into its season finale against unranked Pitt. Despite being heavy favorites and playing on their home turf, the Mountaineers lost 13-9 after an injury to Pat White. The national championship game was right there in their grasp, and they let it slip away. They finished the season with a 20-point Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 3 Oklahoma (though Rich Rod had already taken the Michigan job by that time).

I’m not sure about three straight 11-win seasons, but there is no doubt in my mind Rodriguez could have had serious success in Lubbock. The Big East was an easier conference in terms of opponents’ strength, but I think the spread option offense in the Big 12 during the 2000s with access to Texas high school talent could have made some noise.

Could Rich Rodriguez have won a Big 12 title? Possibly. Dare to dream with me for a moment here; could he have gotten over the hump at Texas Tech and reached a national championship game, like he failed to do at West Virginia in 2007 and Leach failed to do in 2008? We’ll never know.

Post-Leach vs. Post-Rich Rod

What I do know almost for certain is that Rich Rod wouldn’t have been in Lubbock for long if he had the same type of success at Texas Tech as he had at West Virginia. He was by far the biggest name in the college football coaching carousel by the time his tenure in Morgantown ended, which is how he landed a job at a place like Michigan.

Rich Rodriguez left after his seventh season at West Virginia. Had he been hired at Texas Tech and lasted seven years, he would have departed after the 2006 season. Which coaches would have been on the market for Texas Tech at the time?

Swing for the fences…

How about a couple of off-the-wall names here? These scenarios are unlikely, but you never know. I’m assuming Rich Rod leaves Lubbock after significantly elevating the program, just like he did at West Virginia.

Am I crazy for thinking Gary Patterson could have been an option? Knowing what we know now, he seems very committed to staying in Fort Worth. But at the time I wonder if Texas Tech would have made a move for him. Texas ties? Check. Head coaching experience? Check. Conference titles, 10-win seasons, upsets over Power 5 competition (Remember, TCU was in Conference USA and Mountain West at the time…)? Check.

If Tech offered to triple his salary to move four and a half hours to the west and coach the reigning Big 12 champs with a roster full of talent that Rich Rod just left, would Gary say “no”? And if Gary says “yes” and has the success at Texas Tech that he’s had at TCU, and if Rich Rod already had unprecedented success at Texas Tech, would the Red Raiders be a program that today has multiple Big 12 championship banners, multiple BCS/New Year’s Six banners, etc.? I’m not a huge fan of Gary the person (how petty do you have to be to blatantly lie about fans throwing water bottles at you?), but I could take one for the team if it meant Texas Tech had two decades of sustained success at the top of the conference.

How about Jimbo Fisher? He was another offensive mind who had worked under some serious pedigree (Bobby Bowden, Nick Saban) following the 2006 season. He was hired to be the head coach at UAB but the board of regents rejected his contract. As we know now, he’s not opposed to coaching in the state of Texas. He would have been well-qualified and somewhat plausible in this scenario.

Steve Sarkisian has been a West Coast guy for most of his career. Following the 2006 season, he interviewed with the Oakland Raiders but stayed with USC as offensive coordinator. Could he have been persuaded with the head coaching position at an offensive juggernaut program like Texas Tech coming off multiple 10-win seasons under Rich Rod?

Safe but plausible

Todd Graham left Rice for Tulsa after the 2006 season. You’d have to think given his Texas ties and that he was a coach on the rise, he could have been on Tech’s radar. Personally, no thank you.

Gene Chizik was hired by Iowa State that offseason following two seasons and a national title with Texas as defensive coordinator. His head coaching record without Cam Newton is abysmal, so again, I’d pass.

The last one I have is Sonny Dykes. Of course, I’m not sure where exactly his coaching experience would have come from in this scenario since he worked with Mike Leach at Texas Tech in reality. But wherever Sonny was, let’s assume he was succeeding as an offensive coordinator like he did in Lubbock. A Texas Tech fan base that has grown accustomed to Rich Rodriguez’s high-scoring offenses is in need of someone who can unify the program after its most successful coach in history just bolted for a job at a blue blood. Who better than Rich Rod’s predecessor’s son? It would have been a nice homecoming and a good fit.

So… Rich Rod or Mike Leach?

With the benefit of two decades’ hindsight, I can confidently say I’d rather go with Rich Rod than Leach. Things ended so poorly with Leach that the fan base is divided to this day. And his replacement, Tommy Tuberville, is widely despised by the fan base. So I’d rather roll the dice with the Rich Rod scenario and see what comes about both on the field and as far as the ensuing chapter of Tech football.

I think he would have matched Leach’s success during his tenure in Lubbock, and almost assuredly would have had a cleaner departure than Leach’s, which became a national embarrassment and resulted in an awful replacement hiring.

What say you? If you could go back to 1999 and the decision was yours, would you take Rich Rod or Mike Leach? What do you think would have happened if Texas Tech went with Rodriguez instead?


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