Who Should Ole Miss Prioritize: RichRod or Mike Leach?

I honestly don't have any good idea what direction the Ole Miss coaching search will go in.

In 1998, the school hired the offensive coordinator from the soon-to-be national champions in David Cutcliffe. He helped get them Eli Manning and had a 10-win season, but he was fired after seven years. Cutcliffe was not seen as a big recruiter, so they tried to solve that problem with talent acquisition ace Ed Orgeron. That lasted just three seasons as the Ogre could bring in talent but couldn't coach his way out of a refrigerator box. After whiffing on the first-time head coach, they went with 10-year SEC veteran Houston Nutt. That lasted all of one season longer than Orgeron's tenure. About the only thing they haven't tried lately is an NFL retread.

Two names that have come up, on the Internet at least, are Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez. The former is well known for winning with lesser talent at Texas Tech, while the latter guided West Virginia to a pair of BCS bowls before departing for his ill-fated tenure at Michigan. If both can be seen as possible candidates for Tulane, then certainly they'd jump at going to Oxford long before taking on that difficult reclamation project.

I don't know whether either is on Ole Miss' short list or if they'd be cultural fits. But if I was on the committee with Archie Manning and had to pick one of them, I'd go with Leach.

Leach won the Red Cup Rebellion poll, but that's not why I'm going with the dread pirate between these two. Leach was fired not because of failures on the field, but because he beat the school administration in his last round of contract negotiations and Craig James provided the bigwigs with an excuse to get rid of him. He was able to win consistently with the guys Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M didn't want, which is an important consideration for a place that can't out-recruit Alabama or LSU. With A&M now joining the SEC, it would be that much easier for Leach to go back into Texas on his old recruiting trails. Plus, his teams always had high graduation rates.

I think Rich Rodriguez is a fine coach who just made a lot of mistakes at Michigan. He was in an impossible situation there too, as not being a "Michigan man" made people impatient through the talent drain that an unbelievable amount of transfers led to. Some of what conspired against him there was not in his control, and his offense did end up to be pretty good by the time he was kicked out.

What would worry me as a prospective employer of Rodriguez was how he handled the defense. For one thing, he made two bad defensive coordinator hires. For another, he meddled with that side of the ball despite not being a defensive guy. He wanted his coordinators to run the 3-3-5 system that his WVU DC Jeff Casteel masterminded. The coordinators he picked hadn't ever run that before, so they struggled in implementing it. That he insisted on it despite the fact that transfers and injuries meant he had to lean on walk ons in the five-man secondary all too often didn't appear to deter him.

So purely from an administrative standpoint, I'd go with Leach before Rodriguez. Leach will hire a defensive coordinator and let him do his thing. Perhaps Rodriguez learned his lesson about micromanaging his weakness, but there's precedent there. Besides, the 3-3-5 is best suited to stopping wide open spread option offenses. You don't see a lot of that being run by Nick Saban, Les Miles or Bobby Petrino, and there is legitimate doubt about how long Gus Malzahn and Dan Mullen will stay in the division before taking more high profile jobs.

If the school was looking to win right away, Rodriguez would be the better selection. The Rebels have several dual threat quarterbacks that fit his style, while they lack the kinds of pure passers Leach succeeds with. The Cap'n would probably need to sign a JUCO quarterback or two in order to have a fighting chance for 2012, and that is rolling the dice a bit.

I don't know that they'll be looking for a fast turnaround though. The SEC West has never been tougher, and winning in 2012 is not as important as winning over many years. Nutt brought a quick turnaround, but it flamed out almost as quickly as it came.

Ultimately, I don't know if either of these guys is the right man for the job. About the only prediction I feel safe in is that Ole Miss won't hire another client of Jimmy Sexton, the agent who is notorious for floating his clients' names to get them raises and who negotiated Nutt's staggering $6 million buyout. Other than that, I got nothing.

But if you narrow the search down to just these two guys, Leach should be the pick over Rodriguez.

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