November 10, 2010

Can Leach, Leavitt and Mangino get back in the game?

The resumes of Mike Leach, Jim Leavitt and Mark Mangino are filled with accomplishments.

Leach is Texas Tech's all-time winningest coach. Leavitt is the father of USF football. Mangino is the only coach to take Kansas to consecutive bowls. Yet each may be unemployable as major-college head coaches.

All three are excellent at their craft and respected by their peers for their sideline acumen. But it may be difficult for any of them to land another major gig because of circumstances surrounding their departures after last season.

Leach and Leavitt were fired, while Mangino resigned. It's all semantics, really. The reality: All were alleged to have physically mistreated players, and that clouds the coaching future of each.

"Certainly, they have the experience and the credentials, but each situation will be different," said Bill Carr, who runs Carr Sports Associates Inc., a search and management consultant firm for college athletics. "In every search, the decision-makers have to have a comfort level with their choice. It's hard to say about that question due to different perspectives among those leaders."

Each coach denies doing anything wrong, and Leach and Leavitt have lawsuits pending against their former employers. Leach's pertains to a breach-of-contract dispute, while Leavitt is fighting the claim surrounding the incident that led to his dismissal. Mangino reached a settlement with Kansas.

Will any be hired again?

"I think it has to be someone whose risk tolerance is pretty high," said an SEC athletic director who asked to remain anonymous. "I think in today's world, when you get into accusations that were there and you're talking about student-athletes, you have to walk cautiously into that realm.

"There are a lot of good coaches out there. And when you are making these decisions, there's risk involved anytime. You have the risk of someone like that vs. the risk of hiring someone who doesn't have as long a track record or maybe they never have been a head coach. You just have to decide on your tolerance for that risk as an institution."

Minnesota is one of three FBS schools that currently has an opening -- Colorado and North Texas are the others -- and Golden Gophers A.D. Joel Maturi is keeping an open mind on all candidates as he looks to replace Tim Brewster.

"I am considering all names right now," Maturi said. "No matter who it is, you have to do your homework. You will have to answer any questions. We have to look into accusations and allegations."

Answering questions about those accusations mean any A.D. with a job opening will have a tough decision when it comes to hiring Leach, Mangino or Leavitt.

"I would rather defend a coaches' record than try to explain why a coach was involved in some of the instances these guys reportedly were involved in," said the SEC A.D. "I think that's a hard call."

Leach, 49, seems to have the best chance to land on his feet after going 84-43 (including 47-33 in the Big 12) with bowl bids in each of his 10 seasons in Lubbock. He's a quirky commodity who made Texas Tech into a national brand with his pass-happy offense.

"I think someone might gamble on Leach," said another SEC athletic director who wanted to remain anonymous. "Might. Maybe [Mangino and Leavitt] can coach at a lower level. But anytime you hire someone like that, you are going to end up having to defend the person.

"Do you want to defend the person at the press conference? That is a challenge. That's not how you want to start things off."

An agent who represents several top college coaches -- but none of these three -- concurs.

"For Leavitt and Mangino and the allegations involved against them, I think it will be difficult for an A.D. to hire them," said the agent, who wished to remain anonymous. "Leach is a more interesting case. More facts are going to come out. ... I think Mike will have a better chance of getting hired than the other two guys.

"Leach is a unique guy. And he does not fit your typical stereotype of a head coach. A university is going to have to accept that. The smart ones will embrace it and try to celebrate it."

Leach, who moved to Key West, Fla., after his dismissal, was suspended indefinitely by Texas Tech last December pending an investigation of alleged inappropriate treatment of Red Raiders receiver Adam James, the son of former SMU running back and current ESPN college football commentator Craig James.

In December, Adam James had suffered a concussion and was told not to practice. The James family said Leach mistreated Adam by ordering him to stand in a dark shed near the practice field. The Lubbock Avalanche Journal has reported that Leach was given an ultimatum to apologize to James in writing by Dec. 28 or be suspended.

Leach's attorney disputed the claims and said James had been treated in accordance with his condition. Instead of being suspended, Leach was fired.

In January, Leach filed suit against Texas Tech for wrongful termination and other claims. The lawsuit still hasn't been resolved.

Leach fully expects to again be a head coach at a major program and doesn't feel the circumstances of his departure will impact his ability to land a job.

"If it does, it's somebody who doesn't know the facts," said Leach, who is working as an analyst for CBS College Sports Network while also doing a show on Sirius XM College Sports Nation with Jack Arute. "I want a good situation. I don't want a place that just wants me to sign up. I want to go to a place that wants to win. I want one that values academics. I want one that believes in my body of work and has the presence of mind to realize that we wouldn't have had the success we did if I ever abused a student-athlete, so that obviously is false."

The odds appear longer for Mangino and Leavitt.

Mangino did a remarkable job reviving a moribund Kansas program. He took over in 2002 and proceeded to lead the Jayhawks to four bowls, highlighted by a Big 12 North title and Orange Bowl triumph over Virginia Tech to cap a 12-1 record in the 2007 season.

Mangino, 54, also led KU to back-to-back bowls for the first time in school history (2007-08) and finished with a 50-48 record, including 23-41 in the Big 12. He left campus two wins shy of becoming the school's all-time victory leader. The facilities also were greatly enhanced during his tenure in Lawrence.

But in November 2009, Kansas began an investigation into Mangino's alleged verbal and emotional abuse of players. He insisted he had done nothing wrong throughout the process. But Mangino ultimately resigned and received a settlement reportedly worth in excess of $6 million.

"Mark did a great job," then-athletic director Lew Perkins said when Mangino stepped down. "He did some things that needed to be done, and I think the university and our football program is much better today than it was the day he took the job."

Mangino's parting shot as he left the podium following his last game at Kansas: "I'm one of the more pleasant people in college football. Trust me."

Mangino, who now lives in Naples, Fla., didn't respond to numerous attempts to reach him for comment for this story.

Leavitt, 53, was the only coach in the 13-year history of USF's program, going 95-57 with five bowls from 1997-2009. He shepherded the program from FCS status to FBS membership, guiding the program to as high as No. 2 in the BCS standings during the 2007 season.

But following a three-week probe late last season, Leavitt was fired amid allegations that during halftime of the Louisville game last November, he grabbed walk-on running back Joel Miller by the throat, slapped him in the face and later lied about it.

"Coach Leavitt committed a serious violation of our standards of conduct regarding treatment of students," said USF president Judy Genshaft after the investigation.

Leavitt, who still lives in the Tampa area, strongly denies the allegations and says the alleged victim and his father have exaggerated details of the event. Leavitt said his lawsuit against USF may not be settled until this spring or summer.

Leavitt isn't sure if the circumstances of how he left USF will hinder his ability to coach again.

"That is the unknown," he said. "This is such foreign territory for me. I never have been in a situation like this in my life. ... Some people wonder why I don't just move on. Well, if I move on, that means I am admitting that I hit and choked this young man, which would be a lie.

"My character ... I can't lie. That's why it's extraordinary that they said that I lied and tried to manipulate people. That couldn't be farther from the truth. My point in all of this is I don't know how it all will play out."

There have been some reports that North Texas has interest in Leavitt.

"Will there be a president that has a hard time hiring me because they have to go in front of the media and say I am willing to take this guy over other candidates?" Leavitt said. "I can't control that, but I'm sure there are. I'm sure there are a lot of presidents that aren't going to touch it. I have to hope that the right situation is going to materialize. ... I don't know."

Leach, Mangino and Leavitt may have to spend more time rehabilitating their image, perhaps as coordinators somewhere. But time may not be on their side.

"You also have to look at this continuing trend of hiring younger and younger coaches," the agent said. "That will be the other thing working against them."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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