LAS VEGAS – The College Football Hall of Fame will soon face a Mike Leach dilemma, and organizers know it.

Leach, the groundbreaking former head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State who revolutionized the passing attack, died of heart complications in December 2022 at age 61. The National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame require coaches to win 60 percent of their games to be eligible. Leach finished his career at 59.1 percent.

Immediately after Leach's death, fans began criticizing the standard and demanding that the Hall of Fame induct him. So will it do so?

Matthew Sign, Chief Operating Officer of the NFF, said The athlete that the discussion only begins three years after a coach's last game if he is younger than 70. So there are still two more seasons before that starts with Leach. But Sign knows it will come.

“Mike Leach is a unique case,” said Sign, who considered himself a friend of the coach. “The three schools he coached at were not easy. His impact on the sport in high school and college is something to consider. Those are things that will be discussed and we'll see where it goes.”

But something needs to change. Sign defended the strict criteria of the Hall of Fame, which also excluded Howard Schnellenberger from participation with a winning percentage of just over 50%. The requirement that a player must be selected to the first All-America team in order to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was also questioned.

“Some people don't always agree with it, but there has to be some criteria out there,” Sign said. “We've worked really hard to make sure we keep that. It's something we look at every year.”

Sign said when he joined the NFF 20 years ago, the organization was tasked with tightening the criteria at the request of schools and coaches. That's why there are people in the Hall who don't meet the current criteria. It was about maintaining a high standard for the Hall of Fame. But excluding someone like Leach from the sport would be absurd to a lot of people.

“The guy revolutionized the game,” said current Washington State coach Jake Dickert. “Talk to anybody worth their salt in college football and you'll know that in two seconds. Let's get the guy in the Hall of Fame. Come on.”

Current Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said, “How many coaches can we really say have changed the game? He really changed the game when it comes to offensive football.”

Leach was inducted into the Texas Tech Hall of Fame in 2023. Washington State announced this week that it will induct Leach into its Hall of Fame later this year.

Added to this were the unique circumstances of Leach's death. He had just finished an 8-4 season at Mississippi State, a second straight improvement over the previous year. He might have surpassed that mark had he not died.

“He's already a Hall of Famer, and I don't need the NFF to tell me that,” said former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player. Leaf became close to Leach through coaching circles in Texas and then during his time at WSU.

“If he hadn't died, he probably would have surpassed it next season,” Leaf said.

To start the discussion, a school has to nominate the player or coach for the Hall of Fame. People at Texas Tech and Washington State plan to push for that. Mississippi State will surely do the same.

“We will push the agenda forward,” Dickert said. “I could imagine that we will work together to get Coach Leach inducted into the Hall of Fame at the national level, where he rightfully belongs.”

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(Photo: Steve Dykes / Getty Images)

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