College Football Hall of Fame ballot serves as a reminder - Mike Leach deserves induction

Former Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach was not listed on the 2025 College Football Hall of Fame ballot, and the fact he's ineligible remains absurd.
Nov 24, 2022; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach speaks with quarterback Will Rogers (2) during the first quarter of the game against the Ole Miss Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 24, 2022; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach speaks with quarterback Will Rogers (2) during the first quarter of the game against the Ole Miss Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports / Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the National Football Foundation announced the ballot for the 2025 College Football Hall of Fame class. Several legendary names stand out on the list. There's players such as Michael Vick, Aaron Donald, and DeSean Jackson. Coaching royalty Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are candidates.

But there's a notable name not listed - Mike Leach.

Leach, who developed the vaunted Air Raid offense alongside Hal Mumme, spent 22 seasons as a head coach across three power conference programs in Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State.

During that time, his teams won at a level rarely achieved at those schools, all while revolutionizing the game of football with his Air Raid passing attack. He tragically passed away in December of 2022 at the age of 61 near the end of his third season at MSU.

But to not see Leach's name as a Hall of Fame candidate isn't actually surprising. That's because Leach is technically ineligible for induction.

You see, the College Football Hall of Fame requires coaching candidates to have finished their careers with at least a .600 winning percentage. Mike Leach finished his career at .596.

So unless the the CFB Hall of Fame were to make an exception or change their selection criteria, Mike Leach will never be inducted.

And that is an absolute travesty.

Few coaches in the history of the game of football, not just college, have made a bigger impact on the way the game is played than Mike Leach. Within the modern era of the sport, I'm not sure you could name one who's been more vital in changing the game.

"The Pirate" brought the passing game to the forefront of offensive football while at Texas Tech. In an era dominated by I-Formation-based power rushing attacks, he showed that spreading the field and slinging the ball around was not only a viable option, it was the way for lesser talented programs to attack defenses.

And as the formerly-middling Red Raiders began ripping apart Big 12 defenses, the nation took notice. Teams everywhere began to implement Air Raid concepts into their offenses. The Big 12 quickly shifted from a league full of run-first teams to the home of pass-happy spread attacks. Heck, even the New England Patriots were influenced by Leach's offense as they found ways to utilize former Leach WR Wes Welker.

The biggest change happened at the high school level. HS coaches, particularly in Texas, were fascinated with the Air Raid. They found the methodology by which Leach's teams practiced and the almost baffling simplicity of the scheme itself alluring.

Soon, you were seeing the Air Raid ran every Friday night across the most talent-rich state in the country. And as more and more coveted HS recruits were developed in the Air Raid, more college programs had to adapt their own offenses to suit what those players knew. Leach's influence ultimately forced even the most stodgy of coaches to adopt the spread passing game.

The trickle-up effect has had a direct impact on the NFL as well. Quarterbacks who in prior eras would've flamed out in the league because they only knew how to run "gimmicky college offenses" are now successful field generals on Sundays. Why? Because NFL coaches realized they would have to adapt to their talent-pool just like colleges did with high-schoolers. And it certainly helps that those Air Raid plays work on Sundays too.

As Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel pointed out following Mike Leach's passing, it's not crazy to suggest that the current best QB in the NFL may not even be playing football if not for the influence of "The Pirate".

How on earth can one coach make that significant an impact on the way the entire game of football is played but not be considered a Hall of Famer? Should the CFB Hall of Fame not represent the men who shaped the sport into what it is today?

Not to be overlooked in all of this is the fact that setting an arbitrary career winning percentage as a baseline for induction is ludicrous in a sport as uneven as college football.

Fewer sports have a greater discrepancy between the "haves" and the "have nots" than CFB, and in many cases, the destinies of those programs were set decades ago. Your geography, donor base, conference affiliation, and other factors completely out of the control of any coach set the ceiling for what your program can achieve.

Well Mike Leach spent his entire career coaching at "have nots". Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State have all historically been very difficult places to win. Yet Leach had both Tech and Wazzu consistently in the upper-half of their leagues and reaching bowl games, something that's rarely happened. He had an 11-win season at both.

His time in Starkville was too short-lived to reach the same heights, but in his final season, the Bulldogs finished ranked for just the fifth time since 2000.

You cannot define success at these stops by an an exact win percentage. You define success relative to what has traditionally been achieved at those jobs and what is realistically possible. And by that measure, Mike Leach was wildly successful as a head coach.

Changing the game of football alone warrants Hall of Fame induction. Doing so while also leading programs to never before seen heights erases any doubt.

When you look at the list of candidates for the 2025 HOF class, you see Leach's direct influence. Two of his QBs - Josh Huepel and Graham Harrell - are on the ballot. His two-time Biletnikoff Award winning WR Michael Crabtree was inducted in 2022.

Also on the 2025 candidates list is a coach with certain direct ties to Leach. Tommy Tuberville was hired to replace The Pirate in Lubbock in 2010, and the program saw an immediate downturn with the move.

Though Tuberville managed a pair of 8-win seasons in three years, he finished with a losing conference record each season. Leach only had a losing Big 12 record once, in his first year (2000). Tuberville's 2011 team was the worst the school had seen in almost 20 years.

Tuberville is a HOF candidate because of a successful tenure at Auburn (that fell apart once a certain coach arrived at Alabama...), but we can very easily compare his run at Tech to Leach. The Red Raider program, which was left in great shape by Leach, immediately regressed under Tommy Tuberville.

How can you say the coach who tore apart what Mike Leach built at Texas Tech is HOF worthy, but Mike Leach himself isn't?

Mike Leach is a hall of famer. He changed the game of football forever and had unprecedented runs of success at multiple programs. To not induct him into the CFB Hall of Fame because of a ridiculous cutline is absurd and a disgrace to the game.

It's past time for the National Football Foundation to do something about it.