PULLMAN, Wash. — In spending an unprecedented $2 million a year to hire Mike Leach, Washington State is sending a message to its Pac-12 rivals: You won't have the Cougars to kick around much longer.
Washington State is using money to be generated by the league's new television package to hire the big-name coach, improve its stadium and try to shed nearly a decade of football irrelevance. Each Pac-12 member will eventually be receiving nearly $20 million per year because of the TV deal.
"We could not have done this without the television money and the equal revenue sharing piece of it," athletic director Bill Moos said. "That enabled us to invest in facilities and infrastructure and salaries to compete at the level we want to compete."
Washington State is in the smallest market in the Pac-12. It has the smallest football stadium, the lowest average attendance, smallest athletic budget, and hasn't had a winning football record since 2003.
Under coach Paul Wulff, who was fired Tuesday, the Cougars were 9-40 over the past four seasons, just 4-32 in the conference.
There has always been an underdog quality to Washington State, which competes with schools like Southern Cal, Oregon and Stanford. Cougar fans have been content with the occasional winning season and bowl game, in part because of the perception that rural Pullman was simply not going to lure top recruits.
Leach will easily make the most money of any WSU coach ever, topping the $1 million salary given to former basketball coach Tony Bennett. His contract calls for a base salary of $2 million per year, plus $250,000 a year in ancillary payments, plus performance incentives.
As a result, Moos is asking that fans fill the 32,000 seats at Martin Stadium and open their wallets to make bigger donations. 'I opened my checkbook for you, you open your checkbook for me," Moos said.
Construction started this week on an $80 million project to add premium seating, luxury boxes and a new press box to the stadium. Also on the drawing board is a $60 million football operations building.
Moos said earlier this week that WSU was at a "critical" juncture during which the program needed to either move forward or be content with being a league doormat.
"We've got to get the program in a position to compete and we've got to do it pretty quick, or we will be left in the dust," Moos said.
The hiring of Leach, who led Texas Tech to 10 bowl games in 10 years before being fired in 2009, is intended to keep the Cougars dust-free.
"We are on our way, in my opinion, to a great future in Cougar football," Moos said.
The 50-year-old Leach was 84-43 at Texas Tech. He was fired amid allegations he mistreated a player with a concussion.
Moos had his eye on Leach ever since the WSU season started falling apart with five straight losses after a 3-1 start.
He said he flew to Key West, Fla., in the week prior to the Nov. 19 Utah game and spent several hours with Leach.
"I was always intrigued with him," Moos said, both for his pass-oriented offenses and for his myriad interests.
Leach, out of football for two years, immediately expressed interest in becoming coach at Washington State, Moos said.
After WSU's overtime loss to Utah, talks got serious. After Washington State ended the season by losing to archrival Washington last Saturday, Moos was ready to move.
He offered the job to Leach on Monday, fired Wulff on Tuesday and sealed the five-year deal with Leach on Wednesday.
Leach will be introduced next week.
Moos noted that this is the first time Washington State has hired someone who was a head coach at a BCS-level program. The school's last four coaches were Dennis Erickson (Wyoming), Mike Price (Weber State), Bill Doba (WSU assistant) and Wulff (Eastern Washington).
Leach's assistant coaches will split a $1.8 million pool, a jump from the $1.3 million that Wulff had to work with.
Moos wanted to make sure that Leach's pay at WSU was in the upper tier of the Pac-12.
All that spending means the underdog mentality is gone, Moos said.
He expects Washington State to compete regularly for Pac-12 championships, and to routinely beat Washington.
"Beating the Huskies once out of four years is not what Bill Moos is about," he said. "I want to get the program to where the Huskies beat the Cougars once out of four years."