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Dan Bickley

Cardinals should give Mike Leach a call in head coaching search

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2018, file photo, Washington State head coach Mike Leach looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Utah in Pullman, Wash. Leach was named the Pac-12 coach of the year Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)

High-flying offenses are the future of the NFL. Josh Rosen is the future of the Cardinals.

It’s time to hire the head coach who can serve both. The guy who can shred defenses, develop quarterbacks and entertain the masses. The opinionated outlier who won a football game in 2018 with zero rushing yards.

It’s time to pick up the phone and call Mike Leach.

The Washington State head coach is the perfect solution to what ails Arizona’s professional football team. He’s fearless and full of conviction. His Air Raid offense has turned football outposts into powerhouses, from Lubbock, Texas, to Pullman, Washington. His coaching tree has produced four players and four assistants who all became FBS head coaches, including Kliff Kingsbury, who is scheduled to interview for Arizona’s vacancy.

Why not bypass Kingsbury and hire the master? And if Kingsbury doesn’t get hired by another NFL team, maybe he can tag along as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator.

The idea makes too much sense.

Leach is a real quarterback whisperer. He is very familiar with Rosen, who played in the same conference as Leach’s Cougars. Meanwhile, the NFL is finally opening its heart and mind to the innovation that flows freely in college football. And nobody has done more with less than Leach, so much that “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis likened him to a football version of Billy Beane.

Once the object of NFL derision, Air Raid principles and Air Raid quarterbacks are beginning to flourish in the NFL (Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff). Nick Foles tore up the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl on a steady diet of plays from the Air Raid playbook.

Leach is extremely proud of his pioneering, tweeting that “the last Super Bowl was nearly all Air Raid style concepts.”

Granted, plenty of Air Raid quarterbacks have failed in the NFL. But dogma and attitudes are changing in professional football. Leach and Rosen would be an irresistible and combustible combination, two strong personalities both revered and disliked on their own college campus.

Earlier in the hiring process, I implored the Cardinals to focus only on candidates with NFL head coaching experience. That doesn’t apply to Leach, who rose to stardom in the college coaching ranks without ever playing a down of college football.

In the end, the Cardinals would win football games, press conferences and dominate the water cooler. They sorely need an outspoken leader like Leach, a man who knows how to keep a team and a town on its toes. They sorely need the conversation piece.

Leach comes with his own lore, known for his peculiarities, his fascination with pirates, his unapologetic nature and for tangents that go viral. He represents the future of the NFL, a league where shootouts might soon become the norm.

Everything seemed to change on that magical night in 2018 when the Rams beat the Chiefs 54-51, combining for 105 points behind two Air Raid quarterbacks. It was the kind of game a young audience craves, full of action and absurd fantasy statistics.

The NFL is a profit-seeking missile. They know the future is based on teams that can light up the scoreboard, not teams that produce three yards and a cloud of dust. The Cardinals would not only get ahead of the curve. They’d be hiring the most interesting man in college football.

ASU once balked at hiring Leach, only to watch him elevate a football wasteland. At Texas Tech and Washington State, his combined record is 133-83. He’s full of moxie and gravitas, once showing up 30 minutes late to a Pac-12 coaches’ meeting because he had to stop for In-N-Out Burgers and a milkshake.

“We were all looking at our watches thinking, ‘This might not turn out good for him,’” Washington coach Chris Petersen said at the time. “He walks in with this In-N-Out Burger and milkshake and we’re all like, ‘Really?’ And we were waiting for somebody to say something.

“He’s just happy as a clam, eating away. And we’re like, ‘Why didn’t we do that?’”

Yeah, Leach is definitely the worth the phone call.

Maybe even the perfect candidate at the perfect time.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier