Mississippi State coach Mike Leach does not like the recent trends of NFL Draft-eligible players opting out of their teams’ bowl games to prepare for the draft process.
The second-year Bulldogs coach made that abundantly clear to reporters during his Saturday media availability, when he called bowl game opt-outs “one of the biggest absurdities that I’ve seen.”
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“You’ve got an obligation to the place that helped build and develop you and finish it out in the bowl,” Leach said, via the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.). “That’s part of it. You owe it to your team, you owe it to your fans, you owe it to your coaches and it’s the most bizarre thing in the world to me.”
“Somebody says, ‘Well, I can’t play one more game,'” Leach said. “They think they’re going to have a storied 10-year NFL career, and then they can’t play one more college game. Well, that’s ridiculous. I mean, guys will go to the NFL, they’ll make the Pro Bowl and then they’ll play in the Pro Bowl. It’s one of the biggest absurdities that I’ve seen, and it’s selfish, too.”
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It should be noted that Leach, who has made stops at Texas Tech and Washington State as well as Mississippi State, has never left a team prior to its bowl game. He was fired at Texas Tech in 2009 following an 8-4 season after allegations of player abuse. He also coached the Cougars in the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl before accepting the Bulldogs’ head coaching position. He did, however, leave his position as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator prior to the 1999 Independence Bowl (a 27-25 loss to Ole Miss).
Two of Leach’s players — offensive lineman Charles Cross and cornerback Martin Emerson, both of whom recently declared for the draft — could miss the Bulldogs’ Liberty Bowl matchup vs. Texas Tech.
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Leach’s position reflects a more old-school mentality among coaches. By contrast, several coaches have left their respective teams prior to bowl season. Three huge examples of that in the 2021 coaching carousel are Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, who left those blue-blood programs for USC, LSU and Miami (Fla.), respectively.
The Sooners will play the Ducks in the Alamo Bowl. The Fighting Irish will play Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. None of Riley, Kelly or Cristobal will coach in their former team’s bowl game.