Mike Leach’s 2000 staff brought us to TCU/Houston 2023


This is the most interwoven, clunky story we’ve done in the daily and perhaps in GoCoogs history. It rivals our Leach/Holgorsen story from 2019.

the daily #43 | 9/12/2023 | Archives

The journey to Saturday’s Big 12 opener between Houston and TCU starts on Farm to Market Road 8. That’s the road leading out of Stephenville towards I-20. Take a left on the interstate and travel 110 miles or so before getting on State Highway 84 North and driving until you reach Lubbock.

That’s where Mike Leach was hired in December 1999 and began putting together perhaps the greatest collection of coaches ever. Those coaches, and the coaches they nurtured, have played an oversized role in Texas football for nearly 25 years. Leach’s first staff included names such as Ruffin McNeill, Art Briles, Sonny Dykes, Dana Holgorsen, and Bill Bedenbaugh.

The journey to 2023

Art Briles took Stephenville to four state titles before becoming the running backs coach at Tech just before Christmas 1999. His son Kendal was a prized recruit out of Frenship who ultimately chose to go to UT.

Leach chose Sonny Dykes to be his receivers coach. When he was hired at Tech, Leach replaced Sonny’s father as head coach. Sonny went to Lubbock following a season at Kentucky, where he worked for Leach’s mentor, Hal Mumme. Leach was OC at Kentucky in 1997-1998, just missing Dykes there.

Holgorsen was Leach’s last hire in 2000, coming on board as inside receivers coach. Holgorsen was recruited by Leach to Iowa Wesleyan and followed Mumme and Leach to Valdosta State in his first coaching job.

Dykes and Leach were close, but Holgorsen’s relationship with the head coach ran deeper.

“He’s like Mike Jr.,” Sonny Dykes told The Athletic in 2019. “I used to call him Little Leach all the time. It’d piss him off. They have the same cadence. The older Dana gets, the more he morphs into Mike. Don’t tell him that. He’ll get pissed off, but it’s true.”

Dana Holgorsen and Mike Leach at NRG in 2019 // Photo by Mario Puente

After three seasons on the Red Raider staff, Art Briles took the Houston head job. His son Kendal transferred from Texas to join him at UH, playing three seasons for the Cougars. After Art left Tech, former QB Lincoln Riley was hired as a student assistant, mainly working with receivers coaches Dykes and Holgorsen.

In 2005 and 2006, Dykes and Holgorsen split OC duties for Leach, who continued to call plays. Riley was elevated to graduate assistant in 2006 before becoming WR coach in 2007 when Dykes left for the OC job at Arizona, taking Bill Bedenbaugh with him. Dana was now Tech’s OC and IWR coach but was not calling plays.

After the 2007 season, Briles left Houston to try to turn around Baylor, hiring his son Kendal as inside wide receivers coach for the Bears. Briles’ departure opened the door for Kevin Sumlin at UH, who chose Dana Holgorsen as his offensive coordinator after striking out on his first choice. Holgorsen brought Leach’s first Tech QB, Kliff Kingsbury, in an offensive analyst role. Riley replaced Holgorsen as Tech’s inside receivers coach.

Between the 2009 and 2010 season, lots of changes came for the 2000 Tech staff. Mike Leach was pushed out at Tech. Ruffin McNeill was Tech’s interim coach for the Alamo Bowl, then left to take the head job at ECU, taking Lincoln Riley with him as his OC. After two successful years at UH, Holgorsen left to call plays at Oklahoma State, and Kingsbury replaced him as OC at UH. And Sonny Dykes took the Louisiana Tech head coaching job, helping Bedenbaugh get the promotion to Arizona OC.

In 2011, Dykes’ Bulldogs led Houston 34-7 late in the third quarter before the Coogs roared back to win, 35-34. That same year, Holgorsen moved to WVU as OC but took over as head coach that June. He brought in Bedenbaugh as his OL coach.

By 2013, all of Mike Leach (Washington State), Art Briles (Baylor), Ruffin McNeil (ECU), Sonny Dykes (Cal), Dana Holgorsen (WVU), and Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech) from that 2000 Tech team were head coaches. Over the next few years, Lincoln Riley (OU, USC) and Dave Aranda (Baylor) would also become head coaches from that team.

McNeil was let go at ECU after the 2015 season, a year after Riley left to be OC at OU. Art Briles was fired a few months later due to scandal, but Kendal continued as Baylor OC for one more year. After the 2016 season, Dykes was fired by Cal and worked as an analyst at TCU for the 2017 season while Kendal moved from Baylor to FAU for a year. Riley was promoted to head coach at OU and brought in McNeil as his associate head coach. After two years with Holgorsen, Bedenbaugh had left for OU and was retained by Lincoln Riley after the coaching change.

Kendal returned to UH as offensive coordinator in 2018 and put up big offensive numbers under embattled head coach Major Applewhite. He left UH in December 2018 to go to Florida State. After a 56-point bowl loss and Briles moving on, Houston fired Applewhite and brought in Dana Holgorsen from WVU.

Dana’s first season at UH had unusual ties to that 2000 Tech staff. Dana’s first game was at OU, where Lincoln Riley, Ruffin McNeill, and Bill Bedenbaugh were coaching on the other sideline. In game three, Holgorsen faced Leach himself, now in his last season at Wazzu. UH faced UNT and head coach Seth Littrell, who followed Art Briles as Tech’s RB coach, in game five. And a few weeks later, Dana’s team met Sonny Dykes and SMU.

After a year at FSU, then three years at Arkansas, Kendal took the TCU OC job before this season. Saturday’s game will be his first time coaching against his alma mater.

When Dykes was hired by TCU in November 2021, he retained TCU outside receivers coach Malcolm Kelly. Kelly was a grad assistant at UH in 2017 and was promoted to analyst in 2018 when Kendal Briles became OC. Kelly now answers to Briles again.

TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie is an old-school Stephenville Mafia guy. He became a Stephenville assistant under Art Briles in 1998, continuing in the program under Mike Copeland and Chad Morris before becoming head coach in 2008. He then went to Tulsa as the defensive coordinator, working for Philip Montgomery (another Stephenville/Briles/UH guy). Sonny Dykes hired him in late 2021.

Carlton Buckels hooked up with Art Briles and Baylor in 2011 and stayed six years. He then worked for Hal Mumme at Belhaven for a season (Dana Holgorsen’s college coach and Mike Leach’s mentor), then went to Tulsa to work under Gillespie. They left Tulsa together for Fort Worth.

A non-Tech member of this coaching tree is Jake Spavital. Spav was a grad assistant at UH in 2009, serving alongside Kingsbury. He then went to Stillwater with Dana for a year and followed him to Morgantown for two years. He left to be OC under Kevin Sumlin at A&M when Kingsbury took the Tech head coaching job. Spavital was at A&M for two seasons before leaving to be the OC at Cal under Sonny Dykes. When Dykes was canned, Spavital returned to WVU to work for Holgorsen. Spav was named head coach at Texas State about five weeks before Dana left WVU for UH.

Other TCU connections: Doug Meacham was UH’s OC in 2013 under Tony Levine, but agreed to become TCU’s OC beginning in 2014. He remains on staff as inside receivers coach. OL coach AJ Ricker was an analyst for Tom Herman in 2016, then moved on, eventually joining forces with Dykes at SMU.

Was that enough connections? It’s a tangled web of coaches, egos, and personalities.

Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers, is proud to be a corporate sponsor as the Official Personal Injury Law Firm for the University of Houston Athletics.

“As a University of Houston alum, I am honored that the University of Houston Athletics chose our firm to be their official and exclusive personal injury law firm,” says Stewart J. Guss, the firm’s founder.