Mister Leach’s Wild Ride

Just a few short months ago, nearly every word publicly uttered by Mike Leach was greeted with amusement and whimsy. In the sanctity of the offseason, Leach could do no wrong. There were no games to be won or lost, no press conferences filled with tough questions from the media, no speculation over how the next contest could end up less frustrating than the last.

Back then, Leach was a hero. Fans were dreaming of immediate success, pausing only briefly to consider the possibility that their team might not prevail every time it took to the field on gameday. Mike Leach was a guru. Mike Leach was a winner. Mike Leach was hired to usher in a tradition of success that would become a staple of Washington State football for years to come.

And then reality hit.

As a biased observer — I’m an unabashed Husky fan, forever and always — the Summer of Leach was comedy to behold. Cougar fans greeted their new head coach in the same way that the University of Washington faithful once greeted Tyrone Willingham. Leach was propped up on so high a pedestal that he wouldn’t have been able to live up to the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders if he had won every game. It was almost unfair.

From the outside looking in, any rational individual could have seen a season of disappointment brewing. When you’re at the top, the only place you can go is down. And thanks to the Cougar fan base, Leach was perched atop a mountain before he ever coached his first game in crimson and gray.

So it is that WSU finds itself sitting at 2-7 through the season’s first nine games. The Cougars are dead last in the Pac-12 with an 0-6 conference record. Their supposedly vaunted “Air Raid” offense has been outscored by a margin of over 100 points, 286-171. They were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention on Saturday, upon losing to Utah — though one could argue that Washington State was spiritually eliminated from a bowl bid long ago. For all intents and purposes, the 2012 season has been a colossal failure. At the center of this year’s ineptitude is the man who all but wore a cape and kicked bad-guy tail fewer than ten weeks ago. This is Mike Leach’s mess. Seemingly, it keeps getting worse and worse.

Following Saturday’s 49-6 drubbing at the hands of the Utes, Leach sat down for his post-game press conference and proceeded to lambast nearly every player on his roster. He questioned the effort, the heart, the dedication, and the work ethic of his team. He marched his offensive and defensive linemen into the conference room to field questions from reporters, as well, essentially holding them accountable for the team’s poor performance. If nothing else, it was a display of force in the face of unmitigated adversity. But it was not without consequence.

When it was all said and done, not forty-eight hours later, there were rumors that Leach had “lost” his ballclub, that players had “quit” on their coach. Those rumors were only further substantiated Monday morning when receiver Marquess Wilson, arguably the team’s best talent, was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Via Twitter, word circulated that Wilson had walked out on a team practice Sunday. Further speculation surfaced that Wilson had not just walked out on practice, but had allegedly quit the team.

Whether or not Wilson returns to the Cougar ballclub, it is evident that the 2012 Washington State football program is currently in shambles. Provided the university stick by Leach through this moment of duress, however, this lost season may not be repeated in the future.

Yes, Leach has lost this year’s team. But frankly, one could argue that this team wasn’t worth holding onto. If the Cougars of the past few years have proven anything, it’s that they lack a winning attitude. They lack the ability to succeed. They lack the very things Leach has repeatedly acknowledged each time he’s trotted out before a public waiting to flog him. Face it: the Cougars suck.

If Mike Leach is going to win at Washington State, he’ll need his players to buy into his methods. Not Paul Wulff’s methods. Not the methods of a previous regime. His methods. His brand of ball. His way of winning. And the current rendition of the Cougar football program hasn’t been willing to do that. So screw ’em. Chalk up this year as a loss and move onto the next.

The reality is this. Leach’s current roster really is full of all the heartless, gutless, no-talent quitters he continues to call out. It’s no secret. The win-loss records of recent seasons prove it. What his players are finding out right now is that it takes a lot more dedication to succeed than they may very well possess. Which is why guys like Wilson, for example, are jumping the proverbial ship (yeah, pun intended — he thinks he’s a pirate, it makes sense).

Some coaches want wins. Some coaches want money. Some coaches want to prepare their players for life. Some coaches want any combination of those three things. If I’ve seen anything from Mike Leach, it’s that he’s probably the latter of that trio more than anything else. He wants his guys to be more than just names on a stat sheet. They have yet to achieve that.

Mike Leach is weird. But he’s weird in the best way possible. He says exactly what’s on his mind, and that catches people off-guard. We’re not used to hearing the truth. We’re more comfortable digesting sugar-coated affirmations of fabricated positivity. Long ago, Leach made up his mind that he wouldn’t be that fake asshole society has come to expect from our sports figures. You have to appreciate that, even if you may not always like it.

Leach will continue to lose players worth losing in the coming months. And make no mistake about it, every one of those players who quits on his teammates, regardless of talent or ability, will be worth losing. No winning team has a place for quitters. Leach knows this, and he’ll continue to foster that mentality among the uniformed disciples willing to listen.

But if the Washington State football program wishes to find its way, they’ll need to stand by Mike Leach. At least for now. Because it’s his way or the highway. And between a school that has never won at much of anything and a coach that has been legitimately successful elsewhere, I know who I’d side with if I was a fan.

Win or lose, it’s Leach’s team. This team may be at the bottom right now. But when you’re at the bottom, the only place you can go is up.

15 thoughts on “Mister Leach’s Wild Ride”

  1. I am a Texas Tech alum who has watched Mike Leach closely for the past 13 years. This article captures the truth about Mike Leach and the truth about what he inherited at WSU as well as anything I have ever seen written about him. Well done, Sir!

  2. Couldn’t agree more. This is probably the most honest thing I’ve ever seen you write about a rival team. Sure, it’s fun to pick on Wazzu when they’re down (they did it to us during the reign of Ty), but I’d much rather see them get a lot better. It also reflects better on our state as a whole when both teams are competitive.

    All that being said, I always hope that Apple Cup will be a blowout UW victory. Ideally, Wazzu would do well against everyone else before that.


  4. Mike has brought a culture change to a group of kids conditioned to owning their own skills in a low expectation environment. They have lived with losses, moving on, and all of their coping skills are aligned to this. They are good at that now, but the coaches aren’t allowing them to be comfortable with it anymore and they don’t “like it”. If they will not be broken for the team, and do quit or “go public” with their grievance lists, they are done in football. In fairness to them, they were not recruited into what Mike Leach now brings to the Cougs, but all have have had the same choice and opportunity. If they think they know more than Mike Leach and can do better on their own in the previous space they have occupied -show me the wins -not your personal stats. There isn’t much evidence that they understand what teamwork is despite one of the best fan bases in CFB. I hope that the unconditional love given by fans hasn’t become a permission of sorts for players to lose. These kids should be humbled and give their all to Leach’s effort to turn this team and program. If they walk on their teammates because of the heat now being put to them, they are totally exposed for what they really are; CFB posers with great losing coping skills. It will be all on the coaching staff when Mike Leach has his offensive line and the depth chart shows at least a Leach recruit in all positions. Then the competition within will sustain the system that current players seem to resist more on the field than actually play.

  5. This is an excellent article. Well done. It is exactly the way I feel. I like Leach more now than when he was hired.

  6. Cougar fan here who appreciated this write-up. Taking an honest look in the mirror isn’t always pleasant.

  7. Show this article to the guys over at CougCenter. These guys can’t seem to accept anyone’s opinion unless you agree that Mike Leach is bully. They are acting like a bunch of pansies.

  8. Aye, there are rules and there are guidelines. While many question Coach Leach and his methods, it is my opinion that young men that come out of his program are better prepared for life after college than many others. On occasion, I have been involved at work in situations that did not go according to plan. I have never backed down from facing the bosses and explaining the truth of how I got there. Parading people out in front for ridicule, I do not agree with but putting them out there to answer the questions about their effort, their thoughts, their ideas, their mistakes and their successes is important for what happens later in life. I support WSU and I support Coach Leach. Give him time, he will give you better football but more importantly he will invest in the lives of those athletes and other students he meets and they will have the opportunity to grow and be better prepared for the future. GO COUGS.

  9. Maybe you can stop the Leach fan club flag waving for a moment and factually report on this situation.

    What’s Marquess Wilson’s motivation to screw up his remaining eligibility and/or his possible future NFL career? The kids who remain there were flat out told their college and NFL careers are over if they make any attempt to back him up. Its chaos there at the moment, several kids are seeking legal counsel to protect them from the Athletic Dept., but indicating apparently that they want to tell the truth. When they do, every individual who has lied to protect him should go with him including the players who are lying to protect him now.

    This isn’t about tough coaching nor coddled players. I totally respect that and find it amusing its always someone who never actually played the game (wow, like Mike Leach, what a coincidence!) who suggests that ithe only problem is that the kids are somehow soft. My father played out his whole career under a tough ass coach named Vince Lombard. This isn’t about toughness, its about calling bulls***, bulls***.

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