The Washington State Cougars have fallen on hard times in recent years. Perenially at the bottom of the Pac 12, lucky to win more than three games a year, and always a threat to give up 60 points to the opposition. Things have gotten bleak on the Palouse since Mike Price‘s departure, but things could be looking up for the Cougars as their new head coach, Mike Leach, is just the man to return them to their winning ways.
It’s hard to imagine looking at the current state of WSU football, but this was one of the winningest programs in college football from 2001-2003, winning 10 games for three consecutive season and finishing ranked in the top ten each of those years. But Mike Price left for Alabama, which left Bill Doba to drive the program off a cliff. In Doba’s first season as head coach, the team won 10 games (largely because of the team Price had built), but over the next four season, Doba would win just 20 games, never finishing better than 6-6, and salted the fertile recruiting earth that had built WSU into perennial winners.
Years of trying to out-recruit Oregon and USC for the same prospects had left the cupboard bare for the Cougars, which resulted in Paul Wulff‘s disastrous run at the helm. In four seasons, Wulff went just 9-40, finishing no better than second to last in the conference. Things weren’t all bad, however, in Wulff’s tenure, as the recruiting bed was starting to yeild fruit once again. Wulff, who built his career just up the road from Pullman at Eastern Washington University, knew how to cultivate relationships with the local talent and had started to win some recruiting battles with more successful programs, including sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday who chose WSU over Boise State.
But the wins didn’t come fast enough, and Wulff exits his alma mater with a .184 winning percentage, the worst in Cougar football history. However, he did his part and re-stocked the recruiting pipeline for Mike Leach, who now gets another shot at turning around a down-on-their-luck, out-of-the-way, conference afterthought, just like he did at Texas Tech. While in Lubbock, Leach made an immediate impact with his up-tempo, aggressive style of offense, leading the Red Raiders to a bowl game every season he coached them, from 2000-2009, a run of 10-straight bowl appearances. Washington State has made 10 bowl appearances in their entire history.
Leach built Texas Tech into a perennial Big 12 dark horse with a larger-than-life personality,using his fascination with pirates to give his teams an underog, us-against-the-world mentality that got his recruits, who had been overlooked by other schools in Texas, to dig down deep and play to their fullest potential.
That, in a nut-shell, is exactly the kind of coach that WSU needs. Pullman, Washington, is not a mecca of culture or technology or civilization. It’s smack dab in the center of farm country, so you can’t sell the locale to top recruits getting offers from USC with Hollywood in the background or Oregon’s Nike playroom. You have to find diamonds in the rough and sell recruits to WSU on opportunity. The opportunity to stick it to those coaches who didn’t think they were good enough, strong enough, or fast enough. Stick it to the scouts who rated them too low to get noticed. You have to sell them on the opportunity to come together with other cast-offs, overlooked by the “big-time” programs, to stick it to the system that deemed them unworthy. In short, they need to act like a band of pirates.
Mike Leach is not your typical football coach, which works out because WSU is not your typical football school. It’s out of the way, it’s isolated, it’s overlooked…and it’s the perfect place for a Palouse Pirate to make a ruckus.