The Washington State Cougars were generating plenty of buzz before this season started. They hired a big-name coach in Mike Leach who was going to bring his aggressive offensive philosophy to Pullman and turn WSU into the Lubbock of the Pacific Northwest.
Things looked tailor-made for Leach to step right into a successful situation. A senior quarterback in Jeff Tuel who was “healthy” and projected to be a big arm this season, a top-tier wide receiver in Marquess Wilson, and a fan base that was clamoring to be relevant after suffering through Paul Wulff’s 9-40 four-year tenure.
But the transition hasn’t been as smooth as many people thought it would be. Washington State dropped their opening game to the BYU Cougars without scoring a touchdown, won back-to-back close games against FCS Eastern Washington and the UNLV Rebels, blew a huge fourth quarter lead to the Colorado Buffaloes at home, hung with the Oregon Ducks for a half before getting blown out, and mustered just 227 yards of offense and no touchdowns again in a loss last week to the Oregon State Beavers to bring their record to 2-4.
In short, it’s been a disappointing first half for Leach in his inaugural season with WSU. The defense has been just as bad (if not worse) as it has been for years, giving up 30.3 points per game. The passing offense has been about what it was expected to be, ranking 15th in the country averaging 312 yards per game, but the rushing game has been non-existent, gaining just 41.3 yards per game, good for 119th in the country.
Most disappointing for Leach, though, has been the attitude problems of the team, and the seniors in particular. After the BYU loss, Leach addressed the moping on the sidelines that ran rampant as things went south in the second half. He said there was no room for giving up if they wanted to turn things around and he wouldn’t stand for it anymore.
Well, some people didn’t get the memo. Following last week’s loss to the Beavers, Leach told members of the media that “Some of (the seniors) have been great, and some of them have been very poor.” He continued to describe some of them as “zombielike” who are going through the motions without any fire or drive to change the way things have gone. Leach describes these players as having “an empty-corpse quality.”
It’s easy to see why they would be that way. The Cougars haven’t had a winning season since 2003 and have won four or fewer games for the last four years. When things started to go wrong in the last decade, they inevitably got worse and it killed much of the drive to win that the players may have had to begin with. They fell into the trap of accepting losses as part of the Washington State experience and Mike Leach has had enough of it.
Leach says that this team needs to be one that “embraces adversity,” and works to overcome it. Right now, when things go wrong, the team falls back into the old routine of “flinch and flounder,” which leads to more losses. Leach is determined to change that. He’ll need to start by changing the mentality of the team which has been broken by repeated failures for several years. The coach was counting on strength from the senior class to get that done, but so far he has been let down.
So without the strong leadership in the seniors, Leach has had to turn to younger guys, like sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday. But they are still young, developing players who have a lot to learn about competing at the FBS level, and Leach himself admits “they’re a ways off.”
While Mike Leach may not have stepped into a winning culture that was ready to face adversity when he came to Pullman, he won’t stop until he’s eradicated the “zombielike” mentality that’s taken root in the WSU football program.