There was so much promise in the Palouse this summer. The Washington State Cougars had brought in a new head coach in Mike Leach who had the kind of offensive track record that could turn around a losing program in Pullman. There was genuine excitement about the Cougars for the first time in a long time.
Then the season started and all that quickly went away. The Cougars came out flat in a blowout loss on the road to the BYU Cougars and many of the players were seen “moping” on the sidelines in the second half. Leach called his team out for it and said there wouldn’t be any more of it on his sidelines. The Cougars responded with back-to-back closer-than-they-should-have-been wins over the FCS Eastern Washington Eagles and UNLV Rebels in Las Vegas. The hasn’t won a game since, going 0-6 in conference play.
There have been flashes of competence during the year. The Cougars went toe-to-toe with the high-powered Oregon Ducks for a half of football, trailing just 23-19 after two quarters before getting blown out in the second half and losing 51-26. They traveled to Corvallis and scrapped with the then-unbeaten Oregon State Beavers, but couldn’t get any offense going and lost 19-6.They nearly pulled off an upset on The Farm against the Stanford Cardinal, but fell just short 24-17.
There was reason to hope, and Mike Leach thought he saw a team after the Stanford game who was ready to turn the corner and bring home their first conference win. They they went to Salt Lake City and got destroyed by the Utah Utes 49-6, and Leach lost his cool.
Publicly criticizing his team isn’t anything new for Leach, who earlier this season called out his seniors as “empty corpses” and “zombies,” but he went to a new level in a seven minute post-game rant to reporters. Some excerpts include:
“A part of it is effort, and some if it borders on cowardice.”
“Our five (offensive line) couldn’t whip their two. Sometimes they brought two. If our guys went into an alley and got into a fist fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred. That’s just ridiculously inexcusable.”
“The worst of it was, it wasn’t even knowing who to block. It was just refusal.”
“It was one of the most heartless efforts I’ve ever seen, and our D-line wasn’t any better.”
“That could have been a zombie convention.”
“Some of our players just want to punch the clock.”
“We’re going to have a lively spring, I’ll tell you that. There’s some individuals that aren’t going to be here next year. When we get off the plane, as coaches we’re going to meet and figure out what we’re gonna do throughout the week.”
After he was done, instead of bringing out individual players to talk to media, Leach continued the public shaming. He brought out the entire offensive line to explain how they allowed five sacks before halftime and six on the night. Then the defense was brought out to answer how John White ran roughshod over them and how a non-explosive Utes offense put up a season-high 49 points.
Senior Travis Long, one of the few bright spots of this defense, reportedly couldn’t make it through the humiliating media session, and bolted from the room in tears.
Things haven’t gotten any better since the Cougars got back to Pullman. On Sunday, star wide receiver Marquess Wilson reportedly walked out on practice and the team responded by suspending their leading receiver for a “violation of team rules.”
Nobody expected Leach’s transition to Pullman to be seamless, but few would have predicted it would have been this tough. At the end of the day, the Cougars roster is filled with marginal players who have grown accustomed to losing games.
Mike Leach is trying to reverse that culture any way he know how. It seems like he’s run out of constructive ideas, however, and has turned to public score to try and motivate his team to play with some pride down the stretch.
At any rate, the winds of change are blowing in Pullman so expect a lot of new faces on the field next season. Another year like this one, and you might see a new face coaching as well.