Washington State is in good hands.
No, not with Allstate. With Mike Leach.
He hasn’t coached a single game yet but, for Pullman, WA and the Cougar faithful, he is the right man for the job.
By the end of the Bill Doba era, the Cougars were 5-7 and mired in mediocrity spiraling downward. Apathy could not even begin to describe the prevailing feeling of the Cougar faithful.
Along came Paul Wulff. Former player, alum, who bleeds Crimson and Gray, surely he would restore a once proud program. Wulff restored it only enough to bring a certain level of respectability. Make no mistake though; there are plenty of Coug jokes still prevalent in the Pac-12. Respectability is continually earned in college sports. But you didn’t hear any jokes amongst those I spoke with Tuesday at the Pac-12 media day.
Yesterday was the first time I ever attended a media day. Unsure of what to expect, I went into it with a perhaps fresh perspective compared to the majority of media present. I say that because there seemed to be media anticipation for the new coaches to the conference (Rich Rodriguez, Paul Graham, Jim Mora) but particularly with Mike Leach.
Why? Because you never know what he’s going to say, or rather, you never know what question you might get from the media for him. Who else is going to get a bear-hunting question at media day? Or a ‘compare your players to historical figures’? Nobody. But when you go bear-hunting in the off-season and you tweet about it, the questions will come.
And they did. Both, in fact.
And he, without hesitation, answered them. As only Mike Leach could:
On his players as historical figures: (Jeff Tuel) “I would have to say that Jeff would be a little more like Stonewall Jackson…gets ahold of the play, attacks from different angles. The cavalry is over here, no, we’re here, he’s not afraid to split the force and attack from different angles.”
(Travis Long) “Travis is more of a Ulysses S Grant guy. He’s in the trenches and if requires bombarding for a month, he’s full prepared to do it. He’s going to guard the river, going to bombard them till they bust providing he keeps his pads low [to Travis – and we’re going to focus on that, right?]. And just, accordingly, the bombardment will be shorter and just bash, bash, but (he’s a) quieter guy. So, you know, just kind of steady. Quiet, steady persistence.”
On which coach in the conference would ‘make the best hunting partner’: “Let’s think about that carefully because we don’t want to get this wrong. Rich Rodriguez has spent a lot of time in West Virginia so potential rub-off there. I’m not as familiar with…let’s see. I have it down to a playoff. Rich, and Kyle Whittingham is definitely a good one. Colorado, I’m not so sure what his hunting skills are. I’m going to give the nod to Kyle. He’s sandwiched between a bunch of mountains, surrounded by them, and he’s been there for a while and he’s a tenacious guy. So I think that if I were to go hunting in Utah, Kyle would be the key guy to have around.”
[Quotes via ASAP Sports and the Pac-12 conference]
Four new coaches entered the Pac-12 conference this year, including Mike Leach. Leach was the last o the four to go on stage with his players yesterday. The feeling I was left with after the previous three, was the players stating the need for a culture/attitude changes. Knowing a little about the situation at Washington State, that didn’t appear to be the case, or not to the same extent as the others, at WSU but I wanted to hear that from the players.
I’ve read the quotes and have already seen stories portray it inaccurately so let me get my question right. In essence:
This question is for Travis and Jeff: In listening to the players at other schools earlier with new coaches, did you feel like their needed to be a “culture” change at Washington State from the Paul Wulff era and if so, what was that.
The key word in my question had to do with culture change. From an outsider’s perspective it was obvious the need for change at Arizona State (Dennis Erickson era), and somewhat obvious for UCLA (Rick Neuheisel) and Arizona (Mike Stoops). But, to me, it seemed less so at WSU.
Players at Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona either said it directly or ever so subtly, there was a need for culture or attitude change. I wasn’t so sure about what Jeff and Travis feeling the same way. And to a certain degree, at least from Jeff’s answer, the players agreed.
“Obviously I think a lot of people felt that way, but Coach Wulff was doing a great job of recruiting. The program was at such a low when I came in as a freshman and he started working hard. I think Coach Leach would tip his hat to that. What this coach staff has done with this program is, I think, safe to say something that the old coaching staff would never have done. The level of confidence that they bring to this program and the level of excitement that they bring to the university is tremendous.”
Level of confidence.
While many are excited by having “Mike Leach” coach their program, excitement can only get you so far. Winning is the name of the game and there are fans who have high expectations even in the first season. There are fans who “expect” a bowl game this year. That was before a ball had even been snapped in the spring game. “As much money they are paying him” still echoes in my mind several months later.
Tis the nature of college football. Expectations to win.
Will the Washington State Cougars win this year? If I said they will win 8 games, would you believe me? How about if I said they’ll win 3? I’d either be accused of being a homer or an idiot.
Since I’m neither, I’ll agree with Coach Leach in that they will improve. Improve in the win column, perhaps not. But they will improve over the course of the season.
But fans should expect improvement in the classroom. Classroom is key for Coach Leach. Education was important to him at Texas Tech. He encourages education. Demands a commitment to it.
“When that becomes part of the core belief of the team then the efforts to accomplish that duplicate themselves.”
When Coach Leach spoke those words, he was describing the graduation rate and his philosophy. But, it could speak to the whole package of the program. The ‘core belief of the team’ both in football and the classroom has to be one with the coach and his staff. A philosophy becomes a core belief over time. Time is what Mike Leach has at the moment. Time, as in years.
And for a few years, at least, the Cougars seem to be in good hands. Good hands to instill that level of confidence that players need and desire.