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The Sports Daily > WSU Football Blog
The Mourning After: On Mike Leach, Washington, and the Future of Cougar Football

Hello Followers. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend (other than Saturday night, of course)!

Time is really short today, but I wanted to write a few words about the status of Cougar Football following Saturday’s debacle as well as the dawn of what has already proven to be a ridiculous version of the Coaching Carousel. So, let’s get right down to it, shall we?

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Like many of you, I got pretty darn worked up over Saturday night’s calamity. But before, I get myself into another huff about our persistent failures in the Apple Cup,  I wanted to take a few moments to highlight what a SPECTACULAR job Mike Leach has done with this football program.

Consider the following tidbits about Leach and his accomplishments (and hat tip to Sean Hawkins for much of this):

For the second time in 3 years, we have won at least 9 games (keep in mind we were 9-41 in the FIVE YEARS that preceded Leach).  We have 26 wins in 3 years, second only to 2001-2003 in wins in the modern age of Cougar Football.  We have one of the best passing offenses in the country when it’s right, as it was in 2014-2016 with two different quarterbacks.  And even this year which was down by nearly every offensive standard, Luke was still good enough to beat Stanford and USC (both Division Winners—and yes it hurts to type that) and drove the field for game winning TDs in both games.  And the recruiting is on an uptick right now on both sides of the ball, featuring a 4-Star QB and big time WR’s ready to sign in the next couple of weeks.

In addition, we won AT LEAST 6 conference games for the third straight year and went 7-0 at home this year for the first time ever.  In the last 3 years we are 19-8 in conference! We went 3-1 against ranked teams this year with the only loss at UW in those games, the toughest stadium in the conference to win as a visitor. And we did all of that against a schedule that ranked 10-15 in difficulty depending on where you look.

Lastly, we have the (would be) Pac 12 defensive player of the year in a scheme that was coached up to being a top 10 defense for much of the year, in spite of losing 3 seniors at linebacker in the first month of the season.  The depth chart on offense next year has 7 starters back next year plus Hilinski. The defense loses Ekuale, Herc (Presumably), Taylor, and Luvu but we have everyone else back—so on paper that is 7 starters on D plus a lot of kids who played a ton.

In summary, no matter how disappointing the outcome of Saturday night’s game, the status of the WSU Football Program is undeniable—we have moved from a perennial doormat to a team that should now be considered a perennial favorite for an upper division finish. And when you look around and see all the programs who are floundering and firing their coaches left and right, it is really, REALLY impressive to see what Leach and his staff have built here.

And in view of all that, I want to state the obvious once again:

MIKE LEACH HAS DONE AN EXEMPLARY JOB AS HEAD FOOTBALL COACH AT WASHINGTON STATE.

In fact, it is terribly difficult to imagine anyone who could do any better.

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Which brings me to get to the more nuanced and potentially controversial part of this post.

Over the past couple of days, there has been a mounting Twitter storm that is suggesting that our university president is “soft” on sports, or alternatively, that he and WSU don’t have the interest or resources that would “allow” Leach to stay at WSU if he wants to. And to all of that social media noise, I say “BULLSH$T.”

Several weeks ago, when Bill Moos left WSU to take the AD job at Nebraska, the WSU Pres. Took to the mic and announced his intention to let Mike Leach know how much he was valued at WSU and that he would be meeting with him shortly.  Now, I don’t know what you think went on in that subsequent conversation, but I would bet my entire Sutra Nest-Egg that they didn’t talk about Pirates, Geronimo, or any type of silly stuff that was intended to forge some sort of bro-mance between Leach and the Cougar Prez.  Rather, this is how I think the conversation went:

(Keep in mind, this re-enactment is done by professional actors–DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!)

Cougar Prez:  Mike I just want you to know that I think you’ve done an incredible job at WSU and that I have an interest in helping you and your staff stay here as long as you want to be here.

Leach: That’s great. Thank you.

Cougar Prez:  Mike, you know that we have financial limits in what we can do right now given all the investments in facilities, the debt, and so forth, but I want you to know that I will be communicating with your agent about an extension that will keep you at WSU for quite some time and I’d like you to think about what those terms look like, including the wants and needs that you have for your staff, including Alex Grinch.

Leach: That’s great (drops Banana, catches it before it hits the ground).  Thank you. Have I told you that one about Geronimo….

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In other words, the entire universe can bet that there is some kind of contract extension stuff that is going on right now behind the scenes between WSU and Leach. There is NO WAY that there isn’t.  What IS of question, at least in my mind, is how far can WSU reasonably go with this?  In other words, with resources being limited as they are, is WSU better off going with a Coach that they might get for 2.2 million a year (Grinch) so that they can invest the $800,00-1.2 million dollar “savings” into a pot for Assistant Coaches that might actually stay for the next 5-7 years?  Or are we better off stretching ourselves into oblivion in order to pay for a Head Coach who has shown that he can win at WSU in ways that few, if any, ever have—perhaps at the detriment of Assistant coaching salaries?

This is a REALLY tough question—and that question is made even tougher by the fact that Mike Leach—because he is so successful—is now able to use this “Silly Season” as a point of leverage with WSU.  In other words, one of the reasons why everything so darn quiet right now on the Leach front (even if it might not be by the time I actually post this thing) is that the possibility of exiting to Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi State, or Florida State enables Leach to make WSU stretch as far and wide as possible.

Which brings me to my final thoughts and words prior to the “Big Announcement” that will come sometime in the next week or so.

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This weekend, several good friends and family members asked me if I wanted Leach to stay or go.  My response:  I am leaning toward hoping that he leaves.  I say that with a mixture of both sadness and dissonance.  I feel both because I know that if Leach leaves, there’s a good chance that we may not win very many football games moving forward (see Oregon State). The man is THAT good of a coach, IMO.

But the reason why I am so dissonant and wishy washy about him is that we happen to be in a unique position where we are currently winning—and in my mind winning BIG—with a roster that is still amazingly young across the board.   And so, while there are BIG TIME programs out there like Tennessee that are trying to rebuild as a loser, WSU is in the unique position of having enough talent on both sides of the ball that a new staff can come in (or in Grinch’s case continue to build) right now and be successful in the early years, enabling the staff to build the kind of credibility that Wulff and to a certain extent Doba, were never able to do.  So, there’s a timing component to all of this.

The second reason for my current dissonance about Coach Leach is much more “woe-is-me” Cougar-like, but it’s also wedded in Leach’s past history at Tech.  You see, Leach, like most successful and business savvy people, has a history of using the market to enhance his economic standing (Leach was CONSTANTLY  on the job market toward the end of his time at Tech—he even interviewed at UW).   And while that is that strategy is the essence of American capitalism, it’s a lousy recipe for stability at a place like WSU.

And to this point, it’s important for us to remember during this Silly Season that WSU is NOT USC, Arizona State, or even Mississippi State.  We don’t have the kind of program benefactor that a place like Oklahoma State has.  So, in the zero sum game that is WSU’s Althletic Department, every dollar that gets spent on the HC subtracts from what can be spend on Assistant coaches, on other sports, etc.  And even though that’s life in the world of major college sports, at some point in time, we’re gonna reach our limits in what we have to offer, be it this season or next (and my guess is that we’re pretty close to that point already—and that has NOTHING to do with the President’s commitment to Athletics).

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Of course, all of this is a typically long-winded way of saying that if and when Leach signs a contract extension at WSU—one that he will ABSOLUTELY deserve to get somewhere, I sincerely hope that he is in the frame of mind to let the world know that, like Bill Snyder at Kansas State, that WSU is a destination job for him.  That means, no more future non-denials like “I have no plans to go to Nebraska, I’m just focused on beating Stanford,” and more consistent lines in the future like “I have a great contract in a university that’s giving me all that they have and I will be at WSU for the remainder of my deal and hopefully for the rest of my career because that’s what me and Sharon want.  Hell, I want the Stadium to be named after me when I retire in 15-20 years.”

Second:  If and when Leach decides that he is going to stay, I hope he changes up his  entire mindset about the Apple Cup and the University of Washington. Because, as my good friend Big Wood from CougCenter noted when Leach was hired six years back, WSU is paying Leach ROSE BOWL money.  And so, while it’s fine and dandy to note the considerable talent disparity that exists between WSU and UW right now, the fact of the matter is that that those boys in purple stand in the way of what he is being paid to do: WIN a championship.  And truly, there is NO ONE out there who is truly competitive who doesn’t spend every hour of the day trying to figure out how to do that one little thing that will get their team/business over the hump.

So, while it would be foolhardy for us to alter what has made this program so darn successful for the past three years, it is even dumber to think that what we have been doing schematically is good enough to get us over the hump when the conditions are right to do so (e.g., 2019). So, whether its recruiting a couple of larger defensive tackles to stop the power run game, include some different sets that include a run-pass-option, recruit more guys who look like Wicks so you can run the ball when teams with big DT’s rush 3 and drop 8 (and then PLAY THEM FOR GOD’S SAKES), then you have to do that.

WE MUST FIGURE OUT HOW THE HELL WE CAN PLAY WITH AND BEAT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON.

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In sum, Mike Leach has done an incredible job with this program—not only this year—but for the past five.  At the same time, because of Leach’s great work, WSU finds itself unusually positioned for on-going success. And that makes the next couple of weeks even more critical for the football program, the athletic department, and the university.

Because Mike Leach deserves all the riches that he is bound to receive soon, be it at WSU or elsewhere. But because of his great work, coupled with the youth we have on the current roster, the WSU is also now is in a unique position of leverage.

In closing, we can count on the fact that WSU is committed to its own cause, let’s hope Mike Leach is even more committed to what he has built at WSU.

All for now. #GoCougs !!