Nov. 23, 2012; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach holds up the jersey of Travis Long after a game against Washington Huskies at Martin Stadium. The Cougars would go onto beat the Huskies by a final score of 31-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State Football: Addressing Mike Leach Emails From Angry WSU Fans After Utah Game

I have just finished reading a plethora of emails, sent to Bill Moos (click the link to see them) after the Utah game and publicly allowed to CF.C. This is a very interesting development and is worse than originally thought. In an effort to qualify what I read without being overly obnoxious either way, I am going to stick to the facts and give my opinion without attacking individual emailers. So here it goes.

First I want to say that of course, every individual is entitled to their own opinion. Coaching and fandom will never be perfect and somebody (fan) is going to disagree with everybody (coach) always. This is a delicate matter to address as a media representative, but I think it needs to be talked about, so I’m going to attempt to do just that. If you disagree, that’s ok, it’s your opinion and your right to do so. But at least hear the argument.

Here’s my opinion about the happenings after the Utah game. A passionate coach said some passionate things. Of importance, I note that he called his players out on the mat and told the story of what happened, then he said it is not acceptable. He didn’t single anybody out, he spoke in terms of units (WR’s, LB’s, etc) unless he was asked a question about a player directly, in which case he said “this kid has to be better for us”.

Personally, what he did was fair and was totally within the scope of reality and acceptability. Answer me this, how many times has a player done the same thing to his teammates or the coaching staff in the media and we don’t even blink. We don’t say “respect your authority figures and elders because they’re trying to mentor you to be a better person”, instead we start looking at the coaching staff’s in a different light and investigate. (Tell me where did your mind immediately go after the Marquess letter? Thought so. It’s since been put in perspective by himself that he was trying to clear his name, rather than hurt the program or the coaching staff and he is still active in assisting in the recruitment of prospects to the program while saying all positive things about Leach and the entire staff.)

Coaches put it on the line too and most do it at the expense of a lot of family and personal freedoms to help these young men achieve what they want out of a football program and their college experience. I’ll guarantee that when these players came to WSU, they didn’t come to be a part of a losing program, they came to do what it takes to be winners. I know some of you think that because we’re in lil’ ole’ Pullman, WA,  it’s not the same as it is everywhere else, but you’re wrong. These kids came to a Pac-12 program to compete at and above the level of Oregon, USC, UCLA, Washington and all others in the conference.

Unless you have ever played for a coach with any passion, this is something you won’t completely understand but need to hear before getting bent out of shape because you heard the comments at the podium after Utah. This type of stuff is generally said behind closed doors, but not in all cases and that’s ok. If Nick Saban said the same things at Alabama or Les Miles at LSU or Stoops at Oklahoma or Chip Kelly at Oregon, you wouldn’t think twice about it! You wouldn’t think about it because there’s the predisposition that ‘they’re supposed to get results and they’re at big schools so it’s ok and that’s why they were hired there and blah, blah, blah’.

As a fan you have to understand that it doesn’t matter if it’s said behind closed doors or to the public, the message is the same and truly competitive kids are more resilient than your fan-brain can imagine. Bob Knight did the same thing and save for the one instance in which he totally lost his composure with his player and pushed him on the court, he got results the likes of few others in all of sports AND 95% of his kids respected the heck out of him for helping them to succeed at a level few thought they could. The other 5% moved on to other places and that’s ok too.

Mike Leach isn’t even that intense in comparison. He NEVER yells at his players in practice, he NEVER gets in a player’s face during a game and according to the players themselves, the assistants are more outwardly adamant than he is, not to mention that the players all generally believe that he cares about them with a passion rivaling and even surpassing his passion for succeeding. But he’s also not here to mentor a losing mentality, and the average fan has to realize that.

You have to understand that he’s testing their resolve. He called them out in an effort to light a fire and destroy the attitude that losing is acceptable, long as everyone has a good time. Yes, he wants them to have a good time and play the game the right way and all that, but in order to truly have a good time playing, you have to be competitive at some level deeper than just being on the field and getting kicked around.

He called on their pride as a player, as a person, and he does it publicly because he’s not the type of coach to rip your head off in front of your teammates privately. It’s simply a different approach and to me, as long as it doesn’t get personal, it’s just fine.

He basically said “if you aren’t here to win, you’re killing the people around you who ARE here to win. You’re letting down your teammates who ARE putting it on the line every week and you need to reevaluate your priorities. If that’s leaving, so be it.” And lastly he called them out to bring out the POSITIVE in them. He was saying “You are better than this! My team is better than this! There’s no way my team should have to go through getting beat like that when I know you can compete.”

Guess what? Those players understood the message and stepped up to the plate after that! Not only did they NOT go after coach Leach when they were asked about it in front of the camera, they backed him up! In fact, after those so called “vile and unacceptable” remarks by the coach, the team played 3 of the better teams in the conference. In two of those games they almost pulled off a 30+ point comeback and ended up beating a team that far out-manned them. In the other, Leach praised their effort, even in a blowout fashion loss.

Honestly, they looked like a different team entirely and you can’t fool me into thinking that “We did our best, let’s just try and get better next game” would have produced that result, because it hadn’t up to that point. I really think the kids looked themselves in the mirror and decided to compete after those comments. And you, the fan, noticed it!

You can’t tell me that a team that felt sorry for themselves and was ‘berated to the point of being cruel’ by their coach goes out and retrieves an 18 point deficit (the most ever overcome in an Apple Cup) to beat the #25 Huskies in a single quarter. You just can’t. And you can’t say you didn’t enjoy that win either, maybe more than any in the past 8 or 9 years.

Leach didn’t call out his team to step on them, or abuse their self-worth, he’s not that kind of coach. He’s the kind of coach that will hold up the jersey of a recently injured player he knew for one year after the Apple Cup and say “This guy deserved better than his career records at Washington State can even begin to show and he meant EVERYTHING to this program for four years. He will be missed forever.”  He’s the type of coach that after a blowout loss to ASU, just two weeks after the Utah game, stands up and says “our effort was really good, we just didn’t play well but I’m still proud of HOW we played and I couldn’t say that two weeks ago.”

Let me tell you something to end this. As an athlete, the pain of getting beat by 50 points to a 3-5 team at the end of the season hurts far more than any kind of comment that would call you out and implore you to be better than that. Leach cares about the success of his kids, it matters to him because it’s supposed to matter, that’s his job. Those kids wanted a bowl game with all their hearts this year and all Mike Leach was doing was letting them know that showing up isn’t enough to get where your dreams want to take you. If you want to succeed in life, it’s not going to fall to you. YOU HAVE TO WANT TO SUCCEED AND THEN MAKE IT HAPPEN.

As a parent, have you ever said something similar to your kid(s) in a sort of frustrated manner because you knew they could do or be better? Did they need to hear it?

Go Cougs!

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