Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

WSU Football 5 Stages of Grief in New Mexico Bowl Pt. 1: Dealing with the Mike Leach Style and Systemic Flaws

Mike Leach was ticked off at himself after this New Mexico Bowl loss. He felt he was single-handedly responsible for a game that his kids deserved and earned but somehow fell short of, and he wasn’t alone.

A lot of fans are still infuriated, fuming and inexplicably outraged with the offensive play calls that led to defeat. Nary a WSU fan will be over the way this ended for a time to come, just how long is up to the individual. Personally I may not be over this til kickoff in Seattle against Rutgers next Fall, but we’re going to examine the issues we have witnessed… and the promise of what is to come. Let’s start with Mike Leach.

Perhaps it was the fact that he never apologized for those calls that still has the Washington State fan base up in arms, perhaps we’re just not used to him yet. I personally think it’s just that the game didn’t fall in the “W” column. The common theme in the social media is that he makes too much money to allow something like that debacle on Saturday to happen. Yes, $2.2 million is a lot of money (before figuring bonuses for bowl invites and such). We’re not used to paying our coach that much. Why, he’s supposed to win every doggone game!

It’s been well documented that he makes some of the most money per year, per win, in the country in his first two seasons at Washington State, what, about $366,600 or so in a 6 win season such as this (about $733,000 last season). Obviously he cuts into that significantly with more wins each year. But chill people, he shouldn’t have to apologize for being himself, he should have been able to celebrate with his team with the decisions he made a couple days ago.

Here are some comments from the limited post game that Leach did attend.

We shouldn’t have worried about – we shouldn’t have messed with any of that (clock management). I mean, fine, use the clock, we should have attacked them and got first downs. And then we should have protected the football.

Colorado State finished the game. We didn’t… I think there was a sense of relaxation there in the fourth quarter we paid a heavy price for.

I give Colorado State a lot of credit. They played extremely hard. They were behind the whole game, and they never gave up, and they got rewarded for it. We’ve got to be a tougher team. We’ve got to play better.

Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Colorado State Rams celebrate on the field after defeating the Washington State Cougars during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. The Rams defeated the Cougars 48-45. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

To me, it’s clear that Leach is talking about more than just his players here. Obviously he was unaware that the Cougars could have killed the clock while simply kneeling it, that would have been his “protecting the ball” strategy. It’s not like he hasn’t knelt before, he did it twice this year. He loves winning, that’s what he lives for, make no mistake. He did not want to see the celebration you see in the photo to the right any more than we did.

The question that led to the first answer was not “did you know the clock would have run out if you simply kneel it out(?)”, the question was “would you have done anything different in terms of milking the clock?”

You can see the answer, he was flustered by what had gone down and if he’d have known the situation his choice would have been to kneel the football and win it. He did it at USC with 2:04 remaining on the clock. That’s simple, good football and Mike Leach is a good football kinda coach, that’s kinda his thing.

True, that’s a bad mistake to not have picked up on the time available. It is in fact a terrible, egregious miscalculation and one that fans won’t soon forget. But many coaches and coaching staffs, in the heat of the moment, simply aren’t thinking of kneeling at that point. A snap down the road, probably, but not above the two minute mark.

Leach looked up after the first down catch by Rickey Galvin and saw 2:30 with the clock stopped, it’s natural to think you need one more first down. Not an excuse, just something that seems to be miscalculated regularly around college football. I guarantee that’s what he thought; “just one more.”

The Cougars in particular had been here before, again, in Los Angeles. Damante Horton picked off a pass with 2:18 remaining. The Cougars therefore needed a first down to win it without giving it back. They ran the same run play in that game as they did Saturday, twice without any hint of an issue (though interestingly it was Marcus Mason that ran those two plays in the Coliseum). Then after USC burned it’s timeouts Halliday and Bartolone picked up a PI call against the Trojan secondary on 3rd down with a pass play. 2:04 was left and they knelt it three times and got out.

Everybody is at fault here. When the Cougs came back with new life after the overturned fumble review and nearly sprinted to the line of scrimmage in excitement to still be on offense, Leach’s headset with coach Yost in it should have been ringing with words of compelling, urgent and even furious wisdom, “WAIT SLOW DOWN DON’T CALL A PLAY YET THE CLOCK IS RUNNING SLOOOOOOOOW DOWN!” That is why Leach wears the headset and that’s what every Cougar fan was screaming at their TV (and probably the 5,000 in the stands as well)… Who knows what the conversation was, but clearly it wasn’t that.

But let’s look at the rest of the situation, assuming there was extra time to run off (there wasn’t but play along), Leach did the right thing. He ran the football, a winning play in an air raid offense while trying to seal it up. Unfortunately the way he did it wasn’t his style and now he’s pissed off about what he felt was a failure to stay true to himself (by now I’d wager he knows the totality of the error in time runoff too). He ran the ball, that’s fine. As George said yesterday, percentages were vastly in his favor even if he did know that three plays ends it.

What transpired had so little chance of happening, there was a better chance of a bad or mishandled snap in a kneel down situation (WSU runs kneel from under center in that same situation and the Cougs have only snapped 6 or so from that position all season). Heck, Laufasa hadn’t lost the football all season. Not only that, but the Cougars were stripped on 3 consecutive plays, two of which counted. When does that ever happen? It doesn’t. In fact I’ll bet that’s the first time in the history of the program that has happened… back-to-back-to-back strips? Even if one didn’t count, that’s so incredibly hard to accomplish defensively.

But Leach is mostly mad because he and his team didn’t finish the game aggressively and it cost them. He clearly cared about the problem, he just didn’t want to talk about it afterwards. That’s fine, he’s entitled to be frustrated about it.

So what happened that allowed this crazy ish?

I believe Leach actually called a run play… a newsworthy item because he ALWAYS calls a pass play or simply gives the formation and lets his quarterback change the play at the line if the defenders dictate it or he feels it the right decision for the situation. What makes me think it was called? Halliday never checked to it, he didn’t have to. He never even thought about it and therefore his normal process was jacked (more on that in part 2 of this series later today).

That call alone is why Leach feels sick. That’s not him. He’s the aggressive pirate who let’s his quarterback find the best play for the situation and then tells him to attack it, always attack it. But he changed his process for a brief moment and the team mishandled everything as a result, or possibly just because.

He said “we’re running it just cover it up” and it’s probable that he feels directly responsible for not letting his guys just finish the way they began, just pounding the Rams into submission with an unstoppable air attack against a weak secondary or running at a weakness in a formation as opposed to just running to run. The wounded CSU corners wouldn’t have been able to stop that, even if the Cougs played against the percentages for the entirety of the 2 minutes alloted. “We should have kept attacking them and got first downs” says a whole lot. He didn’t say we should have kept passing it though, he said “we should have kept attacking”, whichever way was best.

The priority then had been changed from “attack” to “hold on”, and the players fell victim to the whole process of a slight shift in mentality. Obviously Leach is sick about it, more for his seniors than himself, he coaches for them. He wouldn’t even give a post game to certain Cougar media that he ALWAYS entertains.

For those writing off the “style of Mike Leach”, just buckle up and baton down the hatches folks, we have to deal with it and it’s OK, we’ll see the rewards from it far more than we’ll see the other side. That much is proven and we knew this from the beginning. The same style that made him the coach he is today, the same decisions that cost the Cougars a bowl victory are the same ones that will put teams away instead of leave them in the game down the road, more often then not. Too many teams play conservatively late and it has cost many a victory over the years.

In the end, our newest coach isn’t a ‘take most of the time off and give them a play for a miracle’ kind of coach. He hates miracles and believes in finishing the game… I can tell you without doubt that he hates it and he’s having nightmares (if he can sleep) about one of those stupid miracles when he hits the pillow. Jimmy Johnson can tell you what that’s like as a coach, he probably still hears whispers of “Flutie, Flutie, Flutie” in his wandering dreams. This will keep Leach tossing and turning for a long time. But honestly CSU had the same real-world chance (or better) of getting a punt with a second left and heaving a 75 yarder as they did coming up with the chain of events that happened in their most improbable comeback of all time Saturday afternoon. It was storybook stuff that you can’t even pull off in a video game.

Leach’s aggressive nature and style should have easily won the game, regardless of the mismanaged clock, if not for something that no team or coach can account for… pure, momentous, praise-the-football-gods kinda luck. Every once in a while in sports (especially in football it seems) you roll all aces and things just don’t break your way anyway. A football is an oblong object that sometimes doesn’t play by the rules of percentages. But I promise you he (and everybody on that sideline) just miscalculated the time, it wasn’t some “I’m Mike Leach” power-play.

Regardless, I’ll take the many days of joy and celebration over the many fewer days of despair after losses like these because the head coach of my team is Mike Leach. I’m ok with signing up for that. Besides, every coach that makes it to this level has suffered a loss like this, no matter what their style is. We’re in year 2 of this thing and better in the New Mexico Bowl than in the Rose down the road. This is a setback he and the team can learn and grow from, though for a few weeks it’s going to just be crushing, soulful pain.

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Tags: Football Gildan New Mexico Bowl Mike Leach Washington State Cougars

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