November 3, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach (left) and Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham talk prior to a game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Either Mike Leach had his morning coffee spiked yesterday, or he’s really beginning to like this Cougar team! I’m just kidding about the coffee, but Friday he weighed in, perhaps unexpectedly, with high hopes for the 2013 season, on Sirius XM’s College Sports Nation Show, outlined nicely by Cougfan (for more Leach quotes from the show click the link).
"I expect this team to go to a bowl…I expect to go to a bowl and I do every year. I feel good about our group."
While Leach may have started off 2012 with bowl aspirations for his team, he quickly offered up some fairly harsh criticism for his teams’ efforts after each game and eventually called off any hope of any serious comeback around the middle of the season. He said things to the effects of “lacking the physical and mental toughness to compete” with whoever they were playing. He also mentioned several times that it had less to do with the opponent and more to do with the Cougars’ battles against themselves and at one point called his team a “bunch of lifeless corpses” who didn’t mind getting beat as long as they were “having fun”.
But he seems more optimistic this season. After an offseason that included some key coach acquisitions, a productive Spring session and now infusing a solid recruiting class (now on campus), the bounce has returned to Mike Leach’s step. Not even a hint of doubt could be heard in Leach’s voice. He is starting to like the effort of his kids and the talent that they possess is finally starting to get untapped thanks to a better work ethic surrounding the team.
There’s also a lot of history supporting his optimism, from Leach generally having a better team in year 2 of his programs (both head coach and offensive coordinator), to Oregon State’s run out of nowhere last season. Keep in mind that OSU had the youth in 2011 and last season just gelled in the Mike Riley program to shock the nation again and again. Every new coach except Leach also inherited a typically experienced team for their first year and wildly exceeded expectations, including Rich Rod at Arizona and Todd Graham at ASU.
I sense a lot of change in the Mike Leach sound-bytes this season. The snarky remarks blasting the team won’t be as prevalent, if they exist at all. After all, Leach is an honest pirate and speaks his mind while staying as fair as possible. Self-admittedly late in the season, he told people he was staying as candid as possible but wasn’t about to pull any punches to make his boys feel better, that they needed to get over it and take the challenge. Basically if his team was at the same spot now that they finished at, you can bet coach would’ve been less positive in his responses.
It would seem this season that his “boys” are starting to make the transition into men that can really play and have the work ethic to become Leach-praise worthy. Hopefully they make an even bigger jump in a positive direction this Fall.