WSU Football: Coach Leach Is Ready For Fall Camp


Jul 26, 2013; Culver City, CA, USA; Washington State head coach Mike Leach speaks to the media during PAC-12 media day held at the Sony Studios Lot. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to gathering his troops for an evening pow-wow in preparation for the opening of fall camp, Washington State Coach Mike Leach paused to address media writers Thursday afternoon.

The scope of the 30-minute session covered a myriad of topics ranging from player development, to the potential of a new football operations facility, to the issue of inconsistent starting dates for FBS fall camps.

Leach remained firm in his commitment to naming a starting quarterback. If the season  were to begin today, rather than fall camp, fourth-year junior Connor Halliday would be his guy.

"“(Halliday) has continued to polish his skills. He’s the most experienced at quarterback we have.  Now I think he’s a little better at reading things and utilizing the weapons around him.  And he’s getting better at it even as we speak.”"

The knock put on Halliday last season by just about anyone writing about Cougar football was one of impatience. Conventional wisdom was Halliday would force the ball with his strong arm.

Leach offered praise stating, “Most importantly he started to utilize the entire dimension of the offense (during spring ball).” The WSU head coach likes Halliday’s ability to make big plays throwing the ball downfield.  Now it’s time for the next step, taking advantage of the Air Raid offense.

Redshirt freshman Austin Apodoca will get a serious look to take over the reins of Leach’s offense for several reasons. Not only does Apodoca have Pac-12 talent, he’s putting in the work necessary to become the #1 quarterback.  “When you consider where he is in his career I thought (his spring) was really impressive,” assessed Coach Leach.

Another player who is getting a lot of buzz since arriving in Pullman is 6’3” – 240 pound, 4-star wide receiver Vince Mayle, the junior college transfer who is a tremendous athlete.  Many have questioned whether or not Mayle has retained his ability to beat defenders deep because of the additional weight gained over the past few months. No surprise when Leach countered such concerns scoffing, “He may have lost a little weight (recently). He’s a real solid, solid guy. Last I heard he was 238 and 13% body fat.” Perhaps the folks openly wondering about Mayle’s weight might focus on other things such as how to properly pronounce his last name!

When a writer posed an innocent enough question about why it is that all schools don’t start fall practice on the same date, Leach explained in his inimitable, unflappable style.

"“Somewhere in Ft. Knox they have the secret to all this. It’s the most befuddling thing in the world. There’s some kind of a formula based on when school starts, based on when your first game is, based on how many hangnails your great grandfather had and how many warts your great grandmother had. They put that into a computer. They grind it up and compile it out. Then they tell you when to start. And when they say start we start. It honestly is that. The formulas between rule changes and adjustments like that, and I’m talking really over ten years, there was a time when you knew when you started. Now it’s gotten so darn complicated that you wait for the conference to tell you.”"

Mike Leach rarely misses a chance to bring levity into the dialog.

About midway through the session, Mike Leach continued to help us understand what needs to change within the culture of the Washington State football program. He did so by making the connection between naming starters and fielding a competitive team.

Leach demands a lot from his players. That includes everyone doing what’s necessary to earn playing time.

Naming starters is all well and good, but Coach Leach and his staff will not waver from putting players on the field who give the team the best opportunity to be successful. Leach openly chided those who would presume because a player was listed #1 on the depth chart special treatment was to be expected. Taking over in 2012, he inherited a roster last year where a few players held that expectation.

“This whole wealth of success in the past (associated with being named a starter), and positions are sowed up,”  began Leach revving up with a blend of emotion and personal pride. “It’s not going to be competitive all of the sudden because we don’t want to hurt (some) guys feelings by benching his ass and playing somebody ahead of him. That’s not quite the philosophy we share. I don’t know how that notion gets (in place).  Every one of these guys needs to go out there and earn their job every day.”

Any more questions about starters?

Leach was very clear on the expected benefits which will move the WSU football program forward when the team moves into the new football operations building (FOB).

The FOB will afford Cougar football a place where they can work, eat and even play together. “Right now we’re spread out over four floors,” explained Leach. “To see somebody you have to make an appointment or just be incredibly lucky to see them in the hall. I think as a team it’s going to bring everybody together from the standpoint everybody will be around each other. I think it will really develop a lot of camaraderie. “

Playing in the Pac-12, where athletic talent makes for a level of play unequaled in college football, the difference between winning and losing can come down to collective effort rather than individual performance. The FOB will be a tool in the arsenal prized by Coach Leach to return Cougar football to national relevance.

So when about 105 student-athletes take to the practice field Friday afternoon in Lewiston, the process of fall practice and team building commences.

Coach Leach described how his guys will begin their fall camp as, “… learning how hard you can work and how hard the guy next to you can work. When you go out there and work hard and the guy next to you is working harder, you try to measure up. That’s what really helps develop a team.”