September 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans guard Marcus Martin (66) lines up before snapping the ball against the Washington State Cougars during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
When Washington State Coach Mike Leach met with media Monday, it was clear there was afterglow lingering from the Cougars knocking off the previously ranked USC Trojans last Saturday night.
Leach is a coach who strives to approach each football season one game at a time. One week at a time. Typically he will pause to reflect on the results of his team’s performance on Monday, but then it’s on to the next opponent.
More than half of his nearly half-hour media presser was filled with analysis of a hard fought 10-7 victory. The WSU head man was accommodating to say the very least.
Even after reviewing game film, Leach was left with the same impression of how the game was played last Saturday as when he was pacing the sidelines in the LA Coliseum.
Coach Leach was succinct in his summary saying, “It really was a violent onslaught and our guys held up pretty good.”
Leach was explicit as to how his team should move forward.
"“We’ve got to remember where that effort came from. And it came from a lot of focus and hard work.” – WSU Coach Mike Leach"
He went on to remind everyone what it means to get off to a 1-1 start to a twelve game schedule. “I take the season in segments. We’re on the third week, we have to get a full third week better.”
From my chair, the Cougs brought an aggressive style on defense which proved to outmatch just about everything USC attempted in terms of offensive drives.
Leach was asked about his take on the improved play of the Cougar D and replied with, “I think (defensive coordinator) Mike Breske and our defensive staff have really kind of meshed as a staff. Everybody’s on the same page.”
He added, “We tackled really well. We tried to tackle really hard, physically. I think just the chemistry of the (defensive) group, everyone pulling for one another I think has been really huge.”
Any discussion of the game last Saturday night has to include comments on the superb play of senior cornerback Damante Horton. Horton’s head coach had this to say about the play by the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
“(Horton has) always been a good player. He’s more physical than you think. A really good cover guy. Does have a nose for the football. We noticed that before, not just because he had two picks Saturday. The biggest thing when we got here, he did a lot of good things but he played kind of tight. He’s kind of a perfectionist. So some of that would slow him down. But now he’s relaxed and let himself play. He understands that once in a while there’ll be a mistake but just let it fly and play as hard as you can. I think it’s really paid off for him.”
Always candid, Leach had fun with a question about the potential of Horton making it in the NFL. “Well, we’re going to worry about him playing this next Saturday is what we’ll focus on. After that we’ll mess around with Sundays if necessary.”
The way this Cougar football team has played the first two games of the season has surprised many, including much of Cougar Nation. Clearly WSU is doing something they haven’t done in more than a decade. The Cougs can bring legitimate swagger out of the tunnel and sustain that attitude until the final whistle has been blown.
Changing both the culture and attitude of the Washington State football program is an evolution. Coach Leach knows what it takes to develop a winning program.
Again, he was candid about this process for both players and coaches.
“I think the most important thing is to remove as much clutter as you can from your mind. You need to focus on what you and your abilities can do and where they can take you. Then just go out there and do your best and do it without any hesitation. Then together, expect to be successful. Sometimes people do it with the game as a whole. Instead, it needs to be each individual battle that you play. Then some of that has to be the enjoyment of engaging in one battle after the next. Then trying to win each battle. I think our team in particular our team has done a better job of that.”
If success is a journey rather than a destination, Coach Mike Leach has the Cougar football program on the right path.