WSU Football: Where Is Mike Leach Taking Cougar Football?


Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver Vince Mayle (1) scores a touchdown in the second quarter against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There was no storybook ending for the Washington State Cougars (6-7) in 2013. Losing in the final moments of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl to Colorado State sent a massive dose of reality across Cougar Nation.

Cougar football remains a work in progress.

The operative word in my previous sentence is “progress”.

Make no mistake, Coach Mike Leach has the WSU football program moving forward in a positive direction. At the same time, make no mistake that rebuilding a program is a journey.

Categorizing the situation certainly doesn’t translate into reaching the destination of college football relevance on a national level. In other words, just because Bill Moos, WSU athletic director, has taken steps to bring about a resurgence of Cougar football doesn’t mean the heavy lifting is done.

Over the past couple of days, the reaction to how WSU’s season ended has been as bizarre as the last three minutes of football in Albuquerque.

A vocal minority who seem bent on comparing the course of events resulting in a WSU bowl loss to something worse than the ten seasons preceding the Cougs making it to post season play have vented tirelessly throwing out personal assessments ad nauseam.

Like most who watched the game, it was a freakish turnaround. It reminded me of a game in the not too distant past, the 2012 Apple Cup. Both games were comparable in terms of the outcome being reversed in shocking fashion over the waning seconds of a ball game.

Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver Gabe Marks (9) scores a touchdown under pressure from Colorado State Rams defensive back Bernard Blake in the first quarter during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Recalling how exhilarating the emotions for players, coaches and fans were following the poised kick by Andrew Furney splitting the uprights to end the 2012 season on a winning note, this past Saturday left the same folks reeling from a gut punch that sent them down for the count.

Down for the count, but by no means knocked out.

Despite the questionable dog-piling by self-serving, self-important critics…er, experts, Washington State did not have a meltdown of nuclear proportion.

The Cougs lost the game. Or it might be said Colorado State took the win away from WSU.

Cougar players and coaches won’t fail to learn from the painful and discouraging lesson of having a victory stripped from them. And when it comes to teaching, Mike Leach will use the New Mexico Bowl loss as effectively as the 2012 Apple Cup win.

Because of the way WSU lost the game, you better believe everyone involved with Cougar football will continue to work unceasingly over the off season.

Was, as one web site suggested, this season of hope “ruined” by less than three minutes of play? Seriously? Not even close my friends.

If there is anyone who deserving of your focus and attention following the unwanted ending to the 2013 season, it’s the 18 seniors who have dedicated themselves as student-athletes to become the best they could be. In the context of team wins, these young men contributed to a positive trend.

Players will step up to fill the void created by the departure of these Cougars. Without their dedication and earnest efforts, Cougar Nation would not have been provided the possibility of shaking their collective heads in wonder over one of the strangest games in the history of Washington State football.

There wouldn’t have been the excitement generated by opening the season with a near-win over national title contender Auburn which was followed up with a road win over USC.

As fans, we were treated to some eye-popping defensive plays by All-American safety Deone Bucannon. Buck never failed to deliver plays not seen by a guy wearing crimson and gray for nearly a decade. His leadership off the field contributed more to the development and evolution of Cougar football than his bone-jarring hits on the field of battle.

Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars running back Theron West (24) blocks the punt of Colorado State Rams punter Hayden Hunt in the first quarter during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Young players will continue to carry the torch passed by 18 seniors who helped move Cougar football forward.

Talented young men like Gabe Marks who led the team in receptions, Darryl Monroe who was the team-leading tackler coming back, and Connor Halliday who may well shatter numerous passing records running Leach’s CougAir offense.

Considering some of the best athletic talents on the Cougar football roster this season were making the transition from high school to college by redshirting in 2013, it makes sense to shake off the lingering effects from the New Mexico Bowl loss and look forward to watching this team continue to develop in spring camp, through fall practice and win a bunch of games in 2014.

Nothing ends with the outcome of a single contest.

Cougar players and coaches will spend the coming months getting ready to execute the next play at the highest possible level. That opportunity will arrive this coming spring.

As the books are closed on the 2013 season, Cougar football has come a long way.

I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.