WSU Football: Mike Leach is the Reason for Crimson Optimism in 2014, Pt. 1


Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach talks to an official during the first half against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers beat the Cougars 31-24. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Too many Washington State Cougar football fans are pessimistic.

I’m not trying to put anybody in-particular down, because honestly, over the past 11 years the up-to-down ratio hasn’t been anything to be proud of around here. I’m just sayin’, there are too many negative Nancy’s roaming the hills of the Palouse right now. As one of our writers put it when we were talking yesterday afternoon, “our fans always play the victim and act like it’s easier to lose big than to enjoy any amount of success and deal with the failures that come along with some level of positive expectations. Our fans don’t know how to act otherwise”.

Sadly, there are many examples of just how true that has become. The whole “Cougin’ It” phrase is a prime example, more when we use it on ourselves than anything. It’s almost said with a hint of pride when many WSU fans use it, as if it’s something only we can aspire to. It’s our mark, our thing and we feed the beast constantly. Other fans use it mockingly but we’ve taken it and darn near adopted the thing as a lovable term. I’ve never understood the logic of using a mocking term on yourself, but hey, when in Rome… right?

That whole process of embracing the negative outlook was again evident to me earlier yesterday as I saw another example of the victim role taking center stage with a ‘reasons for pessimism’ article about this upcoming 2014 season by another WSU blog.

While I fully understand the smarts in catering to the large quantity that seem to always need some sour energy about the program to fulfill their sports craving for the day, the way the article is founded gives me that ‘SMH’ moment, (that’s ‘shake my head’ for you less text or twitter-savvy folks). And I love the blog site in question by the way; for the most part they work hard and they’re talented writers. But it drives me nuts. It should drive you nuts. Yes, fans of every team do this and yes, I also realize that the blog is going to likely release a ‘reasons for optimism’ at some point within the next few days.

I have nothing against the blog for posting that article, that’s not my point. My point is that it sucks that more people will latch onto those pessimistic pieces over the optimism surrounding the program, even with ample reason to believe in the ladder. It’s downright disgusting actually. Maybe basketball just has most of us too far down to think positively, I don’t know. And let me tell you, I’m not above negativity when it is in fact deserved and if put into the correct context (you can see my most recent basketball articles to prove that), but for the football program in its current state, it is not in any way deserved at this point in time. So yeah, “reasons for concern” or “things that must be fixed” are something to talk about, but “reasons for pessimism”? It’s sad that this is a smart title to draw more readership, that’s the state of our fan base and it’s actually somewhat sickening.

There have been many years of football, until last, that we just hoped to have any chance at a late run at a bowl game by week 8. How quickly we forget that in 9 of those 10 seasons, there was no late run opportunity to be found. It wasn’t even an option as something to look forward to late in the season.

We had become the laughing stock of not only the Pac-10/Pac-12, but of the entire country. You can see just how little they began to think of us by taking that one 6-6 season in 2006 with a pretty decent football team and seeing that the Cougars got snubbed by the bowl committees. At the same time though, when you go through and actually look at the bowl game matchups of that season , without a 7th win that team wasn’t overly deserving against than any other team that made the cut. With three straight losses, they had every chance to make it happen for themselves. Still, I’m sure you, like me, would love to have seen the Cougs get one more shot in a bowl game, even if it meant losing in the final seconds to a team we were supposed to beat — Colorado State? You betcha! — The program just may have taken a better turn instead of returning to absolute futility.

Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Colorado State Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson (18) celebrates as running back Donnell Alexander (7) runs into the end zone to score a two point conversion to tie the game against 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

But back to the point, I could in fact drone on and on about the ridiculous comments that have followed the program from Cougar fans and writers alike (things like demanding refunds for the bowl game and the coach should be fired and the AD should quit and even that the football program should just be cut altogether — yes they were serious and yes they got many Retweets and likes on Facebook — and that is just the tipping point). Those people have attempted to tear down over these past two-plus months the terrifically overachieving season that the Cougars just put forth, but those people aren’t reading this article so instead with the rest of this time I want to talk about reasons for optimism. Well, at least one main reason for optimism.

Mike. Freakin. Leach.

For those of you who don’t know much about the overall layout of college football, Mike Leach is one of the best freaking football minds around and has been regarded as such for something like three decades plus by the ‘who’s who’ of the college football fraternity and general football communities. It’s a fact. Most athletic directors, coaches, recruiters and players wish they had a Leach-brain in their sportsing lives and around their sportsing programs to coach their sportsing kids to go to bowl games and the like (if you’re not familiar with the term ‘sportsing’ yet, you need to goHERE for a good laugh).

Anyways, CML is one of the best this game of football has to offer, regardless of your reservations about his clock management or stubborn choice of offensive attack. I’m not sure if because unlike the other big-time coaches in the game, he actually enjoys a close-knit, small-town environment and prefers to stay there or because he’s just a guy with too much uncut personality to fully grasp onto, but a lot of Cougar fans don’t get just how verifiable his football mind is.

Many naive WSU ‘fanatics’ have even called Leach an idiot for those last two minutes of football that cost the Cougs their first winning season since 2003, but they are unbelievably quick to forget about the 778 minutes before that had the Washington State Cougars winning their first postseason game since Matt Kegel was throwing to Sammy Moore and Devard Darling in the 2003 Holiday Bowl.

Some of the best defenders to ever dawn a Cougar uniform, DD Acholanu, Isaac Brown, Will Derting and Jason David all roamed around in Crimson at the time. Those were American household names on a top 10 Cougar team (not to the point of a Rueben Mayes, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf or Mark Rypien, but at least after the win over Texas they were as known as has ever been at Wazzu for a few weeks). Things have gone too far South to chart just where the Cougs had sailed to just two seasons ago when CML took over, but suffice-it to say that only Pullman, Spokane and a few Seattle-folk even know how to spell the Cougar quarterback’s name at this time. If you think I’m exaggerating, ask around.

However, some of the athletes coming into the program since Leach arrived has knowledgeable Coug-circles drawing comparisons to those great players of a decade ago to various degrees. That says something to me. Any real comparison’s in that vein are nothing to be balked at. But it will still take time to get back to that level, there’s no doubt. That said, while fans say they understand that fact, a majority of unfair and super-negative connotations are still prevalent. Therein lies the biggest problem.

Ok, so Leach isn’t willing to run the ball as much as Oregon will with their vaunted and stupidly-talented spread offense that carries an endless list of 4.3 40 yard dash weapons on the RB depth-chart. But the whole ‘balance’ thing that he constantly talks about wanting to achieve while getting the ball to the play-makers in space, it doesn’t exist without a run game of some sort. Leach knows this already, trust me, you can look at his offensive track record over his career and see it without question. But think about this for a moment:

Q: What did the Cougars have going into his first two seasons that makes a run game even possible in this offense or any offense?

A: Next to nothing. “We should play like the Ducks, more runs, more runs”… it simply doesn’t apply. Or at least it hasn’t yet. The weapons and skill level to run the ball from the offensive sets that Leach employs, they weren’t in Pullman yet.

Forget Oregon, this wasn’t even Tech’s roster going 3-9/6-7 in Leach’s first two seasons in Pullman, this was a team just two full seasons removed from having to score a 16-0 4th quarter to beat Montana State by a single point. You remember Cal’s pathetic excuse for a football squad last year? That was us when Leach took over. This was 80% (generously) of a roster that had less than three FBS scholarship offers and full of walk-on caliber starting linemen. We were ranked dead last in the country for multiple seasons and even after four wins in 2011 we were dead-last in the conference and a minus-100 regarded football team. The talent barrier between WSU and the rest of its conference foes was tremendous.

For those that still think Wulff was the answer, we all loved that coaching staff and CPW in-particular because they did everything with honorable intentions and were “true Cougs”, but 9-40 still speaks for itself when it comes to results in the Conference of Champions. Truthfully, Wulff and Co. had developed four or five week-in/week-out, Pac-12 quality players by his final season; Jeff Tuel, Deone Bucannon, Travis Long, and Marquess Wilson are all that immediately come to mind. That’s all folks, and at that point only Wilson had any legitimate shot at heading to the NFL in any capacity.

Ken Bone still does things ‘right’, by the way, and his results are pretty similar on the basketball side as Wulff’s was on the football side in his final season; not nearly good enough for the top sportsing conference in the country. But George will get into all that before the end of this basketball season here on ACU.

Let’s retreat again to the talent level that Leach inherited that hasn’t allowed him to fully get his offense established. The offensive line was incredibly weak when comparing to the rest of the Pac-12 and the running backs weren’t the top athletes coming into the conference. With two oft-injured quarterbacks, there’s no doubt running the ball more would have been optimal, but in order to stay in games (which is the point of football beyond all else) against far superior talent, it just hasn’t been possible, even at the ultra-high risk of throwing interceptions. Heck, Marcus Mason became the best running back the Cougs had to offer in 2013, surpassing the highly anticipated Teondray Caldwell on the depth chart and ultimately in the ‘touches’ category. Mason had one FBS offer out of high school; WSU.

That’s kinda what this WSU roster was all about coming into the Leach era and yet the Cougars made the jump from where they were in year 1 to very near where Texas Tech was in year 2 of their run with the same coach. As we know, Leach went for 10 straight bowl appearances in Lubbock. In case you don’t know, the Red Raiders lost their first two bowl games in that run and in their second (2001 Alamo) TTU’s play in no way resembled how well WSU played overall this past December in Albuquerque. The Red Raiders lost in pretty lame fashion, 19-16 to 6-5 Iowa, scoring a mere touchdown in the process. Halliday threw six of them suckers against Colorado State.

Look for part two of this article tomorrow morning on All Coug’d Up.