Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
With all the clutter that surrounded the unfashionable ending to Washington State football 2013, the most important facts from the season were forgotten and in a lot of ways, unfairly marred. The Cougars were 6-5 going into the Apple Cup and had played the best football we had seen in a decade. If not the best, certainly the most fun.
Looking back now, I think that fans were still mad about the Apple Cup loss when they (the fans) inexplicably fell apart following the New Mexico Bowl loss all over social media. That’s all old news now.
Spring kick off is here today and with it new hopes and new high expectations for what we all know will be a much more capable team. Yes, the secondary is going to be young and yes, the Cougs need to replace three offensive line starters but it doesn’t change the fact that this team is going to come into 2014 with a lot more familiarity with Mike Leach’s expectations than either of the previous two years.
For Mike Leach, that finally kinda means business as usual but he still puts a premium on competition as the proving grounds for anybody who wishes to play. During his press conference Leach addressed the question of playing time the way he always has.
"Nothing’s set. Guys that started last year, they’re not set either, so they gotta go battle it out…I’d say overall (we’ve improved). Overall I think people worked really hard. There’s a few individuals that did well, but we don’t have a lot of guys looking for ways to get out of work. They’re all collectively working pretty hard and those that are looking for the easy way are quickly getting outnumbered."
If there’s one thing Leach understands above anything else, it’s the concept of steadily improving. This also means reaching the next level of competition. When asked about the message he will be giving his team this Spring (if a message so existed) he didn’t hesitate to sell the improvement that will be expected.
"There’s always a message. Typically it’s linked to having a vision of your potential and the necessity of hard work to take you there. Occasionally there’s some little things you might a address as far as how to get there, but basically it’s the overall ‘keep raising the bar, keep taking a step towards your goal’ and each days an opportunity to take a step and go from there."
One thing’s for sure, the Cougars are excited to finally take the field again and I, for one am excited to see how the next 15 or so practices shake out over the next month. As always, there’s plenty of position races to watch and now that the decade-long drought is out of the way it should be less about trying to change the culture and more about growing the program as new, better athletes take the field for the third straight season of the Mike Leach era.