From Marquess Wilson to Mike Leach: The Culture Shock That Changed Washington State


For the Washington State University Cougars, decent football has been a distant memory for about a decade. That is, until last season, when Mike Leach took over.

Obviously I don’t mean taking over the program as head coach, I mean taking over the culture. I got a comment from @HD Case yesterday asking why I went back to talking about a former player (Marquess Wilson) who’s biggest impact on the program seems to have been his disgraceful exit, when there are “much more deserving” Cougs out there.

I thank Mr. Case for the question.

You have to realize when M.W. left the new program that had been put in place by Bill Moos, everything was different. Wilson was the star and he had been spoon-fed stardom since he had set foot on campus.

He also felt he deserved better than what he was getting because he had done “so much” for the program. Marquess Wilson had basically single-handedly put WSU back on the football map. Any new coach that was hired was supposed to ride Wilson’s coattails for the first couple years until he could get established and find whomever else. That’s how he saw it, he was the best the Cougs had to offer.

Mr Wilson, meet Mike Leach.

Like Darryl Monroe said in an interview with Pac-12 Networks at media days last week, the team expected their new coach to hit them with some crazy inspirational speech when he walked in, but that didn’t happen. Leach instead just basically acted like he had always been there and said “Hi, I’m Mike Leach, let’s get out there and practice.” Hardly words of a coach who knew what he was doing or could take the Cougs to the next level, right? He had to know who his studs were, right?

Nope. All coach Leach saw was a team of players that needed to grow up. Babying was out. Working was in.

As that first season wore on, coach Leach tore into his players, all of them, including Wilson. Leach called Wilson “impeccably lazy” and “soft” in Spring drills. While Wilson progressed to quietly having a ‘star’ caliber season, Leach acted like he was no better than the rest of his teammates and called him on being part of the problem, not the solution. You know the rest.

When talking about “abuse”, it is a very fickle term to flitter-about. Even as high school student you practically submit yourself to it by choosing to play sports. If the program wants to win, I mean really wants to win, you’re probably in for a little, if not a lot more abuse to get the job done. In the grand scheme of things some coaches go overboard in their methods but it is more generally for the betterment of the voluntary players and the team, this “abuse.”

What Paul Wulff subjected these guys to and what Mike Leach subjects these guys to are two different things, bar none. It’s not even close. I mean… Midnight Maneuvers, what’s that!? I guarantee you Marquess wasn’t ready or in shape for THAT! And the sand-pit!? And the rigorous weight program? This is what people do to WIN???

And so eventually Marquess Wilson and several others as well, said good-bye to this program. He did not renounce his Cougar membership, nor did he ‘out’ the school. He simply couldn’t take what was happening in the name of winning anymore and thought it needed to be said publicly. A kid made a mistake, whataya know?

He felt that he quit FOR his teammates, not ON his teammates. In all reality he was quitting on the new staff, not the one that recruited him. This was the concerm Marc Tressman and the Chicago Bears had for him when they picked him in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

It happens all over the country, and nobody should be left out of the record books or out of the minds of those that love the school because they made a mistake or didn’t understand the paradigm shift from annual mediocrity to full-on championship-tilt in one month. Mike Leach didn’t waste any time, he didn’t “ease” his players in, he flat out came in on day one and said “I’m Mike Leach, let’s go practice, and this is how we practice, and it’s always been like this and it’s always gonna be like this. If you’re here to win and can understand that then welcome to your new program.”

To Wilson’s credit, he tried to adapt and see what Leach saw, he just couldn’t do it. Kind of like when your dad leaves and step-dad comes in with new goals and orientations and concerns and on and on. It’s a shock and frustrating to do things how you were groomed tk do them by a coach only to find out it’s not even halfway decent enough for the next.

But he’s grown into a player that’s willing to put in the work. He worked out with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall this Summer. Those are two of the hardest working receivers in the business. How do I know? By how good they have become. And now Wilson is right on their heels as the ‘next’ guy. It’s impressive and quite frankly, worthy of our attention.

Here at WSU, Leachism has taken over. Like Connor Halliday said on his episode of Under Center with Rick Neuheisel, the entire team bought in last season. If you’ve seen them work out and practice this Spring/Summer, you can taste the difference. This is no longer a team that wants to win or hopes to win. They simply expect to win and they know they can win. It’s a championship culture and it’s still not quite where it needs to be.

That’s exactly what Bill Moos was after and it’s arrived. Your Cougs are going to shock a lot of folks this season by just how much they’ve grown and people in-the-know already know it. There’s a different work-ethic here now, a different expectation, a different attitude.

That doesn’t make Wilson a non-Coug. I still consider Ryan Leaf a Coug, we all do. He made worse decisions than Wilson ever thought of making and quit on his team in the name of money. Perspective, right?

M.W. just didn’t understand, and that’s ok. It’s not good but it’s ok. By the way, had Wilson been brought in by Leach and his staff things might’ve been different. Expectations would have been mutual.

Regardless, Leach has this program at a different level now and we can all be thankful for the expectations he brings to this program. Bowling in two years? Who saw that coming?

Oh yeah, Mike Leach.