PULLMAN – Ask quarterback Jeff Tuel about Wednesday hiring of Mike Leach as Washington State’s head football coach and he just smiles.
“I might have to ice my arm after a football game, which will be a change,” Tuel said, smiling.
Leach, the former Texas Tech coach, is known as an offensive innovator, and his Red Raiders quarterbacks led the nation in passing six of the 10 years he was in Lubbock.
“You look at his numbers, what he’s done and what his quarterbacks have done,” Tuel said, “it’s pretty exciting.”
Four times at Texas Tech Leach had a quarterback throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season, including B.J. Symons’ NCAA-record 5,883 in 2003. The WSU record is 3,968 by Ryan Leaf in 1997.
“I am so excited,” said freshman quarterback Connor Halliday, who threw for 494 yards in his first game as WSU’s main signal-caller last season. “A lot of the stuff we did in high school is going to be the same stuff that Mr. Leach is doing.
“I think this is kind of a dream come true for me. I’ll be in a situation of doing what I love, throwing the ball, and there is no better coach at it than Mr. Leach.”
Both Tuel, the senior-to-be who missed most of the 2011 season with a fractured clavicle, and Halliday, who suffered a lacerated liver in the second-to-last game of the season, will be coming off injuries for spring ball.
The two might be battling to be the trigger-man in Leach’s Air-Raid offense, as it was called at Tech.
“Love the competition, love that,” Tuel said. “It’s a clean slate. It’s great for everybody. We get to go back to work and everyone earns their spot. I love it.”
“Bringing a new coach in, no position is locked down,” Halliday said. “I will do everything I can to win the job. I know Jeff is a great quarterback and that will be a tough task, but I’m up to the challenge.”
Despite the excitement of Wednesday, most Cougars players were still dealing with the fallout of Tuesday, when the coach that brought them to Pullman, Paul Wulff, was fired.
“You had people calling you and asking you what’s going on,” senior-to-be defensive end Travis Long said. “I feel bad for Coach Wulff, just how much he put into it. I definitely respect him as a man.
“But I still have goals for next year and I can’t let this slow anything down.”
“It’s definitely a big yo-yo, you could describe it as,” Tuel said of the past 24 hours.
For Halliday, Tuesday’s pain was sort of piling on. His liver laceration will keep him from any athletic activity for four months.
“There’s nothing I can do other than rest,” he said. “It’s quite frustrating but I understand it with the amount of pain I am in.”