PULLMAN – These aren’t the headlines anyone had in mind for Marquess Wilson this football season.
The ultra-talented junior receiver, who earlier this season broke Washington State’s record for career receiving yards, was suspended by coach Mike Leach on Monday after reportedly walking out of a late-night conditioning session on Sunday.
Leach said Wilson, WSU’s leading receiver with 52 catches for 813 yards, is suspended at least for Saturday’s game against UCLA. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
Rumors and reports circulated Monday that Wilson had quit the team, but Leach said he didn’t know if that was true.
“If he left the team, that’s his decision,” Leach said. “But he is suspended.”
According to a story in Monday’s Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Wilson exchanged words with coaches before departing the practice field Sunday night during a conditioning drill.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel, a close friend of Wilson’s, said he was in “disbelief” when he heard that Wilson had left the workout.
Tuel said he’s since spoken with Wilson, but had no insight as to whether the Tulare, Calif., native might return to the team.
“I couldn’t tell you that,” Tuel said.
During his 10-year tenure at Texas Tech, Leach said, he’d cut players who walked out of practices. And while Leach left open the possibility that Wilson could return, he was less specific about what Wilson would have to do in order to come back.
“I’m not going to share that with the media and open it up,” Leach said. “That’s between he and I.”
Players selected to speak to the media Monday were relatively mum on Sunday’s workout.
“It was just a little conditioning,” senior linebacker Travis Long said. “Just had to get through it, get some effort out of us. That’s all it was, really.”
It’s been a trying season for Wilson, a preseason All-America candidate who lost his starting spot two weeks ago to freshman Dominique Williams. Leach has been critical of Wilson’s work ethic since the spring, often singling him out during practices for his lack of aggression.
Wilson’s suspension comes on the heels of WSU’s 49-6 loss to Utah on Saturday, after which Leach made headlines by blasting the Cougars’ effort before sending the team’s entire offensive and defensive lines to the postgame interview sessions.
Leach also placed responsibility on himself and his staff. On Monday, he said he thinks he and his assistants could have motivated and evaluated the team better this season.
“As a coaching staff, I wish we could have been more precise in figuring out who can do what (and) when,” Leach said. “And that’s bouncing all over the place with freshmen. All of a sudden one day a guy can do something that he can’t the next. And so having guys settled into position so they constantly get reps there, that’s been a challenge, and that’s been something that with a crystal ball we certainly would have done better at and wish we could have speculated better.
“Part of it is just it’s a frustrating process because this team here has lost for a lot of years. Well, we’ve got to get that turned around.”
Apparently annoyed by questions about his candid assessments, Leach mocked a questioner who sought an opinion about whether Leach would be better-served by avoiding public criticism of his players.
Asked whether he felt his players respected the coaching staff, Leach said: “I don’t know. The thing is, we’re not changing. This isn’t a democracy. We don’t say, ‘hey, you 125 guys, so how do you want practice to be and what direction do you want this or that to go?’ We don’t do that. So we’re not changing. Our standards are what our standards are and we’re going to hold them to those standards. That’s how we’ve all done it for years and you don’t have any progress by wallowing and getting all wishy-washy in what your standards are. And the fact that the standards don’t appeal to some player or another really is pretty irrelevant. That’s how we’re going to do it and they’re either on board or they’re off, and I can live with it either way. As long as we have a key path and direction, we’re ready to go.”
With or without Wilson, it seems.