November 6, 2012 in Sports

Starting to look like night of the walking dead

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Washington State football coach Mike Leach’s first season in Pullman has a lot of people talking.
(Full-size photo)

Winning columns

The Associated Press Sports Editors picked sports columnist John Blanchette as one of its top 10 columnists of 2012. This is one of the columns that won him that award. Here are the others:

OK, put me in the camp that thinks Mike Leach shouldn’t compare his players to zombies and empty corpses, and bleat that their effort “borders on cowardice.”

Not for the same reason other people think that, but for this reason:

That’s my job.

Sheesh. Guy’s making $2 million a year and he’s taking food off my table?

Boxcars continue to pile up as the Great Cougar Train Wreck at Washington State grinds into another smash week. Now the team’s marquee player, receiver Marquess Wilson, has been suspended for stomping out in the middle of pushups Sunday night, perhaps feeling – like the fan base – that the season itself should be punishment enough.

Not sure why that would upset Leach. Heck, it’s progress. During the regimes of Mike Price and Paul Wulff, players quit at halftime of games.

This on the heels of Leach’s scorched-earth critique of Saturday’s flaying in Utah, from whence came the “zombie convention” line and the more stinging suggestion that some players were cowards and “heartless.”

Those button-pushers and the fact that he then sat down his two lines firing-squad style for media interrogation has riled up the bleeding heart segment of the Cougar populace, while the hawkish wing applauds whatever Leach wants to do to toughen up the troops. But mostly it’s diverted attention away from the fact that Wazzu got buried 49-6 by a real ordinary football team, and that – like the other pratfalls of this decaying season – falls squarely on Mike Leach.

Didn’t see a lot of pirate costumes here in Cougtopia this Halloween, did we?

Leach was back in front of the media on Monday and it all got mighty cartoonish, especially when he gave us a clever peek into what it might be like if he went all Mr. Rogers at the podium instead of his brutally candid self. If I have a vote – and I don’t, as Leach pointed out his program is not a democracy – I vote for candid, though the coach failing to grasp that candor and class are not exclusive might dismay parents who’ve entrusted their sons to him – and any who might be tempted to.

Significantly less hilarious and entirely disingenuous was his explanation that he paraded his linemen to the interview room en masse merely to give the media more and different subjects for questioning.

He did it to humiliate, period, and succeeded in the most puerile fashion. And it didn’t make anyone tougher.

Much as Leach has been portrayed, and promoted himself, as something unconventional, imaginative, enterprising – the thinking man’s football coach – there’s a fair streak of Frank Kush martinet in there, too.

OK. Football’s a game for tough guys. The Cougs have, by Pac-12 standards, not been talented or tough enough to compete for quite some time, and Leach was hired to change that, which is one of the reasons 17 players have fallen by the wayside – with an 18th teetering.

“You press through,” he said Monday. “You have what you have and you battle through. You don’t make excuses and you don’t allow people to hold you back. And if somebody doesn’t want to pull the rope as hard, you shake them off and get new people. It’s about as simple as that.”

Leach is so ready to run guys that the school may have to rewrite its favorite bromide:

Once a Coug, don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

Hey, it’s a natural by-product of transition. Never mind that it was one of the arguments used to carve up the last guy.

Leach’s past achievements are reason enough to trust in his vision, even if some of the methods are distasteful. But they’re not enough to mitigate the obvious conclusion that he’s failed miserably this season.

This Cougars team was not without possibility. Between the offense being incapable of making his uber-hyped system work and the staff being unable to reach the players’ hearts and minds, the season plunged into calamity. And there has been little evidence that the Cougars have improved by the week.

Shouldn’t that be part of the mandate, too?

Apparently not. In running interference for his coach on Monday, WSU athletic director Bill Moos went on the radio and issued a blanket never-mind.

“Talking to one of our coaches after we landed in Pullman,” Moos said, recalling Saturday’s trip home, “he said, ‘Bill, this is really like an extended spring ball. The system has so much to learn and feel comfortable with.’ ”

That should be quite the solace to those 2,000 new season-ticket holders who bought into the buzz, and the west-sider who drops $500 a weekend to make it to home games. Surely you’ll want to drive down for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. extended-spring scrimmage, and creep home after midnight.

Well, you may not want to, but you’ll press through.

Otherwise, they might have to go out and get some new people.


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