Sports

Blanchette: Wilson bruises Cougs on way out door

Spokesman-Review contributing sports columnist John Blanchette.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokesman-Review contributing sports columnist John Blanchette. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – We have now reached the “Coach, are you still beating your players?” phase of the Mike Leach era at Washington State.

Old joke. Not very funny.

And just about the only possible booby-trap that might have given the school second thoughts about committing $11 million of its pot of TV gold to the Calico Jack of the coaching fraternity to save a football program from terminal irrelevance.

So is there anything to the outrageous, and unspecified, claims of the coaching staff’s abuse of players – “physical, emotional and verbal” – in Marquess Wilson’s letter of resignation to the Cougars?

Does it matter?

There was nothing in the statement WSU athletic director Bill Moos issued in reaction to Wilson’s statement to suggest he would cast a harder look at his new coach’s player relations, but just a vague reference to procedures “to monitor student-athlete welfare” being in place. He may have been more aggrieved that Wilson opted to forgo a second sit-down they’d arranged after a meeting last week, but we can only parse a piece of paper for that.

It’s now Washington Statement University.

For administrators and departing players alike.

And for Leach?

“I’m not going to talk about anybody who’s not here,” he said.

And then he did, sort of:

“Clearly, there was some addition by subtraction,” he told the Cougar Radio Network audience, “because we had the best effort of the season.”

In any case, the damage is done, whatever it amounts to be. It’s likely to be subtle and unquantifiable – the odd recruit put off by an unwelcoming aroma, perhaps, though he’ll cite remoteness, weather or ongoing haplessness as his reasons for going elsewhere instead.

Oh, and Leach’s reputation will take another smear, even as he shrugs his continued indifference. Remember what he said last week:

“We’re not changing. This isn’t a democracy. We don’t say, ‘You 125 guys, how do you want practice to be and what direction do you want this or that to go?’ We don’t do that. Our standards are what our standards are, and we’re going to hold them to that.”

Admirable backbone. As long as they’re actual standards, and not just a tool to clear the decks for the sake of clearing the decks.

That Wilson, the gifted receiver who was just seven catches from becoming Wazzu’s all-time leader, finally announced he’s pulling the plug on his Cougar career had the feel of Florida declaring Obama the winner.

That he did it by fax to various news outlets, with the most inflammatory assertions and just hours before his old teammates took on UCLA was something of a radioactive dump on an already toxic situation.

Wilson’s letter was dismaying on several levels, beyond any possibility that his claims have merit. It was quite obviously constructed by his stepfather, Richard Miranda, who sent it out. It offered no details of the “abuse” – probably too strong a word, though we don’t get to decide for the purportedly abused just what constitutes abuse.

It read mostly as an athlete trying preserve his dignity and his marketability after walking out of a drill the rest of the team endured.

Still, tough stuff:

“The new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us,” the letter said. “This approach has obviously not been successful, and has put a dark shadow on the program.”

It also hits Leach in a vulnerable spot. His reign at Texas Tech came to an end over what was eventually regarded as mostly trumped-up crapola perpetrated by former TV gasbag Craig James, whose son opted for victimhood.

Now a nation has been given leave to wonder whether it was really all that trumped-up, all the documentation in Leach’s best-seller notwithstanding.

Leach denied any charge of physical abuse pretty much as he did at Tech, with a firm,

“Absolutely.”

And the emotional and verbal?

“We had a drill,” said receivers coach Dennis Simmons. “Sixty-four guys were out there. One guy chose to leave, three minutes after the drill started. How did I fail him? He wasn’t yelled at or cursed at. He wasn’t chased after, either.”

Is there a difference between Adam James, he of the notorious electrical closet, and Marquess Wilson, he of the soon-to-be-notorious letter, other than a boatload of football talent? Is Wilson just as soft and entitled?

Or is this the Mike Leach standard?

“Unfortunately,” Moos’ statement read, “during times of coaching transitions, departures are not uncommon.”

Oh, but there he’s wrong.

This one is as uncommon as they come.



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