November 3, 2013 in Sports

Despite record, Leach worth loot

A Grip On Sports
 
Associated Press photo

Mike Leach’s arrival in Pullman has already changed WSU football, despite the lack of wins.
(Full-size photo)

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Vince Grippi has an opinion about everything local, especially sports. Every Sunday we provide samples of his daily riffs. Read him daily at spokesman.com/sportslink.

Saturday: It doesn’t take all that long for a fan to lose faith, does it?

We wrote about WSU’s disappointing loss to 25th-ranked Arizona State on Thursday night. The fans’ disappointment came from the team’s seeming inability once again to compete.

That lack of a competitive attitude came on the heels of a fourth-quarter blowout by Oregon State and a methodical destruction by No. 2 Oregon. The cumulative effect has led some Cougar fans to lose faith in Mike Leach.

There were complaints concerning the way the defense is playing, the way the offense is playing, the way the special teams are playing and, in true egalitarian fashion, how much money Leach is making. The on-field concerns are valid, if a little too early.

This is just Leach’s second season in Pullman and, though there was talent built up during Paul Wulff’s tenure, each coach wants their own players. That takes a while. Leach is still building the foundation he wants. Until it is built, we really don’t know whether or not Leach’s Air Raid offense, and his overall football philosophy, will work in Pullman.

But the money, that seems silly to moan about, even if Leach is making three times what the Cougars were paying Wulff and the results have not appreciably improved. Leach is like a stock Bill Moos invested in. By selling Wulff, who may have been on the cusp of turning the Cougars into a competitive product, and buying Leach, who won at Texas Tech while, for better and worse, attracting national attention, Moos invigorated the WSU fan base. It was needed.

The fans – and boosters – were bailing on the program. Moos was at a crossroads. He had achieved his greatest accomplishment, convincing the Pac-12 powers-that-be to distribute their new-found media wealth equally, something the conference had never done. Moos had the money. It was available to bring the Cougars’ football facilities into the 21st Century. But he needed to fill the luxury suites and seats. A winning team would probably have done that. But the Cougars were 4-8 in 2011.

Something else had to be done. Enter Leach. And the money flowed. That, however, came with a bill: higher expectations. Expectations the Cougars have only reached occasionally in the past two years.

The last three games’ struggles have unleashed the hounds a bit, if only on social media, talk shows and fan websites, the petri dishes of college football’s negative vibes. It happens. But in a sense it doesn’t matter. Leach’s hire has served its purpose. The south side of Martin Stadium has been transformed. The football operations building is taking shape and will be open next year. The culture in Pullman will never be the same, whether you are excited about the new direction or mourn the loss of innocence.

Winning, that’s still a crapshoot.

The last few weeks have been snake eyes. The last three regular season games might either come up craps or sevens. The season will end, the plusses and minuses will be weighed and the days will pass. And no matter who occupies the sideline for WSU (or the athletic director’s chair), they will be doing their jobs in a place that is markedly different than it was three years ago.

Friday: I did some checking and the 169 points the Cougars have given up in the past three games is the most since yielding 186 in a three-game stretch midway through 2008, Paul Wulff’s first season. Since then, WSU never even gave up 100 points in two consecutive games. The Cougars have done that twice in a row now.

Tuesday: You like rollercoasters? Then you’ll love this season’s Seahawks.

A 90-plus yard drive seemingly destined for a  St. Louis game-winning touchdown  ends up being the Hawks’ best  defensive stand of the season. The result?  A 14-9 Seattle win. But did it have to be this nerve-wracking?

This is a team that will need to improve in certain areas if it wants to win the ultimate prize. And the biggest improvement area  needs to be up front, where injuries have set the Hawks back but a seeming lack of athleticism seems to be a bigger problem.

Without a passing game,  the running game can’t get its feet. Without a passing game, the offense can’t control the clock. Without a passing game, the Hawks won’t win the Super Bowl.

Wilson is a good enough passer. The receivers are serviceable. It’s up to the offensive line to do its part. If the group fails, this team fails. It’s that simple.

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