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Shawn Vestal: WSU’s Schulz, Leach, Moos punt responsibility

Columnist Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Columnist Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Mere months after Kirk Schulz was hired as Wazzu’s new president, he’s been handed a whopper of a buck-stops-here question: Can he be the adult the football program needs, now that it’s clear Mike Leach and Bill Moos are not up to the task?

The first signs are not promising. Faced with a nation-leading number of arrests of football players, Schulz said Monday that he would get to grips with the problem after the football season. Meanwhile, the university is going forward with a plan to ask students to pay higher fees to help dig the athletic department out of a $13 million financial hole.

“Clearly, at the end of the football season, I think it’s very fair that athletic director Bill Moos and myself and coach Leach all sit down and say, ‘Hey, is what we’re doing working?’ ” Schulz told the S-R earlier this week. “But we don’t do that in the middle of the season for anything.”

Football first. He should fit right in.

Moos and Leach – the would-be architects of WSU’s damn-the-expense climb to the big time – have found themselves on the receiving end of questions about the football team’s embarrassing record of arrests, and they have answered them like ethically stunted children, deflecting, dismissing, shifting blame, playing victim and whining.

Four Cougars were arrested in the past month. Three of them took the field on Saturday – one of whom admitted mugging another student for a 24-pack of beer, one accused in a fight outside a Domino’s, and one who stands accused of assault in a brawl that left two hospitalized. That player has been expelled, but is appealing that decision, so naturally he’s still suiting up.

Moos and Leach have strived to out-shrug each other. Their priorities have emerged with great clarity: They will be sternly critical when their players run out of bounds to avoid a hit, and coddle softly when they’re charged with assault.

Is that the path Schulz, who says he wants to elevate WSU’s position in the roster of research universities, will follow? Or will he establish and enforce high standards, set a loud and clear public example, and establish – re-establish? – Wazzu as a place that has not sold its soul to the football program?

WSU’s problems in this respect are not small. ArrestNation.com ranks the Cougars No. 1 in the nation for player arrests in the past five years, with 31. S-R reporter Thomas Clouse found even more arrests: 37.

It goes without saying that some young men in college may drink, fight and misbehave. It goes without saying that sometimes more than one party bears responsibility in a fight, and that suspects are presumed innocent. It goes without saying that dealing with an unproven allegation can be tricky – at what point is it fair to punish someone who insists on their innocence? But when your charges pile up more arrests than any other team in the country, your job as a leader is to do more than excuse them.

Leach earns almost $3 million to teach his players that if they get in a fight, they should blame the other guy. He earns that salary to teach them that if they get arrested, they should publicly accuse the police of being unfair – possibly even suspiciously, conspiratorially so – and if they make the paper for being arrested to complain mightily that the media is treating them unfairly. He earns that money to complain that little old Pullman, with its lack of bigger criminal fish to fry, is an unfair fishbowl for his players – as if that fishbowl weren’t named Martin Stadium, and he hadn’t plunked these guys into it himself.

Can Schulz be the adult here? Not so far. Leach – a sour, Trumpian figure who stood up for The Donald when he came to Spokane – has indicated that player discipline is his business and his alone. A team matter. But crimes are not team matters, and even if they were, he keeps showing that he can’t manage them. Last week, he made a public statement of such tone-deafness and defiance that no Cougar player under his guidance can ever – ever – be all that worried about what will happen if they get drunk and break a fellow student’s jaw at a party.

“The (legal) system has to be checked if, with the number of people involved in these incidents, the only ones accused are football players,” he said. “If that’s the case, then something is seriously wrong, which goes far deeper than whatever has even been alleged.”

Moos, Leach’s boss, has been no better. He referred to the Cougars’ massive arrest record as reflecting “rude behavior.” Like Leach, he wondered whether the players weren’t being treated unfairly. He said other people are picking fights with the players. When describing an incident where one player punched another player, breaking his jaw in two places, Moos put it this way: “Bam, he got hit.”

He got hit. Mistakes were made. Football first.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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