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Grip on Sports: It doesn’t look as if Mike Leach is going to Tennessee but there still will be changes at WSU

Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach reacts to a targeting call on defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa (50) during the second half of the 2017 Apple Cup on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, at Husky Stadium in Seattle. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach reacts to a targeting call on defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa (50) during the second half of the 2017 Apple Cup on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, at Husky Stadium in Seattle. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Times are changing in Pullman. That is true whether or not Mike Leach decides to put Tennessee out of its misery. Read on.

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• A few weeks ago, Bill Moos surprised the Cougar Nation by showing up in Lincoln, Neb., as the Cornhuskers new athletic director.

It was intercontinental missile no one saw coming.

And it changed the trajectory at Washington State.

Last night Mike Leach finally became linked to the opening at Tennessee, a position that has attracted more suitors than Blanche Dubois and has made college football coaches around the nation more money than ESPN.

But the Leach-to-Tennessee reports seemed a little out of place for a lot of reasons, the most important of which is Leach himself – and what he values.

Like Greta Garbo, Leach just wants to be left alone. He wants to be able to coach his football team in a perfect vacuum, with an athletic director supporting him, a president that carries his wallet and fans that adore him.

He had all of that at WSU a couple years ago. And he could have it all again in a couple weeks, if not months.

It depends on whom President Kirk Schulz hires to replace Moos. And there is a decent chance it could be the guy Leach reportedly met with yesterday to discus the Tennessee position, John Currie.

Currie was Schulz’ athletic director at Kansas State. He also was the first guy Bill Moos talked with when Schulz was hired at WSU. The gist of the conversation: Currie loved working for Schulz and felt he was a perfect president for an AD.

That wasn’t Moos’ experience, sure. But if it was Currie’s, and if Schulz feels a reciprocal fondness, the door is open.

And maybe, just maybe, it was Leach who opened it. Who knows, but maybe, when the two reportedly met in Los Angeles yesterday, Leach was actually interviewing Currie for the WSU job? We all know Leach wants to have a say in the next athletic director. Who is to say Leach, as is his wont, didn’t turn the conversation toward the subject he wanted to discuss.

It would make sense, especially in light of the news that emanated from Knoxville this morning.

Currie has been fired. He’s out. Would it be too farfetched that his conversation with Leach had something to do with it? Of course, the impetus was the failing coaching search, but the Leach meeting, whatever the subject was, may have been the last nail in an orange-colored coffin.

And the first in the crimson-colored podium Currie could be standing behind soon.

It’s inevitable there is change coming to Washington State.

How much is up to Kirk Schulz. It’s a golden age in Cougar athletics right now and Schulz is smart enough to realize that. He certainly wants to keep it going – at a reduced cost, sure, but using the momentum built over the past three years its possible to cut a few corners and continue the success – and his football coach is the key.

If Mike Leach is helping to choose the department’s next leader, than yesterday’s upheaval may have been nothing more than a step in that direction.

A quick addition: There are reports that surfaced late this morning Tennessee fired Currie because he offered Leach the job. If true, then forget about Leach leaving Pullman for Knoxville.

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WSU: The reports of a Leach meeting became the subject of Theo Lawson’s top story today, and of many stories around the country. But Theo also has a story on the Cougars losing one of their top receivers, a player with a pretty high ceiling. And one more thing. Though there isn’t a permanent athletic director in place, football scheduling goes on, with a Boise State series on the horizon. … Wait, we forget the story on the Pac-12’s all-academic teams. … Jim Meehan also has a WSU story, this one on the volleyball team’s success. … Back to football, the Times’ Stefanie Loh has her thoughts on Leach and Tennessee.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the conference’s championship football game will be played tonight in Santa Clara in front of a bunch of tarps and a national television audience that will yawn a lot. Stanford gets a chance to avenge an early season loss to USC and the Trojans have a shot at their first Pac-12 title since the expansion. … Oregon State introduced their new coach, former quarterback Jonathan Smith, and there were a lot of words written. … Arizona State seems close to hiring a new coach. But there is some controversy about the decision. … Utah is changing its recruiting system. … Colorado will have a battle at linebacker next fall. … In basketball, Oregon has to change its starting lineup.

Gonzaga: The best home game of the nonconference schedule happens tonight at 7 (it will broadcast on ESPN2). The 5-1 Creighton Bluejays take on the 6-1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Both teams are ranked. Jim Meehan has a preview of the game and details the matchups at the guard spots. … The Gonzaga women handled Eastern Washington last night, 69-45 at McCarthey. Jim Allen was there and has this game story.

EWU: Eastern’s next basketball game is Sunday. It is at Seattle U., coached by Jim Hayford, who at this time last year was coaching in Cheney. Jim Allen has a preview of the game.

Idaho: The Vandals play their final football game of the season and their final one as an FBS school. Peter Harriman has a feature on leading rusher Aaron Duckworth, who is 88 yards shy of a 1,000.

Whitworth: The Pirates lost four starters off last year’s team. No matter. As Jim Allen’s story shows, they have rebuilt just fine and are 5-0.

CCS: The Sasquatch women opened their basketball season with a win.

Preps: It’s a busy weekend, with state championships decided in football and a lot of basketball games. Dave Nichols has a story on the two area football teams playing for titles starting tonight. And there is a preview of the Dan Fitzgerald Memorial Basketball Showcase, which is tonight and tomorrow at Lewis and Clark. … We ran the fall all-GSL photos yesterday along with all-league teams from around the area.

Seahawks: The new-look Hawk secondary did fine against the 49ers. But the Eagles are different. Better in fact. … What will happen with the trio of defenders facing career-threatening injuries? … There may be another injury in the secondary. … The running game may show up this Sunday night. As will a defensive lineman. … What’s ahead for the NFL players’ protests?

Sounders: A 3-0 home rout of Houston moved Seattle into its second-consecutive MLS Cup match against Toronto and gave the Sounders a chance to defend its title.

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• Once more, a heads up. We won’t be here tomorrow. We have some early morning personal business that will force us to take a day off. Sorry. See you Sunday. Until later … 


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