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WSU Exodus Raises Concerns For The Program

John Blanchette The Spokesman-R

Being neither attrition nor elective surgery, these sudden changes to Washington State’s football roster can’t help but be traumatic.

An exodus always is, and that’s what this is.

Four projected starters bailed out of the Cougars program this week. Coach Mike Price called it a coincidence and certainly the timing was, if not the karma. But a cop with a quota deciding to park kitty-corner from a tavern parking lot at 2 a.m. can be coincidental, too.

First-degree coincidence.

“I think this is going to be the end of it,” Price said Tuesday. “But I didn’t think this would be the start of it, either.”

These aren’t delusionals leaving early to peddle their wares to the NFL or fool’s gold recruits being steered to a level that better suits them.

Paul Mickelbart transferred in from Notre Dame and then realized it wasn’t just that school he disliked, but school period. Phillip Glover is a husband, father and big brother whose family can no longer cope with the claustrophobia of a small town. Rick Austin hasn’t stepped forward to list his reasons, and Darryl Jones has offered only reluctant, cryptic remarks that touched on the racial climate at WSU and the school’s efforts to promote diversity.

You could call what happened next soul-searching or damage control, or a combination thereof.

Price acknowledged that Jones had “talked to me somewhat about that,” and then in virtually the same breath said the player’s comments surprised him. He seemed to have a better handle on WSU’s diversification mission.

“I don’t think we’ve done as much as we can,” he said. “We can do more. But I do think we’re doing a good job - as good as any department on campus.”

After meeting with several football team members, athletic director Rick Dickson was more blunt.

“I haven’t talked to anyone that felt (race) was an issue,” Dickson said. “We don’t have a race problem.”

Well, now. America has a race problem, so Washington State is hardly going to be exempt. Dickson could have meant that Cougars athletics isn’t a cauldron of cultural tensions ready to boil over. If the Cougars don’t have that kind of race problem, they do have a proud knot of African-American athletes who have been recruited to a small town - rural surreality - and a campus that’s just 2 percent black.

“It’s a challenge,” Dickson admitted. “You’ve got to help kids plug themselves in - show them there’s a bigger loop than just athletics so they’re not just being labeled and identified as athletes.

“It’s a challenge the other way, too. If I’m at USC, my biggest concern may be getting shot at practice.”

Three African-American players bolt a program simultaneously and there’s a risk of making either too much or too little of race in the equation.

What Price wouldn’t make too little of was the simple fact of four players leaving.

“I can’t recall the last time I was head coach of a program where guys quit that I didn’t want to quit,” he said. “This is the first time I said to this many guys, ‘Don’t quit, think it over.’ “

He characterized it as a by-product of last fall’s 3-8 record, but Price’s Cougars have been 3-8 before without defections this dramatic. At least, they seem dramatic. It’s possible that only Glover will surface in another Division I program, but it was Price who said “all four were potential starters.” A couple were probably potentially ineligible, too.

Dickson, meanwhile, saw a different kind of blow.

“Look at the transfers who come to us from other places,” he said. “This is something our (coaches) have kind of prided themselves in - that kids from all kinds of backgrounds and academic situations have come here and succeeded. But things like this are going to happen and nobody’s immune.”

Not in November, not in February.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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