PROVO, Utah – So will Washington State’s über-suffering multitudes give Mike Leach a second chance to make a first impression?
Do they have a choice?
Too much has been invested not to, and we’re not talking about the $2.2 million a year called for in his contract. The self-congratulations for being able to lure the Maestro of Margaritaville to Pullman has been downright deafening, and one little train wreck on a Thursday night won’t mute it.
Besides, August does not a football season make.
But then, celebrity and quirky lovability don’t make a sad footwipe into a magic carpet overnight, either.
Rationalizations are bound to breach the levee in any discussion of the 30-6 drubbing administered here by Brigham Young as the curtain parted for the Washington State Leaches, and not without reason.
The blue Cougars of BYU are pretty good, maybe Top 25 good in time. Certainly they’re veteran and polished, and they aren’t breaking in a new coach, new system and new converts. For all the stylish design and impressive options of the new model in Wazzu’s garage, there are still some old spare parts holding the thing together.
Maybe that makes Thursday’s stinkeroo easier to stomach, but a stinkeroo is still a stinkeroo.
At least to the outside eye. For Leach, he’d rather his team not be so willing to accept that.
“We’ve got to be a tougher team,” he said when he finally turned up for his postgame breakdown well after the clock struck midnight. “When something happens, we can’t have these basset hound-looking faces on the sideline.”
But at this point, could he really expect something different? This is, in fact, all these Cougars know.
“That’s over and done with,” said guard Wade Jacobson, dismissing the hangover of the 9-40 bender that sent athletic director Bill Moos out searching for Leach in the first place.
“People can say what they want, but that doesn’t mean anything about us and who we are right now as a team.”
But probably the most disheartening thing for all those pins-and-needles fans tuned in to ESPN was how much the Wazzu Leaches resembled the Wazzu Wulffs.
No rushing play longer than 3 yards until garbage time? Check.
Cringe-worthy special teams play, including a roll-out blocked punt that was either the most tentative fake in history or a stunning misread? Check.
Sophomore decisions from a senior quarterback? Check.
And the usual laundry list of shortcomings – pass rush, run-stopping, secondary coverage – on defense? Check.
Here’s the funny thing, though. For all that, this was almost a new low, at least in the context of season openers. Even with all the misery of late, you have to go back to 1971 to find a Cougars team that didn’t put up a touchdown in first game.
Official touchdowns, that is.
“We put two on there,” Leach protested, “and they took them off as fast as we put them on there.”
Well, one. Marquess Wilson made two ridiculous catches of one-where-he-could-get- them balls from quarterback Jeff Tuel, though he was out of bounds at the BYU 3 on the second one – and both were yellow-flagged by a very active crew of zebras for holding.
So, no TDs. That isn’t as un-Leachlike as you might imagine.
As late as 2006 in his ultra-successful tenure at Texas Tech did the Red Raiders endure a no-touchdown game – and twice at that, to Colorado and TCU.
Even wizards have spells that fizzle once in a while.
And Leach, as accustomed as he is to offensive nirvana, didn’t come away from this debacle without hope.
“As a team, we’re a lot closer than we realize,” he insisted. “The good stuff is great. But then out of the blue, you’ll see street ball out there.
“We’ve got to have the ability to settle them down and not (try to) do too much. We vacillated between playing frantic and then we’d play overly conscientious where we were trying not to make a mistake.”
For all the obvious disappointment in WSU’s performance – and for many, it bitterly extended well beyond disappointment – it’s always good to remember that bowl bids are not extended on the first night of the season.
Miracle worker that he was at Texas Tech, Leach endured some ugly poundings his first year there. Oregon’s Chip Kelly, one of the hottest things going in college football, did a massive bellyflop in his head coaching debut in front of a national TV audience.
All might not be well, but Leach’s record suggests it eventually will be.
His caution to his team is good advice for anyone who follows it.
“It’s too easy for us to get disappointed,” Leach said. “We’re just too fragile.”
So what do you say? A second chance?