Given all the years Bob Robertson worked without a sidekick in the Washington State radio booth, the recent developments in broadcasting Cougars football must have Marconi spinning in his underground studio.
Next year, it seems, four people will be outfitted with microphones to share the narration of Wazzu games. Didn’t realize so much description was necessary. Did new coach Mike Leach figure out a way to deploy, say, 16 players at a time instead of the usual 11?
Hey, the man is an innovator.
Beyond needing a program to distinguish the voices on the radio as well as the players on the field, the heart of the matter was that after 11 of years of telling us whatever was on his mind – and in his heart – Jim Walden was invited to, well, find a new outlet for his thoughts.
Replacing him in the analyst’s chair is former Cougar receiver Shawn McWashington, who didn’t spend a lot of time selling himself to athletic director Bill Moos or weighing the offer.
“When he asked me, ‘Would you like to…’ I don’t know if he even finished the sentence,” McWashington recalled. “He could have asked me to change his tire. The answer was yes.”
McWashington, of course, was a mainstay of the Fab Five, the receivers who caught pretty much everything Ryan Leaf threw their way in the 1997 season that ended 67 years of Rose Bowl fantasizing for the Cougars and their parishioners. Even now, you’d have to think McWashington’s money is no good any time he walks into a watering hole where Cougs, uh, water.
He’s used to that. What has caught him somewhat unaware is the hoohah over his new gig.
The congratulations. The debate. The investment. How, after so much losing football, that it still matters to Cougs who it is telling them why a play broke open or blew up. And – in an era when soon every Wazzu game will be available on television or laptop – on the radio, no less.
A lot of the credit for that goes to Jim Walden.
His color, his candor, his lack of a filter, his Cougar bona fides all made him a natural – and, yes, even when he was being a bit of a wingnut and not just a wingman. Then, as the losses piled up and he became ever more strident in his support of coach Paul Wulff, Walden’s opinions weren’t nearly so charming to an audience that was mostly ready for change – and surely didn’t charm the A.D.
And that’s OK. Everything has a shelf life. Walden himself preferred the year-to-year handshake.
What wasn’t cool was Moos delivering news that warranted face time by mail instead. A lot of Cougs would have thought it was another pitch for a donation and tossed it without opening it – but then, Walden always answers those letters.
But of more intrigue now is the new guy, and McWashington stresses that he’ll be a definite change of pace.
“I’m from a different demographic, I guess,” he said. “Coach Walden had a tremendous amount of success in what he did for Cougar football, but I come from a more recent period of success on the field. I think I’ll bring a different level of football knowledge, and a players’ perspective.
“I’m not going to talk a lot about the refs. It’ll be more about what you should expect to see and what the players are doing now, and I think I can communicate with players and get stories from them that will provide some colorful insight.”
And his opinions?
“I’ll be just as candid,” he promised, “but not in the same nature. Direction of the program and specific people – those are decisions made above my pay grade.”
Let’s revisit that “new guy” label. He’s new in the booth, but McWashington has Cougar DNA, the son of 1960s-era great Ammon McWashington, a subject which took about 10 seconds to come up when the just-hired commentator first stopped by Moos’ office more than two years ago to introduce himself.
“He rattled off the 10 starters along with Dad on the ‘Cardiac Kids’ team,” McWashington laughed. “I thought I was the only person forced to memorize that.”
McWashington kicked around NFL camps and Canada after his WSU playing days, taught, coached, earned a masters and did Ph.D. coursework at Florida State before ending up in Seattle as an insurance broker.
He understands that, like the new coach, he’s part of a grand catharsis in Cougars football – at once difficult, painful and exhilarating. And he knows his entire legacy could change.
“If I was able to choose, I’d rather be more renowned as a broadcaster,” he said. “Because if you forget about me as a player, that means we’ll have had a hell of a group of wide receivers these next few years.”
That’s a futurist’s perspective, all right. There’s certainly a Cougars audience for that.