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John Blanchette: Taking a timeout with the coaches of the Apple Cup

A late-night infomercial between reruns on Pac-12 Networks. A white erase board is the backdrop, showing plays diagrammed in X’s and O’s. Pennants of Washington and Washington State are displayed. A digital clock mounted on the wall counts down by the second from 5:00. Chris Petersen: “Hi, I’m University of Washington football coach Chris Petersen.” Mike Leach (taking a swig of water from a bottle): “And I’m Mike Leach, coach of the Washington State Cougars.” CP: “It’s Apple Cup week, and you know what that means.” ML: “It means dealing with a bunch of questions about this game being more important than our other 11, which it’s not and we’re not going to be trying really extra hard because you try as hard as you can all the time and things were a lot better at Texas Tech where we didn’t have this kind of stuff because Texas didn’t know who we were but of course we’re excited to play the Apple Cup.” CP: “We’re certainly on the same page there, Coach. And speaking of being on the same page…” ML: “And what’s with all this Senior Night stuff? Who plans for Senior Night? Besides, what good are seniors? The more you have, the less you can claim to be a young team. See, we’re all about improving and getting better for the next game and by definition on Senior Night they won’t have a next game, so what’s the point of seniors?” CP: “Coach, we only have a few minutes. Maybe we should move on.” ML: “How was your Thanksgiving, coach? I have a hell of a gravy recipe I’d be happy to share.” CP (aside, to a director off camera): “Sort of makes me miss Robb Akey.” ML: “I know that name. Wasn’t he defensive coordinator here once? We may have an opening.” CP: “Anyway, Mike and I might be rivals during the game, but we share many values. We want good people in our programs – ‘our kind of guys.’ We believe in discipline and accountability.” ML: “And attacking to the end.” CP: “So that’s why we’re excited…” ML: “We’re definitely excited.” CP: “…to launch the Apple Cup Coaches’ School of Clock Management, and invite all you coaches – and wannabe coaches – to enroll in our inaugural online class.” ML: “It’ll be fun, it’ll be informative and it’ll probably get me another $500,000 ‘media compensation’ raise from the A.D.” CP: “Coach, why don’t we give the folks a sample. Take us through your decision-making at the New Mexico Bowl last year. You’re protecting an eight-point lead with less than two minutes to go, and your opponent has no timeouts. You’ve just won a replay review that saves you from a turnover. Why risk another fumble with a running back who hasn’t carried the ball all game instead of taking a knee?” ML: “What the hell kind of question is that?” CP: “But…” ML: “OK, here’s a question for you: Two-point lead over Arizona, 1:33 left, fresh set of downs, one opponent timeout. You run it, fumble and lose on a field goal. Why not take a knee?” CP: “Well, you might not agree with our strategy but we have our charts. I would do exactly the same thing again.” ML: “Chart? I don’t need a chart to tell me to attack and try to get first downs. That’s what we did at the end of the first half of that bowl game. Sure, the other team stopped us and had time to kick a field goal and we eventually lost by three, but we attacked. No surrender. Remember, Geronimo said he should never have surrendered.” CP: “Let’s go to the phone. It’s Jim in Renton.” Caller: “Yeah, I’d sign up for your course, but I’m still in debt from the bet I lost on that WSU-Colorado game two years ago when the Cougs could have kicked a field goal for a 20-point lead with eight minutes left. Instead, Coach went for it on fourth down and then it was a big meltdown.” ML: “We should have converted it.” Caller: “What kind of answer is that?” CP: “See, that’s why I prefer the chart.” Caller: “So when you were hanging on for dear life against Eastern Washington and you snapped the ball on first down with about 1:50 left and ran not one but two running plays even though they didn’t have any timeouts left, that was on your chart?” CP: “But we didn’t fumble. So that made it OK.” Caller: “Enlightening. I don’t know who to bet on in the Apple Cup. No lead will be safe. One guy has his chart and the other guy is channeling Geronimo.” ML: “That reminds me. If you don’t want to sign up for the Apple Cup Coaches’ School of Clock Management, you can always buy my new book.” CP: “Book?” ML: “‘Bury My Heart at Take a Knee.’”
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