PULLMAN – Mike Leach wasn’t interested in wiring any money to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott on Monday, so, true to form, the Washington State coach held his tongue when asked to comment on a major officiating blunder from the Cougars’ 33-20 loss at Cal on Saturday.
For the second year in a row, Leach and the Cougars were at the center of the Pac-12’s biggest officiating debacle of the season – one that captured many of the conference’s headlines with top dogs Oregon and Utah on bye weeks.
In the third quarter, the officiating team made a crucial error when it penalized WSU rather than Cal for an illegal hands to the face penalty on a kickoff return that gave the Cougars the ball on their 7-yard line, instead of Cal’s 35-yard line.
In a 20-11 ballgame, the 57-yard mistake loomed large, especially because WSU only managed to finish the drive with a 35-yard field goal, trimming the deficit to six points rather than two if the Cougars had scored a touchdown.
Officials recognized the mistake and informed WSU’s coaching staff, but not until after the Cougars snapped the ball on the next play, therefore making the penalty irreversible. The conference issued a statement Sunday afternoon, acknowledging the incident was an error in “mechanics” and “communication.”
The gesture displayed a level of accountability that coaches, fans and media members have long wished to see from a conference constantly scrutinized for its officiating, but it still left the Cougars and their coach irritated – just another thing adding to the sting of a 13-point loss in Berkeley that dropped WSU to 4-5 and 1-5 in Pac-12 play.
Leach, unwilling to incur a fine from the conference – the penalty for opining on officiating decisions – didn’t budge from behind the podium as he fielded questions Monday during his weekly news conference.
The coach was asked if he’d ever encountered a situation where an official admitted to a mistake after the next play was run.
“Hmm,” Leach started, “I’m trying to think of the least expensive way to answer that question.”
After considering, Leach went down his usual path.
“I think that’s something you ought to search up and carefully analyze,” he said. “And this game may be a good case study for you to draw whatever conclusion you may or may not draw from it. And I encourage you to do it.”
Leach said he was unaware the refs had made a mistake until late in the third quarter or early in the fourth.
Asked to clarify that he wasn’t made aware right after the play happened – as the release suggested – Leach resorted to a no comment and shrugged his shoulders.
“How’s that?” he cracked. “You like that one?”
While he’s unable to comment on individual calls without paying a large sum of money to the league office, Leach recently provided solutions on how college football officiating could improve transparency.
While appearing as a guest on John Canzano’s “Bald Faced Truth” radio show, he threw out the concept of having referees answer questions in a postgame press conference, eliminating the need for coaches to do so. Leach doubled down on that idea Monday.
“I’ve always thought coaches always get in this position of commenting on officiating and rather than a coach comment on officiating, before the press conference starts just have the referee come in and answer any questions the media has,” he said.
Leach also believes referees should be paid twice as much as they are, “and then that way you can pluck from whatever conference, get the very best and the very brightest?”
It wouldn’t be a financial burden, the coach maintained.
“Really if you think about paying a crew, a whole bunch of officials double, I mean that equals two blocking sleds, right? I mean we can all afford that,” Leach said. “So then you get the best and the brightest and you carefully evaluate and then you fire the bottom 20 percent each year, then hire the best and the brightest from other conferences since you’re paying double. I think that would be pennies on the dollar, money well spent.”
And maybe it would eliminate the occasional snafu.
Until then, Leach will stick to keeping his mouth shut.
The coach was later asked about an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was assessed to WSU’s coaching staff, after safety Tyrese Ross was flagged for his own unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I don’t want to comment on that either,” he said, “but several layers I think you ought to look at and that you may find interesting.”
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