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Hoping to eliminate distractions, Mike Leach introduces social media ban for Washington State players

Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach reacts to a call during the second half on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Washington State football players, usually avid social media users, have been noticeably quiet on Twitter and Instagram since their 38-13 loss to Utah two weeks ago.

It’s not a coincidence.

After the Cougars’ 25-point loss in Salt Lake City, coach Mike Leach put the kibosh on his players’ social media accounts, banning them from using Twitter, Instagram and other platforms for the remainder of the 2019 season.

Leach didn’t bring up his social media ban at any point during practices or press conferences leading up to Saturday’s 38-34 loss at Arizona State, but the Pac-12 Networks made note of it in their pregame show, and the WSU coach affirmed it afterward.

“I think we entertain too many distractions,” Leach said, “and if I had it to do over again, I would’ve done it when we started camp. But no, I think we entertain too many distractions. I think we’re a little too distracted right now, but I think there is a team-wide determination to be less distracted.”

Leach and his staff, of course, can’t monitor every iPhone on the 100-plus man roster, and players may still be scrolling through their Twitter and Instagram feeds after games or during downtime. But don’t expect to see the Cougars posting tweets or sharing photos from their Instagram accounts until they’ve played their final game this season.

The ban is a player-only ordeal, and coaches often use social media as a recruiting tool, but Leach is following through with it, too. WSU’s head coach, generally active on Twitter, hasn’t posted anything from his account since Oct. 3.

Most of WSU’s players haven’t posted since Sept. 28 or 29.

“We weren’t really focused on him saying that,” WSU wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. said. “I mean, at the end of the day we have a job to do and that’s play football on Saturdays, so even though he did that the team morale didn’t change. We’re still the same team, we’re just going to keep grinding.

“Leach is our coach, we’re going to listen to whatever he says, but as a team we’re going to stick together and do what we can to win the game.”

The Cougars may have eliminated one distraction, but it’s possible they’ll encounter another one next week as they prepare for their homecoming game against Colorado. Cameramen and producers from HBO’s College Football 24/7 all-access show will be following coaches and players throughout the week for a segment that will air the following Wednesday.

HBO spent last week filming the Sun Devils for the second episode of the 24/7 show and there were a handful of cameras situated around the stadium in Tempe for Saturday’s game against the Cougars.

It’s unknown exactly how much access cameras will have while in Pullman, but Leach said they’d provide limitations if he felt their presence was too much of a distraction.

“I don’t think anybody’s particularly prepared for that,” Leach said last Tuesday. “I think it’s just the degree of what people get overly excited about shifts a little bit. … The best ones, the ones that get the least distracted are those that are the most highly motivated to play. If they’re really highly motivated to play, they don’t let anything really get in the way of it.”

As the Cougars look to break out of a three-game slump, Leach hopes that’s true for every one of his players this week.