BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 11/05/2012

Should Leach Publicly Humiliate His Players?

Should a football coach — or any coach — publicly humiliate his players, as Washington State coach Mike Leach did Saturday in Salt Lake City? Vote here.

Mike Leach publicly humiliated his players after Washington State lost to Utah 49-6 Saturday in Salt Lake City. / Wiki Commons

Rarely does a football coach go off like Washington State’s Mike Leach went off Saturday after the Utah Utes, not exactly a club that wakes the echoes, demolished his Cougars 49-6. Leach said the Utes “could have beat us by 100,” then went Vesuvius on many of his players.

Leach is prone to the verbal smackdown, his colorful history of skewering players dating to his days at Texas Tech. He’s brought that penchant to Washington State and has been liberal with his zingers as his team struggled through loss after loss (now 2-7 and ineligible for a bowl game). Leach has been particularly critical of his senior class, holdovers from the Paul Wulff era.

Early in the season, Leach ripped some of his seniors for “pouting” and having “poor body language.” He later characterized his seniors as “empty corpses” and “zombies.”

Following a near upset of Stanford slightly more than a week ago, Leach seemed to think the Cougars were finally on the verge of a breakthrough. But after the Utah calamity, Leach came unglued anew.

Ranting for seven minutes post-game, Leach tore into his players, calling them names, calling their manhood into question, ridiculing their abilities, and belittling their collective character. Among other things, Leach said:

“A part of it is effort, and some of it borders on cowardice.”

“Our five (offensive line) couldn’t whip their two. Sometimes they brought two. If our guys went into an alley and got into a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred. That’s just ridiculously inexcusable.”

“The worst of it was, it wasn’t even knowing who to block. It was just refusal.”

“It was one of the more heartless efforts I’ve ever seen, and our D-line wasn’t any better.”

“That could have been a zombie convention.”

“Some of our players just want to punch the clock.”

“We’re going to have a lively spring, I’ll tell you that. There’s some individuals that aren’t going to be here next year. When we get off the plane, as coaches we’re going to meet and figure out what we’re gonna do throughout the week.”

Leach then did something unprecedented: He chose to publicly humiliate the young men he was hired, with many millions, to instruct. Last time we saw anything like what Leach did Saturday, Arizona State coach Frank Kush ran on the field during a game (late 1970s) against Washington at Husky Stadium and slapped his punter, which led to a lawsuit, which Kush lost.

Reporters, as per custom, requested to speak to some specific Cougars players after the blowout in Salt Lake. Leach would have none of it. Instead, he first made his offensive line assemble as a unit and meet the media to explain how, for example, it had allowed quarterback Jeff Tuel to be sacked five times in the first half and six for the game.

After Leach’s offensive linemen were trotted out like suspects in a police lineup, Leach made his defensive unit face the media music and explain how Utes running back John White battered the Cougars for 101 yards on 18 carries while a freshman quarterback completed 17 of 21 passes.

Most coaches opt to keep their beefs with players behind closed doors. Former UW coach Don James, for example, chewed on players, but he did it privately, in a setting where no player had his ego or self-esteem demolished in public.

But Leach apparently is of the mind that public ridicule is the tack to take. One of Leach’s best players, Travis Long, couldn’t make it through the defense’s face-the-media session, reportedly bolting away in tears.

Leach, who has been criticized for his play calling, shouldered blame for Washington State’s dismal performance, saying, “Our effort today was pitiful. It starts with our coaches, with me in particular.”

Based on the way the Cougars played Saturday, it’s easy to see why Leach was angry and upset. But he seems to think he can insult and embarrass the Cougars into becoming a better football team.

Good luck with that.

We don’t think that playing a modern-day Frank Kush, who treated his players like alley curs, is the right approach, and that Leach made more of a negative spectacle of himself than his players did. But that’s just what we think. What do you think?


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  • Michael Kaiser

    I find Leach terribly refreshing in this age of “everyone gets a trophy because, well, they are alive!” And as for Frank Kush, it seems to me that his reign at ASU coincided with the last stretch that ASU was consistently relevant within their sphere. We live here in the Puget Sound area at the epicenter of the Kumbaya approach and life, that is why we have such a difficult time accepting someone with Leach’s approach. And Leach was hired to win, not “instruct.” The players can go to class to be “intruct[ed].” Leach is there to teach them how to win, year in and year out. Lord, a Bear Bryant would not even be allowed to coach these days because he would offend our “sensibilities.”

  • Matt712

    The only method to that level of madness I can fathom is that Leach is trying to create a military bootcamp environment, where the individual is broken and torn down to nothing, then rebuilt back up into a new man. Psychologically, it’s supposed to create an incredibly strong bond between teammates (soldiers) along with an intense loyalty to leadership.

    Problem is, this is not a war of nations. Actual lives and countrymen are not at stake here. This is college football. It’s supposed to be some of the best, most joyous and formative years of these young people’s lives, win or lose. Not a cause for post traumatic stress disorder.

    I’m not saying they should be coddled either. But, the best coaches are able to find and stop short of the breaking point. It’s a process of redemption where the player, no matter how hard he feels he’s being treated, still knows he is valued. That balance known as “tough love.”

    Right now with Leach, it doesn’t look like there’s any love mixed in with the tough.

  • Erick

    I’m not a fan of the participation trophy mentality, but this is college football…and not in a southern state. These kids have too many other things going on to be constantly chastised by their own coach while not being paid and not being very good in the first place. I don’t expect any of them are expecting to go pro, they are just trying to have a great time and hopefully win some games. The fans will watch, as long as the team puts out their best each week, even if their best isn’t that good.

    Leave the do-or-die attitude to Alabama, or the pros where million dollar paychecks are on the line.

  • Will

    If “win at all cost” is the philosophy, then zealot coaches are what you’ll get. Be thankful Captain Bligh, I mean Coach Leach doesn’t use a cat o’ nine tails on the players.

  • RadioGuy

    Although I’ve said here and elsewhere that Leach has brought a sense of accountability and expectation to WSU football that has been lacking for years, I’m starting to think he should back off the throttle a bit in his public criticism of his players…but just a little bit. At the very least, that can’t help in recruiting high school players to sign letters of intent with his program.
    Still, as Marquess Wilson’s suspension indicates, some of Paul Wolff’s recruits haven’t figured out that there’s a new warden in Pullman and the inmates no longer run the asylum.
    Mike Leach is going to need at least two more years of bringing in players who’ll fit with his system to make it work (assuming it will) because he didn’t inherit a lot of talent.

  • jafabian

    No issues with Coach Leach. Both he and Moos are trying to build a winning program that by and large has been inconsistent even during the Walden and Price eras. Heck, Walden use to do the same but would throw in some folksy humor with it but if you read between the lines he was still publicly chastising a player from time to time. He just didn’t use a name and Coach Leach has avoided that as best he can. No difference to me.
    Win at all costs? Sure, when you’re trying to bounce back from a 9-40 record since 2008.

  • bart4u

    I live in Los Angeles and I have no connection to this school. I am in my 50’s and I am embarrassed how this coach treats his players. A parent would never do this to their kids. A coach is suppose to teach and lead young adults. The actions he has taken are disturbing. Not only not a parent would not do this but if an employer did this they would be sued. I believe the school administration needs to fire this coach.

  • bart4u

    The school might have possible lawsuits from the players because of this coach. It is sad what this coach is doing. Why was he fired in TX.