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.
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?