BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 11/06/2012

Thiel: Leach showing how hard the WSU job is

Mike Leach will never have the leverage of his first year again, so he’s running off WSU players now. But can he replace them with top-tier talents in Pullman as he did in Lubbock?

In happier times in January after his hire, Washington State coach Mike Leach was surrounded by ex-Cougar greats. From left, Rueben Mayes, Drew Bledsoe, Robbie Tobeck and Jack Thompson; talents the likes of which will be hard to get to Pullman again. / Washington State University

After Mike Leach offered such flattering terms as “zombies” and “empty corpses” to describe his Washington State football team (I’m still checking with the Seattle PD forensics to explain the latter), the temptation is great to continue this end-of-life Palouse motif with “dead man walking.”

But that would be wrong. Because for all the gasps, shudders, swoons and chortles Leach is producing with the castigations of his team, the 2012 season is his first, last and best chance to clean house.

Never will he have a stronger hand to play than in his first year when the WSU administration and athletic director that hired him have the leverage to forgive him his trespasses.

Leach probably knew in the first five minutes of his first practice that he did not have a competitive team for the Pac-12 Conference, but amid all the genuflection that attended his arrival, there was no way he could say anything.

He had to wait for others to see the evidence. It started rolling in with the first game, a 30-6 loss at Brigham Young, and climaxed Saturday with a 49-6 lost at Utah. The Cougars were a tidy 12-79 in the Beehive State, making them as welcome at the Mormon tabernacle as a buttermilk kegger.

Looking at the football talent level, Leach has decided many of the recruits of his predecessor, Paul Wulff, aren’t going to help him win. A messy business, this. He wants them to go away, and the NCAA rules make it convenient because athletic scholarships are renewed on an annual basis, not a four-year ride as the mythmakers once claimed.

But if Leach simply throws them out without the proper foreshadowing, he risks alienating parents, high school coaches and his overall recruiting reputation. He has to first make a case. Sadly, his players are making it for him, as he knew they would, going 0-6 so far in league and 2-7 overall, with little hope of winning in the final three games.

Harsh as has been his language and attitude, he likely will get a pass from the Cougars legions, who are more sick of losing than they are worried about hurt feelings. If fans cared more about feelings, helpfulness, courtesy and pleasantness, Washington State would have hired C3PO. Fans don’t care about those things, so AD Bill Moos hired Darth Vader.

In his first year of a contract that makes him the state’s highest-paid employee at more than $2 million annually, Leach knows that his bosses have his back, because to even censor him, much less fire him, would make them look like morons for having failed utterly to understand what made him good in 10 years Texas Tech and what made him fired.

Simply put, Leach eventually wears out people around him. Same was said about former Mariners manager Lou Piniella. Both are bright, passionate men who understand people and their industries well. But they are demanding to the point of recklessness. As the saying goes, they are high maintenance.

Leach is betting that the survivors of his first season, coupled with players recruited to his specifications, will come together fast enough that that success will allow all his transgressions to be forgiven.

Worked in Lubbock. Might not work in Pullman.

Even though many at the time of Leach hire made analogy to the two college towns as similarly small, forlorn specks in the empty spaces of civilization, the analogy fails because Texas, along with Florida and Southern California, are homes to America’s greatest collections of prep football talent.  There’s a reason “Friday Night Lights” was not written about, nor cinematically examined, in Pullman.

Every football-playing kid growing up in Texas or Oklahoma believes he will one day star for one of the two giant state universities. When they don’t get recruited to either, these thousands end up at lesser schools like Texas Tech, all heated up to bring down the miscreants who slighted them.

There is no similar wellspring of talent in the Northwest, where perhaps two or three dozen players annually will become big-school starters in their college careers. Still, a lot of players end up at Washington State and are thrilled — because they aren’t in the Big Sky Conference or worse. Leach has tasked himself with finding recruits who will fill his roster from vast distances and who are unwanted by the other 11 conference schools, all of which are more attractive to a a greater number of players.

Big job, requiring odd tactics.

It is certainly true that former WSU coach Mike Price once had three consecutive 10-win seasons in Pullman. It is also true that America landed men on the moon in the 1960s, but can no longer. Times change. That was then, this is now. Despite great advances is technology, the moon is farther away than ever. So is Pullman.

Leach has begun to set fire to the Palouse football landscape. We can tell by the empty corpses. He needs to move fast to avoid joining them.


  • Michael Kaiser

    Leach will be coaching the Huskies in four years. Watch.

    • RadioGuy

      Why would he want to? UW fans have been spoiled by their past success, and his act would not fly in a touchy/feely place like Seattle. Could you imagine the outcry if he’d called the Huskies a bunch of hollow corpses?
      Say what you will about Pullman (and everyone else has), but I don’t think it’s a bad place for him to reinvent his career. It won’t take him an hour or two to drive from one end of town to another, Cougar fans will be a lot less hypersensitive about Leach’s bombast, Bill Moos is much more likely to have his back in lean times than someone like Scott Woodward, losing has already been lived with on a too-often basis at WSU and winning there will never be taken for granted.

      • Michael Kaiser

        Oh, i think Pullman is a perfect place for him too. And, you are right, I also had paused to consider that if the Pullman faithful are having a hard time with Leach, although many of the malcontents are on this side of the mountains, he would probably have a much harder time in the Seattle area.

      • art thiel

        You’re right, Radio. WSU will never take winning for granted. And Woodward would never hire a guy like Leach. Too many distractions.

    • art thiel

      Big Bird will coach at UW before Leach.

      • Will

        Really? I think BB is tall enough to coach either basketball or volley ball …..

  • mtk

    Times change. So have the children of today. Leach may have had his time and place in Texas a few years back. Tougher sledding for his ilk going forward, for better or worse.

    • MIchael Kaiser

      Just because some pot heads and supporters of gay marriage might be swinging an election or two, with the former of course about to have their “victory” slammed back in their face by the feds, that does not mean the culture of society, or even this area, is THAT changed. People are still people–especially within the span of an eye blink of time (which means even decades of time in many respects)–and yet I think many Seattle folks have a tendency these days to think of themselves as somehow on the vanguard of a new (actually old) “Age of Aquarius.” Not. In fact, I am in New York as we speak, and it struck me today–especially as people are voting–how New York is a grown-up liberal town, and Seattle is just a weird liberal town, and obviously not grown up as well. Don’t read too much into passing trends or sages with self-perceived locks on the “new future.” People still crave discipline and respect authority. If Leach had won a few more games this year there would not even be a debate about his methods, which of course also shows you how spineless most WSU backers are. Give them a winner and they will quickly forget how “terrible” it is that Leach is saying such “mean” things.

      • art thiel

        Well, Michael . . . duh. When you win, you can get away with anything. Not breaking news.

        His bombast is burning up political capital unnecessarily without the talent pool available in Pullman to give him cover.

        And things in college football do change quickly — not human nature, but recruiting appeals, incentives and attractions.

        And please, let’s leave the liberal/conservative stuff to other sites.

        • Michael Kaiser

          Gosh, does that mean you are going to stop making the same type of veiled cracks in your writing. Amazing double standard in this area. As long as you are shouting with us, you can shout as loud as you want, but if you are even whispering in the other direction, the tolerance for free speech ends quite quickly. Let’s keep the political cracks of my site as well, take my e-mail address off your feed of weekly stories.

          • Hammtime

            Looks like somebody’s sensibilities were offended….

    • art thiel

      Can’t argue. Tolerance for abusive language and behavior is evaporating. Still works in Marine boot camp, but this is a state university, not Camp Pendleton.

  • Big

    Nicely done Mr. Thiel. To many Cougars are in their cups to see the truth in Leach’s methods.

    I’m sure when Leach is gone some will look for Mr. Rogers as the next WSU coach.

    • art thiel

      That’s what the Mariners did after Piniella with Bob Melvin. Doesn’t mean it can’t work, but the pattern is startingly repetitive across all businesses.