BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 01/11/2019

Thiel: Cougs’ Leach may be on to something

Alabama’s No. 2 QB, Jalen Hurts, is contemplating free agency, the same idea that brought Minshew to Washington State. Whaddaya think, Chris Petersen?

Would Mike Leach think about a hired gun every season? / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Gardner Minshew’s single football season at Washington State might have meant more than an 11-2 record, a No. 10 ranking in the final Associated Press poll, and the elevation of fake-mustache production to the hottest industry in U.S. manufacturing.

Minshew may have amplified a trend that could become a Palouse tradition: The annual hire of the best available graduate-transfer quarterback to operate the Cougars’ Air Raid offense.

WSU can pull it off because coach Mike Leach invented perhaps the best single-sentence recruiting pitch since, “Kid, you want it in 50s or 100s?”

In his recruiting call, Leach told Minshew, who was ready to transfer to Alabama just to sit on coach Nick Saban’s bench, “How’d you like to lead the nation in passing?”

It’s football catnip for the cats who want to show out for the NFL.

Minshew was seduced, and Leach delivered, or close enough. Minshew finished second in the nation to Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, vanquisher of the Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl, in passing yardage (4,831 to 4,779). Minshew was also second in completion percentage (70.7).

Minshew isn’t much of a pro candidate, which is almost always the case with Leach quarterbacks, but if he wants, he’ll get workouts and tryouts. More importantly, he’ll never again have to buy a beer anywhere in eastern Washington.

The notion of trend to tradition developed after news Wednesday reported by several media outlets that Alabama’s Jaylen Hurts, the best backup quarterback since Steve Young carried Joe Montana’s laundry, entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

That’s the dorky bureaucratic handle for college free agency. A junior, Hurts graduated in December with a year of eligibility remaining.

The SEC’s offensive player of the year as a freshman, Hurts was 26-2 with championship game appearances in each of the past two seasons as starting quarterback. But he was beaten out for the starting job by sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Hurts won over the college football world by his willingness to stay at Alabama and accept with grace the diminished role. He did play in 13 of 15 games, rushing for 167 yards and two touchdowns and passing for 765 yards and eight scores. He even caught two passes.

Before the CFP semifinal game against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, Hurts told reporters, “I’ve been counted out. I was supposed to do this, I was supposed to do that. Even last year after the (championship) game, I was supposed to be gone. This year, I was supposed to redshirt and do all those things.

“But I’m here. I’m here for this team, and that’s what is most important to me.”

But now he appears to be gone, although he can withdraw from the transfer portal without losing his final year of eligibility.

NCAA rules permit graduates to transfer without a penalty of a year’s sit-out, which is required of undergraduates. Those who have enrolled in a graduate program rarely stay in it after football eligibility expires. From 2011 to 2017, the NCAA reports that the number of graduate transfers has quadrupled.

If Hurts, a Houston native, moves on to play elsewhere, he’s good enough that he will have his choice of schools with higher profiles than WSU, as this ESPN story explains.

Even though WSU may be out-classed for Hurts, the point remains that other QBs this season and in future ones will find WSU more attractive after Minshew’s trail-blazing. He also solved any question over the speed with which a good QB can absorb Leach’s spread offense. It may look a little complicated at first, but the short-pass mayhem is actually simple after repeated practice.

The potential of annual hired guns makes it harder to recruit four-year QBs,  a threat sufficient for the school’s president, Kirk Schulz, to fire out a cautionary tweet Thursday.

Good to know the university president has the time and knowledge to dive into football recruiting. That’s SEC-level overwrought-ness.

Nevertheless, the hired gun is a tactic for which the Huskies have no counter. Because of higher grad-school academic standards and an early application deadline of mid-December — before a potential transfer’s season may be done — Washington can’t play that game.

When the subject of Minshew’s success came up during Apple Cup week, Huskies coach Chris Petersen admitted he was irked at the unequal playing field.

“It’s a lot harder for us to get transfers — that’s my problem with this whole thing,” Petersen said. “It’s not all the same, in terms (of academic standards and timelines).  I just know we haven’t gotten one in here yet. It’s really hard to get that done. At other places, it’s not . . .

“Let’s be real: They’re not going there to get a degree. If everybody is on the same page and a guy is going to come play football, then it’s all good. I’m happy for the guy. I really am. It wasn’t working out where he was, and he’s having this unbelievable experience (in Pullman). I think that’s great. I think you’re going to see more and more of it, but we’re not seeing it here.”

After five consecutive Apple Cup wins, the amount of eye moisture for Petersen’s problem in the Palouse is minimal. But if Hurts should suddenly appear on the WSU campus in a photo enrolling in the veterinary science school’s Master’s program of integrative physiology and neuroscience, with a football tucked under his arm, I would pay large coin to stand in Petersen’s vicinity to observe the subsequent cardiovascular event.

And the Apple Cup would become waaay more compelling.



  • Mark Stratton

    I haven’t seen any evidence yet that Leach cares what the WSU President has to say. A new stud QB every year will help keep the Cougs competitive. As long as their non-conference schedule includes the Little Sisters of the Poor they are no threat to UW. Peterson has so many advantages over Leach when it comes to recruiting; he should just smile and bite his lip. Let the pirate have a few small victories.

    • art thiel

      You’re right about the power structure. It is the president who cares what Leach has to say. Which is generally the case at most FBS schools.

      But I wouldn’t assume that Petersen’s Apple Cup record is bulletproof. That sort of arrogance has bitten the purples in their butts before.

      • canyoncoug

        Until the number of scholarships is reduced from the current 85 at FBS schools, the blue bloods will continue to stockpile talent just so the ‘others’ will not gain access to them. How else does one explain how a Jalen Hurts sat on the bench at Alabama last season and that Minshew would have been a 3rd stringer there as well? This is probably the only mechanism for the ‘others’ to get access to this pool of potential players and try to compete with the blue bloods/level the playing field. Remember, it was the University of Nike (Oregon) who started this whole trend with the poaching of EWU’s QB Vernon Adams a few years back, eh?

        • art thiel

          I believe Russell Wilson was an early adopter, transferring from NC State to Wisconsin.

          The 85 scholarship limit was adopted years ago when 105 was too expensive. But why take an action that hurts players? Haven’t they been exploited enough?

    • Husky73

      Mike Leach and Tucker Carlson share the same expression.

  • DB

    Great analysis, Art. When you are at a disadvantage in recruiting, creative measures are required. The grad transfer angle is just a new wrinkle in the WSU recruiting playbook, as they have been the leaders in bringing in Prop 48 athletes, schooling them up and getting them to meet the NCAA eligibility requirements. See:

    • art thiel

      Wow. A pull from 21 years ago. Well done. Prop 48 seems like such an eon ago in NCAA efforts to cheapen rules without appearing to do so.

  • coug73

    Hear there’s a QB at EWU who may grad transfer. Leach will do what he can to solidify the QB position.

  • tor5

    Very edifying, Art. Thanks. I really don’t know how to improve the tortured “student-athlete” dilemma, but I hope great academic schools like the UW don’t just bend everything to fit sports (or at least not more so). The NCAA needs to overhaul the whole system. The intersection of athletes, academics, and money is madness.

    • art thiel

      For more than 100 years, the NCAA and its predecessors have resisted substantive reform because those of us who pay its bills and hand out salaries don’t care about corruption and abuse. We simply want to be amused.

      • Husky73

        “How am I funny? I’m funny how? Like a clown? Like I AMUSE you? How am I funny?”

        • art thiel


  • Buggy White

    I wonder if Hurts decided he had enough when Saban didn’t give him any playing time at all during the CFP championship game, though the third-string QB got on the field, in the lame fake field goal attempt.

    • art thiel

      I don’t know the house politics in Tuscaloosa, but I do know Hurts is a very good college quarterback who should start somewhere big.

  • DonMac

    You’re right Art when you note that Leach has yet to send one of his quarterbacks to the NFL who has had any real success which is perplexing because Pat Mahomes, Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray all played in air raid offenses employed by their college coaches who were former Mike Leach players/protégés (Sonny Dykes, Kliff Kingsbury and Lincoln Riley). The easy response to that would be that Leach has never coached a quarterback with the talent of the other four quarterbacks just mentioned but Baker Mayfield was a walk-on at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Maybe someday🤔.

    • art thiel

      All of the spread offense QBs we’re talking about have a level of competency to execute the short-pass system that flusters many college defenses. Some of them — the ones you mentioned — can also play the more diverse pro styles, and must, to survive the bigger, faster athletes in pro defenses.

  • mtblaze

    I’m assuming you know CPR.

  • Realist

    Tenth place in the polls, last place in the state.

    • art thiel

      But the snow . . . the snow . . .