BY Art Thiel 08:36PM 11/29/2019

Thiel: Huskies offer truth to Leach, who rants

Huskies needed a change of game plan. Cougars stuck to theirs. The result: A 7th consecutive Apple Cup loss for WSU, whose coach, Mike Leach, lashed out at a columnist.

QB Jacob Eason went helmetless to celebrate his three-yard keeper for a touchdown in the second quarter Saturday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Normally sports history is written after the big game. Ever the iconoclast, Washington Huskies senior C Nick Harris decided to write history before the Apple Cup. He took out a Sharpie Thursday and, along the bottom of his game undershirt, wrote in big letters, “WE DON’T LOSE TO COUGS.” He put an X through the final word.

“It’s just truth — no inspiration,” he said. “I’m a a truthful person. I like to keep it real. This time I did it on my shirt.”

The shirt now is part of game lore that goes back a century. Which seems like the same amount of time since Washington State beat the Huskies.

Actually, it’s just seven years. But in a world that now measures nanoseconds, it’s a long time.

So long that, following the Huskies’ 31-13 triumph (box) Friday that fulfilled Harris’s forecast, Cougars coach Mike Leach found the truth too much. He spoke what he thinks is his truth, even though it revealed what he didn’t want known: He can’t take the pressure that comes with truth.

Post-game, he jumped all over longtime Spokesman-Review columnist John Blanchette, apparently over long-standing grievances. He did it in an insulting, petty way that will not enhance the resume of a guy who annually appears atop the list of candidates for other jobs, which is a season of its own that begins this weekend with the bloodletting among college coaches who lose too much.

Leach began his by-now-traditional defense of losing to the Huskies by citing the disparity in recruiting classes between the schools, suggesting that the Huskies’ collection of superior athletes automatically means they should win, and thus is no surprise.

“So, you’re not supposed to beat teams that have higher-ranked recruiting classes,” Blanchette said.

“Well, we certainly have before. We certainly have before. We didn’t win this one,” Leach said. “I don’t care to have a big discussion with you on it because I really don’t care what you think.”

As another question started to be asked, Leach cracked and spewed toward Blanchette.

“You run your mouth in your little column and stuff like some sanctimonious troll,” Leach said. “Where you’ve never been fair or even-handed with us, so I really don’t care what you think. Because you’re going to write some nasty stuff anyway like you always do, and I don’t know which Coug way back when did something that offended you, and I really don’t care about that, either.

“You can live your little meager life in your little hole and write nasty things, and if that makes you feel even . . . you go right ahead. OK, next.”

Leach’s tirade checks the box at the top of the list in the helpful guide, “How to Recognize a Petty Tyrant.” He attacked the messenger. Taking no responsibility for his own shortcomings that contributed to the Cougars’ annual shellacking, Leach lashed out childishly with vituperation that demonstrates dubious fitness for the job at a school in a big-time conference.

What happened Friday on the field, a cold but sunny and dry track at sold-out Husky Stadium, was the same thing that happened a year ago in Pullman in darkness and snow: Leach was out-smarted, and failed to find Plan B when A failed.

For years, the Huskies have pounded the Cougars senseless with a running game. The seven consecutive wins have been by a combined score of 203-99. But after a terrible outing the past Saturday in a 20-14 loss at Colorado, UW coach Chris Petersen temporarily shelved the rush for the pass, due in no small part to the fact that the Cougars have parted ways over the past year,  for various reasons, with 12 members of their secondary.

“Coming out of Colorado, we didn’t want to be in a situation where we try to pound it, and not take enough chances (with the pass),” said Bush Hamdan, the Huskies’ beleaguered offensive coordinator who needed this game to bolster his job security. “We wanted to be aggressive, take some shots. Getting into a throw-first style is different than what we’ve done.”

Doing something different? Huh. What a thing.

“It’s no secret that every (defense) is going to play in the box with 11 guys eight yards from the ball, and pack it in there (against UW),” Petersen said. “If they were going to do that, we were going to have to hit some plays downfield. That happened today. It’s the only way to operate.

“That’s been a little bit of our problem. We have needed to throw more efficiently, and if you can’t, you’re going to have problems.”

At first, it looked grim. The Cougars opened splendidly, with an 81-yard, 13-play scoring drive that took six minutes, as QB Anthony Gordon’s short-pass game shredded UW’s defense. As it turned out, the touchdown would be their only one of the afternoon for an offense that scored 54 points the previous week in a one-point win over Oregon State.

Washington’s first pass attempt resulted in a sack of QB Jacob Eason. The second play was an incompletion, followed by a four-yard pass to WR Terrell Bynum when 15 yards were needed for a first down. What are they doing?

After a three-and-out exchange of punts, Washington’s next possession started with a run, two yards from freshman RB Richard Newton. Then the shot was called.

Eason unfurled a towering chuck over CB George Hicks that Bynum caught for a 57-yard gain to the WSU 12-yard line. Three running plays later, Eason scored his first rushing touchdown when he powered a keeper from three yards to tie.

“Once we hit the first big one to Bynum, it’s a confidence thing,” said Hamdan. “Guys loosened up.

“We felt all week that there would be opportunities when (WSU) played us tight.”

Seven and sometimes eight defensive backs stymied Gordon and allowed the UW rush to sack him five times, as well as forcing him to throw two interceptions. But Leach, as always, stuck to the Air Raid and produced only two field goals the rest of he way.

The Cougars had more time of possession, more first downs, more passing yards, and were better on third downs, with fewer penalties. Didn’t matter that Gordon hit on 18 of 21 passes in the first quarter, and 48 of 62 overall.

“It’s not about yards or time of possession — it’s points,” said Petersen. “You have to be patient in letting them do those things, then strike when you can. Make them kick a field goal, or get a sack to knock them back.

“I thought our guys executed to a T. The D-line expended a lot of energy and it’s frustrating (getting to Gordon), but I thought they did a great job.”

Petersen had to make a change to get to 7-5. Leach stayed with what he knew and is 6-6, embarrassing himself and the program by hurling insults at outsiders. Nasty things? Seven losses in a row to the arch-rival is a nasty thing.

As Harris put it, “Nobody in that (Huskies) locker room has lost to the Cougars.”

As long as Leach puts more passion into grudges than the gridiron, it will stay that way.

After the win, Huskies C Nick Harris proudly displays his game shirt mocking the Cougars. / Ar Thiel, Sportspress Northwest




  • 1coolguy

    It was a fine game, but with the right OC the Dawgs would have scored more. The downside to this game is if this lets CP rationalize another season with Hamdan as OC.

    Washington (2009–2011)
    (Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks Coach)
    Alabama (2012–2013)
    (Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks Coach)
    Michigan (2014)
    (Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks Coach)
    Florida (2015–2017)
    (Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks Coach)
    Dallas Cowboys (2018–present)
    (Tight Ends Coach)

    Doug Nussmeier just might want to return to his NW roots.

    On his 3 years he coached up Locker into a 1st round draft choice and Kieth Price had his best year with a 161 QB rating.

    Interestingly, Brownings’ last year was 142 and guess what? Thru the WSU game Eason’s is 142 also.
    If CP doesn’t act, Jen needs to make the call!

    • art thiel

      Nussmeier has a proven record, and thus a good suggestion. But if we bash Hamdan over COL, he must be credited for the WSU plan. You might say it was all Petersen, but we’ll never know that.

      And I hope you were being facetious about Cohen interfering in football ops short of allegations of criminal misbehavior.

      • 1coolguy

        Cohen’s job, ultimately, is making sure every game is a sellout, and this year they have not been. Her involvement in the OC discussion should be to offer CP every asset at her disposal to find a qualified OC, and to in no uncertain terms indicate a change is needed, if he tells her no change is under way.
        In the end, she is the boss, sellouts are of prime importance, and CP’s allegiance to past players, though commendable, cannot stand in the way of creating a top 10 program. Hamdan is the impediment.
        Viewed another way, isn’t it great to talk about the success of Lake as the DC and the players he coaches up? That discussion will never take place with Hamdan.
        Another way to look at it is: How many contacts does Lake get from other programs? How many contacts does Hamdan get? You would know the answer to this better than any of your readers, Art.

        • unknownone

          No. Just no. Cohen’s job is to oversee the athletic department and, when necessary, to make performance-based decisions on the HEAD coaches. There is zero need for her to get involved in decisions on the qualifications of assistant coaches in any sport to continue in those roles. Her area of expertise is on the business/marketing/administrative side of the athletic department, not on the football/basketball/baseball/volleyball/soccer/etc. side. Fortunately, all indications are that she’s smart enough to know the difference. The last thing we need is for her to take your advice, channel some inner chainsaw dan Snyder alter ego, and turn the Washington huskies into the Washington redskins.

          • 1coolguy

            So what everyone here is saying is they think Hamdan is the best OC Washington can hire????? If CP doesn’t pull the trigger, it is incumbent of the head person to step in – it’s a business, remember? And a business succeeds when it wants to win, never settle.
            SO please be my guest and sign on and tell me Hamdan is the best OC the Huskies can hire, Art included.

        • art thiel

          The notion of sellouts as primary importance ended somewhere in the 90s when the TV contracts started getting stupid. Big gate revs are nice, but a way smaller slice of the pie these days.

          Hamdan is in his second year as OC. No 2nd-year guy gets much of a rep.

        • 2nd place is 1st loser

          Attendance is just milk money for most if not all sports anymore. The real cash cow is TV revenue, Attendance is not a tool that has much weight.

  • Tian Biao

    Art thanks for highlighting that rant by Leach. I can’t figure him out: he seems intelligent, but at the same time, he’s too stubborn to change something that’s obviously not working. and that tirade was painful to watch. in your previous column you mentioned something about espn/fox parachuting to pullman to giggle in supplication. but from up close, he’s a lot less amusing. the man can’t admit to making a mistake, as in the Obama fake-video deal. I wonder when the Cougar donors and alums will start to get fed up. seven straight to the huskies won’t help him there . . .

    • art thiel

      Those who work with him daily see the bully, the tyrant. He wears people out. But he knows how his eccentric ways charm the networks, who do fly-by journalism.

      I don’t know if WSU will ever have the stones to fire him. But some other school desperate for football wins will forgive his sins and hire him away.

      • Husky73

        Leach wanted the Tennessee job. He called the series of events that led to him not being hired by the Vols as a “coup d’etat,” something Trump is now saying about impeachment.

  • woofer

    “Leach lashed out childishly with vituperation that demonstrates dubious fitness for the job at a school in a big-time conference.”

    WSU is in bind. The Palouse is a lovely magical place. And while the Pac-12 may be some sort of “big-time conference”, Pullman’s remote location consigns the Cougs to a small-time role. Limited budget combined with limited appeal to both first-rate recruits and first-rate coaches makes it a permanent second-tier destination.

    With regard to coaches, the school has a choice between being a very brief stepping stone for young top hires on the way up the ladder, a retirement destination for mediocre practitioners, or a safe house for talented coaches burdened with personality defects that disqualify them for higher profile jobs in major media markets.

    Leach obviously falls in the last category. He’s a smart guy who is good at scrounging the dumpsters for salvageable morsels that others have discarded. He succeeds more often than he fails. He very much wants out but, despite his record, no top level program is willing to take on the baggage. So he stays put. He can insult the Cougar sports beat writer in Spokane all he wants because few notice and even fewer care.

    Being in the middle of nowhere, Pullman can get away with being a low security facility. There are no fences. The inmates are free to wander wherever they please. But when the sun goes down and the cold wind rises, they always somehow find their way back.

    • art thiel

      Well said, woofer. Leach has put the school in a bind, as he did in his previous job at Texas Tech. But they finally had enough and fired him.

      I do not agree with describing his program as “scrounging for morsels.” Yes, he takes players others pass on, but they’re college kids who deserve every chance to succeed in system built to exploit them. Let’s not make it worse.

  • Will

    I am neither a Coug or a Husky, I’m just a person who enjoys watching football games.

    Today’s Apple Cup was more or less the typical collegiate football game, filled with ups and downs, mistakes and surprises. Sadly tho, the game was superseded by a press conference.

    Mike Leach has consistently shown himself to be stubborn, boorish, hostile and a denier of objective truths, especially when things don’t go his way.

    Additionally, more than once his interpretations of history and people have skewed towards weirdness and extremism. His assorted verbal attacks, of tossing others under the bus are well-known – yet he remains at the helm of a football team.

    After today’s game, his unabashed pettiness and name-calling transcended sport and crossed into a dangerous place. Aside from this unnecessary nasty attack on a journalist, does he understand the potential consequences of his rage, his words?

    In today’s polarized landscape violence has come too easy, especially when well-known individuals aim their tirades and hatred towards a singular person.

    Coach-speak, while often boring and riddled with clichés, is far more desirable than listening to a person in a leadership position spewing insults and hatred.

    I doubt a simple reprimand from the school will dent Leach’s hide. Seems to me, WSU should hold him accountable for his verbal assaults, even to the point of firing him.

    • art thiel

      Leach has always been a bully. He gets away with it because he brings football success to places that haven’t had much of it. Rather than meet John privately and talk about his issues, he unloads in public to rile up his supporters.

      There’s no justification for it. Nor will there be any real consequences for it.

      • Will

        Perhaps there will be no consequences until, that is, Leach has a Woody Hayes Moment.

        Some might remember “Sucker Punch Hayes”, coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes and his bullying of the press. One of his infamous dealings with was prior to the 1973 Rose Bowl.

        Hayes, while crossing the field saw photographers waiting for him. Growling, “That ought to take care of you, you son of a bitch”, he violently pushed a camera into a LA Times photographer’s face, injuring him.

        But it wasn’t until Hayes punched a player from the other team – during a game – that he was fired.

        • art thiel

          I’ve never seen Leach react physically to anything. Most bullies are that way when confronted.

  • Talkjoc

    Cougar fans here on the East side of the state, including some in the media, are love-struck by Leach on his boorish take on anything not football. JB is about the only reporter to ask tough questions. Leach is still p*ssed he didn’t get the Tennessee job. Over here Dawgs fans share DC Jimmy Lake’s take, I hope he stays forever. Woof.

    • art thiel

      Personal bias here, but John is a superb thinker and writer, unafraid to tell truth to power, even in a smaller market where the pressure is strong to get along. Leach is overmatched.

  • coug73

    I remember the Irish Coug Coach who got fired for losing to the Dawgs with a 14pt WSU lead late in the 4th quarter. Leach has never had a 14pt lead against the Dawgs.

    • art thiel

      Jim Sweeney. Simpler times.

      • Husky73

        Jim Sweeney did the radio broadcast for years with Bob Robertson….BOB: “Well, here we are on Washougal Lions Club serape day, not to mention the camper caravan from Asotin, and the Cougars are now faced with a third and eight on their own 26. They haven’t had much luck with the option thus far, so Jim, what would you dial up here?” JIM: “I like potatoes.”

        • coug73

          Me thinks you are writing about Jim Walden.

          • Husky73

            The worst in history was Paul Sorensen. It was always a conspiracy against WSU.

          • GuyBird

            Similar to Damon Huard, then. Except the conspiracy is against UW.

  • busterbluth

    Leach is who he is. Unfortunately, that happens to be a narcissistic a$$h@!e. It seems that most of the things he said about Blanchette are in reality true about himself. He has to settle for being a big shot at a football outpost while still pining for a bigger gig somewhere (anywhere!) else. I think he loves the attention he gets every offseason from other jobs, but it’s ultimately his own defective personality that keeps any and all sane ADs from hiring him. It’s no wonder he’s a Trump fan, with all of the self-righteous but non-factual garbage that he spews. That, and the never shouldering the blame for anything bad that happens.

    • 1coolguy

      Who said “you can keep your plan, you can keep your doctor” 28 times? Speaking of outright liers.

      • busterbluth

        Good grief are you dense. You really want to compare Obama to Trump on the subject of lying? That’s like a puddle vs an ocean.

        Speaking of Obama and Leach and lying , do you remember this?

        • 1coolguy

          Almost 5 MILLION people lost their health insurance and had to buy into the crappy Obamacare, including myself. If you didn’t go through this nightmare, you have no standing. My premium went from $390 under Blue Cross to $1,530 for the same plan under Obamacare. And yes, my doctor dropped me.

          • busterbluth

            Trump’s got 12,000 lies and counting now. And he’s made numerous attempts to get rid of millions of people’s healthcare while blatantly lying about replacing it with something better. If this is what you choose to focus on then that’s your problem.

      • Husky73

        You COULD keep your doctor and your plan…unless your doctor’s services and his plans were so weak that they did not meet the basic ground floor requirements of the ACA. The day Obama left office 15.2 million MORE Americans had health insurance, compared to the day he took office.

      • Effzee

        Speaking of pathetic, petty, bald-faced lying in politics…. How’s that impeachment charade going? LMFAO. Russia-gate? Mueller? I dunno… Call me crazy, but maybe you guys could put some energy into finding a candidate worth voting for? Maybe try to remove him thru good ideas and charisma instead of flamethrowers and witch hunts?

        • Husky73

          Of all the nations on earth, Trump took an interest in Ukraine. I wonder why? Never in his life had Trump been interested in “corruption,” (he could have started in the Trump Organization) and then he was… Ukraine. I wonder why? “So, here’s the deal, do us a favor though…You’ll get the Congressionally approve military aid after you conduct an investigation into the Bidens, OK? Better yet, you don’s even have to do the investigation— just SAY that you’re doing it, and the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Energy, and Rudy (my consigliere) will have your back. I’ll even throw in a visit to the White House.” Quid. Pro. Quo. This for that. Pressing a foreign government to launch political investigations for his political benefit in an election overseen by the Federal Election Commission is a crime, and justifies Constitutional impeachment.

    • art thiel

      The parallels to Trump are remarkable.

      There are numerous desperate ADs out there who will hire him, thinking they can corral him. The video, however, will make it harder to sell to presidents and chancellors.

      • rosetta_stoned

        There are plenty of coaches – past and present – who’ve behaved just as poorly as Leach. Some even went beyond saying mean words at a press conference. Yet, none of them were Trump fans.

        • art thiel

          He’s set an aspirational example for all.

      • Husky73

        Leach wanted the Tennessee job. He called the events that led to him not getting the job “a coup d’etat.” Trump uses that phrase to describe the impeachment hearings.

  • ll9956

    The Dawgs’ earned a tip o’ the hat yesterday. Before the game I commented that Petersen has a way of making improvements (in his coaching) after a bad loss. The mystery that arises is how could he and his staff do such an abysmal job of getting the players ready to play one week and do such a great job of it the next week?

  • nolan

    Leach is a min-Trump. spewing hatred and falsehoods to his ‘loyal’ fans. I hope in the future he is on the receiving end of this or the president of the university wakes up and fires him. P.S. I’m not a UW fanboy,

  • jafabian

    Some coaches have lost their job due to a lack of success in their rivalry game but I don’t see that being an issue for Coach Leach. He fits well with WSU and the community and at least gets the team into bowl games. In fact his PAC-12 bowl game record is better than Coach Petersen’s. I thought maybe he would have like to have taken Husky DC Jimmy Lake’s comments of last year that he’s inflexible in his play calling but he only proved him right. It’ll be interesting to see if Coach Petersen is as equally inflexible in initiating any changes with his coaching staff.

  • Husky73

    And now….Chris Petersen is gone. I am stunned.

  • GuyBird

    Art, you know I’m a Coug, and I bleed crimson. The thing that is perhaps most disappointing about the press conference debacle is all the Coug fans who are gleeful about Leach’s conduct. There are a few of us who are aghast and who wouldn’t mind him catching the first train out of town, but the vast majority of Coug fans — at least the ones on social media — think that Blanchette got what he had coming to him and are celebrating Leach giving it to “the man.”