BY JOHN D. HUNTER via Oregon Sports News
“I’m done with him.”
“Fire him now!”
“He does the same thing every year … he’s too stubborn. I’m over it.”
Those are just a few of the comments, at least ones I can print, that I heard from Washington State Cougar football fans regarding head coach Mike Leach as we dejectedly exited Husky Stadium on Friday. It was yet another resounding pummeling, and the seventh straight time the University of Washington has dominated the Apple Cup.
But this year feels different.
There seems to be a much bigger contingent of Coug fans who are not only frustrated with another loss to their inter-state rivals but are also questioning whether Leach has worn out his welcome.
Is it the right time to make a change in Pullman? Is it time to step away from the Air Raid offense and get back to a more traditional brand of football? Maybe one with a little defense?
Those are the types of questions I have been hearing from my Cougar friends, ones I have been contemplating as well.
Honestly, for this huge college football fan and WSU alumni, it is a very tough question to answer.
There is no denying the success Mike Leach has had in his eight years in Pullman. Just look at the numbers: five straight bowl games, 55 wins, and countless offensive records broken.
He has changed the culture surrounding the football team in Pullman, and his fundraising and facility improvements cannot be discounted.
The team was mired in mediocrity when Leach took over for Paul Wulff. They had not had a winning season since 2003 and were 4-23 in conference play under Wulff. They were the laughingstock of the Pac-12. Pete Carroll, then the coach at USC, called playing the lowly Cougs in 2008 and not embarrassing them, the hardest coaching job he’s ever had. And that was after winning 69-0.
It took Leach three years to turn the program around, and in 2015 he guided the team to a 9-4 record on the way to winning Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Since then he has won at least eight games including a school-record 11 wins last season.
He certainly got the Cougar community excited about football again.
However, despite all those wins, Leach has one win that is missing from his resume: University of Washington. The one team you HAVE to beat.
Seven straight times, 10 of the last 11 games, WSU has come away the loser. Ugh.
The best way to keep the alumni happy is to beat the Huskies, and Leach just cannot accomplish that.
Yes, the losses are bad, but it is the way the Cougs have lost. They’ve gotten dominated. There are no “what ifs.” They’ve gotten smacked.
Most frustrating of all is the fact Leach refuses to adjust his game plan when facing the Huskies. He runs out the same schemes with little to no variation. U-Dub knows exactly what he will do, and they know how to stop it. And he still won’t adjust.
Isn’t that the definition of bad coaching?
Million Dollar Question
Is now the right time to make a change with frustrations running at their highest levels in years? Leach’s name will surely surface this offseason as schools look for coaching changes, so he may leave on his own.
But should Washington State push him out before he can leave on his own?
I don’t think so, and here’s why.
As stated before, Leach and all his quirkiness have revived a toothless program. He is the type of coach who can succeed in Pullman. The most successful coaches at WSU have all been a different breed: see Jim Walden and Mike Price.
Traditional coaches struggle in Pullman: see Bill Doba and Paul Wulff.
You need a coach like Leach who brings a different brand of football and can tackle the brutal task of recruiting to Pullman. Anyone can tell you Pullman is a difficult place to recruit to, but Leach has been able to do the job. Four- and five-star recruits are few and far between at Wazzu, but Leach has still been able to put together exciting, winning teams.
This season has been a disappointment for sure. After all the success, a 6-6 season is tough to swallow. But the cupboards are full and getting fuller.
If Leach were to leave, are the alumni prepared to weather the storm of losing yet again as a new coach starts over? That means bringing in a different type of recruit, and that takes years. Yes, a new coach will surely have success, but it’s absolutely not a guarantee.
It would, of course, depend on the coach being brought in, but the Air Raid is such a unique scheme. Anyone new would surely have to make significant changes to fit his style.
It takes time to rebuild a program. We’ve had so much fun the past few years actually being in the Pac-12 football conversation; it would be tough to go back.
I believe sticking with Leach is the right call.
He MUST, however, find a defensive coordinator who can whip the defense into shape. The since-departed Alex Grinch was able to do it and do it well. Defense can be played in Pullman; it just takes the right guy.
If Leach is able to take a step back and look at his team through the eyes of his alumni and supporters, he has to make defense his number one priority this off-season.
Oh, and also definitely figure out a way to beat the Huskies.
Mike Leach is far from perfect and stubborn almost to a fault. But his quirkiness and brand of football are perfect for Pullman. Let’s just see if the school feels the same way.