Mike Leach Helps Keep Pullman Weird
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 1, 2011
Pullman’s not Los Angeles. But you knew that. Pullman isn’t Seattle, which you also knew. Pullman is different: it’s more accepting of, let’s say, quirky personalities. Not crazy, mind you; when it comes to crazy, Pullman is as unforgiving as any place in America. But Pullman is a place where a coach can let his hair down, such as Mike Price did for a generation. It’s quirk-friendly, in short. When coaching the Cougars, you can be yourself. You can be wacky. You can call out your players’ girlfriends, co-host the evening news, make jokes and crack wise — it’s cool. It’s Pullman. Also: you can win.
Take Price, for example. Before becoming infamous for his short stint at Alabama, prior to his two Rose Bowl berths, Price was known for this: motivating his team for a date with Oregon in 1989 by conducting practice clad in hunting gear, a shotgun nestled in the crook on his arm. Duck hunting.
Or later that same year, surprising his team with a devil’s costume — horns, cape, pitchfork and yes, tights — in advance of a game against Arizona State. Win some, lose some: Price’s motivational tactics worked against Oregon, a 51-38 win, but the Cougars lost to the Sun Devils. It’s cool to be cool in Pullman.
Price’s predecessor, Jim Walden, devoted a section in his book, “Tales From the Washington State Sideline,” to the relationships between players and co-eds. “Some programs get in trouble because they’ve forgotten one important fact,” wrote Walden. “They run a football program, not an escort service.”
According to legend, Walden’s tendency to let his mouth get him in trouble led then-university president Glen Terrell to create a formatted document called “The Walden Release.” The document, which would be issued after Walden’s most recent misguided statement, would lead with a simple disclaimer: “Walden’s comments do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Washington State University.”
Bring on your outfits, your eye patches, your quips, your potentially controversial comments and your pirate jokes. Mike Leach probably would have gone anywhere — any B.C.S. conference program, at least. Kansas, for example, would have given Leach an annual shot at Texas Tech, and you know he would have loved to drop 50 on his first trip to Lubbock with the Jayhawks. Instead, Leach chose Washington State.
Marriages always look good on paper. Most, at least. This marriage, of a coach who wanted back in and a program who wanted to upgrade, looks better than most. On a football-only level, Washington State reeled in a coach whose high-flying offense philosophy will play well with a fan base accustomed, once upon a time, to offensive fireworks.
Leach has restored trust to the football program; Moos touched on the apathy of the fan base earlier in the week, when he acknowledged that the program needed to put more “butts in the seats” at Martin Stadium. Fan interest: restored. In return, Moos and Washington State will pay Leach more than $2 million a year with another $1.8 million allocated to his assistants. That latter number is huge, not to mention meaningful — and more than Arizona allocated to Rich Rodriguez to fill out his staff.
Pullman and Leach. That’s another aspect of this partnership that fits, as a locale kind to those who spend time outside the box — like a Price or Walden — finds a coach who doesn’t fit within our perceived notion of how a football coach should act, think or talk. This is a coach who wanted players who would leave their helmet on when they fight. “We’re looking for smart football players, not dumb ones,” Leach said.
Prepare to be entertained. Leach will be given free rein to remake this program in his image, which will mean high-powered offense and far less defense, such as it was with the Red Raiders. He’ll have Washington State in bowl play in 2012, though whether Leach raises the Cougars to Lubbock-level heights — winning 11 games, for example — hinges on his ability to entice California-based recruits to travel north.
Don’t worry. Be happy. Leach inherits a team that, through this past weekend, ranks 33rd nationally in total offense, 48th in scoring and 9th — yes, 9th — in passing. He inherits Marquess Wilson, the nation’s sixth-most prolific receiver. He’ll have two quarterbacks, junior Jeff Tuel and redshirt freshman Connor Halliday, from which to take his pick.
The offense will hit the ground running. Throwing, rather. For Leach, an entire coaching philosophy can be boiled down to one comment after his Red Raiders beat Nebraska, 70-10, in 2004:
“The interesting thing about football is that football is the only sport where you quit playing when you get a lead. In golf, you keep trying to score well when you’re ahead. In basketball, they don’t quit shooting when they’re ahead. In hockey, they don’t quit shooting when they’re ahead. In boxing, you don’t quit punching when you’re ahead. But in football, somehow, magically, you’re supposed to quit playing when you’re ahead. Well, I don’t subscribe to that. I don’t do it like that.”
What Leach does is coach outside the lines, often aggravating opponents and sometimes aggravating his own supporters, such as he did at Texas Tech. He doesn’t play nice, though he pokes and jabs in jest, not with malice. He protects his own, seals up the borders surrounding his team and program, and if you don’t like it… well, tough luck.
Pullman loves it. Pullman loves us-against-the-world, would rather roll in under the radar and knock off the big boys than be hyped in August. When it comes to football, Pullman doesn’t mind being a little unorthodox. It doesn’t get any more untraditional than Mike Leach. And being a little different has always been good for Washington State.
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Tags: Bill Moos, Mike Leach, Mike Price, Washington State
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