Two weeks ago, I spent time in Pullman with Washington State defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi, a fifth-year senior. Two things he told me:
“Leach came in and he was all business.”
And: “If we don’t make a bowl game, I’ll be really disappointed.”
I can only imagine Laurenzi’s feelings today, after he was booted from the team Thursday in connection with an alleged shoplifting of headphones in Pullman last weekend. We’ll never know Laurenzi’s thought process in all this, but suffice it to say, when your four seasons at the school have produced a 9-40 won-lost record, and you’ve endured grueling winter and summer conditioning — players were pushing weighted sleds under a baking sun one afternoon I was there — it’s beyond perplexing.
Meanwhile, not so confusing is that new football coach Mike Leach indeed means business. He had already cashiered the Cougars’ most talented defensive individual in linebacker C.J. Mizell for a variety of dubious behavior, culminating in an assault charge; and linebacker Sekope Kaufusi after a marijuana arrest. It appeared that the door might be open for Kaufusi’s return after charges were dropped, but then he closed the deal himself by not keeping up academically.
Laurenzi’s ouster means that Leach has offed three of probably the defense’s best six or seven players. My gut feeling is the latest dismissal now puts the odds of WSU getting to a bowl game at less than 50-50; not that Laurenzi was an all-league-caliber player, but he was a veteran, staunch defender who provided a capable body on a position group that is thin.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Leach’s discipline looms tougher than any WSU coach’s in a generation, at least back to Jim Walden in the 1980s. I don’t think Paul Wulff would have booted Laurenzi, nor would Bill Doba. And Mike Price, for all the glory he brought WSU with two Rose Bowl appearances, was a player’s coach who typically didn’t come down hard in such instances. (In 1992, when receiver Phillip Bobo was cited for third-degree theft — the same charge against Laurenzi — for stealing batteries from a Pullman store, Bobo got a one-game suspension.)
So it’s a new day in Pullman. The action slims the chances Leach can sustain a streak of 10 bowl victories in 10 years as a head coach. But it probably strengthens the odds of doing something more notable down the road.
And it leaves no doubt who’s in charge.