A week ago, assessing the fretful first season of Washington State football coach Mike Leach, I wrote: “Let him do his work, unorthodox though it is.”
I guess I should have specified, something along the lines of “Let him do his work, unless it’s calling out players for an effort ‘bordering on cowardice’ and rounding up offending players and making them appear before the media.”
That’s what Leach did in Salt Lake City Saturday, after the Cougars had dropped a 49-6 blowout to Utah, a team that’s not bad but still has work to do to become bowl-eligible.
As I wrote in Sunday’s editions, it was an extraordinary post-game scene — uncomfortable players being paraded out — one that I haven’t witnessed in 40-plus years of covering the conference. I think even the handful of media members asking questions felt strange, as if we were somehow lieutenants in Leach’s campaign.
We should have known something was up when Leach strode in to meet the media only 13 minutes after the game ended. He has routinely showed up to those sessions 30-40 minutes after the game this year, no matter whether it’s played at noon or whether it ends well past 11 p.m.
At that point, Leach had already done his post-game radio show. What I took from it, after the post-game events were done, is that Leach wanted to get back on a plane to Pullman as soon as possible to map out a course of attack. I wouldn’t have been surprised, honestly, if he’d called a practice for Saturday night when the Cougars got home.
If Leach didn’t cross a line Saturday in the post-game, he trod a very fine one.
After his “empty-corpse quality” comment of Oct. 8, another coach told me, “That’s a slippery slope.” He meant that those are observations that normally stay inside a locker room.
Well, if that was a slippery slope, what Leach coasted down Saturday was something akin to the sledding saucer Clark Griswold mounted in “Christmas Vacation.”
There are all sorts of implications to what he did, including the future of a lot of players with eligibility left at WSU. Leach has all but promised a lot of them won’t be on the roster next year.
Then there’s the issue of whether it could hurt recruiting. I’m guessing probably not. Recruiting is a business of adulation and every coach fosters it in some way, and besides, potential signees wouldn’t see themselves in the same category as the players called out by Leach.
I have to believe there are some fans who shuddered a bit when they heard about it, and perhaps some WSU administrators who might be clearing their throats as well. Whether that’s of any consequence at this stage, who knows?
But the Cougars know by now that for better or worse, they hired Coach Candor.