In another indication that the wrinkles haven’t been fully ironed out of the Mike Leach regime three years in at Washington State, middle linebacker Darryl Monroe is reported to have quit the Cougars with a year of eligibility remaining. Monroe’s departure was reported by Cougfan.com.
Players come and go all the time, but two things make this a strange one: The preseason profile of the player, and his perplexing performance this year.
Think back to the summer: In early June, when WSU had its tour of the new football operations building, Monroe was one of a couple of veteran players chosen to join the tour, be interviewed and weigh in on the merits of the new facility. I recall him saying that in the locker room, you could “smell victory.”
As the summer progressed, you sensed that Monroe was coming of age, that he had the veteran’s cachet. That was he, the fourth-year junior from Orlando, interviewing newly arrived freshmen on video on the school website.
And then, late in July, that was Monroe, joining Connor Halliday to form WSU’s two-man player delegation to Pac-12 football media day in Los Angeles. You don’t get that honor from your coach unless you’ve earned respect and are recognized as a good representative of the program.
Somewhere — on the field, I’m guessing — it all went south.
Monroe had been WSU’s third-leading tackler in 2013, behind graduated Deone Bucannon and Justin Sagote. He figured to be the leading tackler in ’14.
From the jump, Monroe’s play was a head-scratcher. I looked at tape of both the Rutgers and Nevada losses, and Monroe, bulked up a bit to 235, was slow to react to plays, but more than that, he seemed to take bad angles, ran himself out of gaps and showed little instinct for the ball.
I asked Leach on the Pac-12 teleconference of Sept. 9 what was ailing Monroe. Said Leach, “I think he’s played ‘cluttered.’ He’s got to clear his mind. He’s just got to pull the trigger and do it. I don’t know if he’s thinking too much . . . he needs to focus on just making plays.”
Monroe never did really pull out of it. He was replaced in mid-season by Peyton Pelluer, who doesn’t have Monroe’s quickness, and Monroe’s role continued to decline. Ultimately, it’s inescapable that the shortfall there was a factor in the struggles of the defense, and the eventual firing of coordinator Mike Breske. Monroe again was WSU’s third-leading tackler with 70, and four tackles for loss.
I dug back to a summer, 2013 interview I had with Monroe in Pullman, at which time he’d been in the Leach regime for a year. Being from Florida, and with Chris Ball, the Paul Wulff assistant who brought him to Pullman, no longer on the staff, had it been a difficult decision to stay the course and remain at WSU? Monroe replied that one of the reasons he stayed was assistant coach Paul Volero, another Floridian: “I’m really close with him. We just had a bond. He gave me some great advice, put it that way. He made me feel I was wanted here.”
I suspect Monroe’s departure is more about other things, but Volero was fired Sunday by Leach.
The message seems to be that (a) performance is critical and (b) nothing is forever. Leach, after all, said more than once (I believe as recently as 2013) that this was the best staff he’d ever been a part of. Obviously something changed, given that he’s cashiered three of his assistants since mid-season.
Here’s another thing Monroe said in that interview:
“You gotta separate business, which is what this is, from relationships. Once you step on the field, it’s all football. School, family, whatever — this is business.”
(on best staff ever)