The Pirate Dancing Dangerously Close To Edge Of The Plank On The Palouse

The last two weeks - which have included star wide receiver Marquess Wilson accusing Mike Leach of abuse - have not been pretty. Is it growing pains or a sign of things to come?

A month and a half ago after watching Washington State University lose in its annual trek to the West Side, I wrote how first-year Coach Mike Leach was in danger of losing the momentum his hiring instantaneously created to start the year.

Now, it appears, he's inching closer to losing control of the program.

The last two weeks haven't been pretty on the Palouse. From the losses to publicly lining up his offensive and defensive lines for media questioning after a shameful performance to watching his star wide receiver walk out on a team practice, Leach continues to be the center of the national talk about WSU.

And if all that wasn't enough, the college sports world discovered the makings of a mutiny against the Pirate over the weekend.

On Saturday, hours before the Cougars even kicked off against UCLA for Dad's Weekend, that star wide receiver who walked out of practice issued a statement to the media explaining why.

Marquess Wilson, the Cougars' all-time leading receiver and its biggest offensive weapon, claimed that he quit the team because of Mike Leach's "physical, emotional and verbal abuse."

Instead of building up confidence in WSU's players, Wilson charged that Leach and his staff "preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us."

Here's an excerpt of Wilson's statement from AOL Sporting News:

My teammates and I have endured this treatment all season long. It is not 'tough love.' It is abuse. This abuse cannot be allowed to continue…I was raised by my family, and many previous coaches to exhibit dedication and embrace sacrifice, but there comes a time when one has to draw a line in the sand.

It came a week after Leach - following an embarrassing 49-6 loss at Utah - ordered his offensive and defensive lines to answer questions from the media during the post-game press conference. Even though he placed much of the blame on himself and his coaching staff for not preparing the players, the tactic raised eyebrows and even drew criticism from some in the sports world.

But Cougar Nation - of which I am a card-carrying member as a WSU grad - expected to see some quirkiness from the Pirate this season, right? We know there is a method to his madness, and if there were any program in the country that needed an old-school butt-kicking to rediscover success, it was ours.

We also knew Leach had a history of doing and saying whatever he needed to get his point across. Remember the "fat little girlfriends" comment he made at Texas Tech? What about his alleged abusive treatment of Adam James - son of ESPN analyst Craig James - that eventually led to his dismissal as the Red Raiders' head coach?

None of it really mattered when WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos announced Leach's hiring almost immediately after last season ended. The school had scored its big fish. He became the highest paid head coach in school history because he would bring us wins. All of a sudden, the most-isolated, least-sexiest football program in the Pac-12 became Eva Longoria hot.

But as the losses accumulated, the excitement over Leach's hiring and predictions of our first bowl game in a decade faded. As it became clear that this was a (gulp) rebuilding year, the things Cougar fans could count on were Leach's did-he-just-say-that reflections of his team and life in general.

Now, his approach is under fire, and some in Cougar Nation are wondering whether Leach provides the best path to the Promise Land.

Rebuilding is never easy. Sportsies like to use metaphors such as "weeding out" the bad elements and retaining/attracting players who will buy into a winning system. Most importantly, rebuilding often requires creating a (sorry, Pete Carroll) "win forever" culture.

But 18 players who have either quit or been dismissed from the team this season? Is this a rebuilding or a gutting? Either way, it puts a lot of pressure on a team that often must make up ground in the talent-and-athletic-ability department.

I still have faith in Leach. He has proven he can win at a smaller, less high-profile school. I think he knows what he's doing. God, I hope he knows what he's doing.

Otherwise, he could lose the program before he even has a chance to resurrect it. I hope local products like Tana Pritchard and Max Hersey will answer Leach's challenge. I hope the small pool of recruits WSU chooses from doesn't get smaller because parents don't want their sons having to endure abuse that's masked as tough love.

The fans, for the most part, are still siding with Leach. At this point, we might as well go all-in. We don't know exactly what caused the rift with Wilson. Quite frankly, if we start winning, I don't think anyone will care.

But if this program continues to endure bad weeks like the last two, if more players start claiming abuse, then the ghosts of Leach's past will have officially followed him to Pullman. The Pirate's ship will be sunk.

He's not there yet, but he's dancing dangerously close to the edge of the plank.

Let me know what you think, Patchers. Is Leach steering the ship in the right direction, or will he run WSU's ship aground? (I know, I'm getting sick of the pirate metaphors too) Tell us in the comments below.

Brent Champaco is a journalist who claims he can make it as a sports journalist. Don't let him fool you.

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Dan November 12, 2012 at 04:48 PM
WSU knew what they were getting when they hired him. If they didn't, shame on them. I have no doubt that he will have them on the right track in another year or two. His antics make for a lot of fun in the press, and they shouldn't get blown out of proportion. However, as a Dawg fan, I have to admit that I'm loving this.
Howard and Barbara Lee November 12, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Leach's coaching style wasn't a secret when he was hired by WSU to turn their football program around. I have heard that some on the team think the accusations against Leach are baseless and blown out of proportion by the media. This could be true since nothing sells more papers than gossip. However, Leach came to WSU with a lot of baggage so any criticism of his program should come under close scrutiny by the school, PAC 12, and NCAA, as well it should. Only time will tell if his "New Direction" will lead the WSU football program away from shoal waters and on to a winning season sometime in the future. Arrrrg!!
Kelly Busey November 12, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Leach knows exactly what he is doing and the results will show that when the program can sustain success. These problems go back to the Bill Doba years. Sit back and drink an "animal beer," Brett (if you're a grad, you'll know what I mean). The victories are coming and we will all see what Leach had to do to change the culture of the program.
John Vidale November 12, 2012 at 07:01 PM
I can't imagine why a parent would allow a kid to play ball at Wazzu if there are other, comparable offers. Looks like Leach is a bully, volatile, and unrepentant. Even if the kid is lucky and avoids a repetition of the several notorious alleged incidents (and we know most players will take their lumps without a press release), the odds are small that a decent fraction of the other critical recruits will also gamble with their college careers. Then there's Pullman, ..., but then I'm at the UW.
Debbie McDonald November 12, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Leach reminds me of lesser version of Bobby Knight. John ask why a parent would allow their kid to play for Leach. Well why did parents let their kids play for Bobby, because he knew how to win. Even when Bobby left Indiana and went to Texas Tech he had them in the NCAA tournament in his first 3 years. I do think Leach has to clean house and get players in there that want to play his style of football. I think he will be able to recruit better then Wulff could. As far as Wilson goes I had heard he tried to quit in the Spring and Tuel talked him into staying. I think he is a bag of sour grapes who walked out on his teammates. WSU needs to allow a coach to build and sustain a winning program. Price was the last coach they had that managed to sustain a winning program, in his 14 season took them to 5 bowl games. I would even give him credit for WSU's last bowl appearence, Doba was riding Price's players to that bowl game. Give him some time to work his magic before sinking his ship.
John Vidale November 12, 2012 at 11:31 PM
He's starting to remind me of Lute Olson's and Bobby Knight's last coaching stands. Strong-willed and losing a sense of what is appropriate. No remorse for erratic judgment, and an either you're with me or against me attitude. We'll see. Personally, winning at any cost is not so compelling, see, for example, Penn State. Price's Alabama adventure is another case of putting winning above morals with an unsavory ending.
Brent Champaco November 12, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Great insight, Howard. I hope the accusations are untrue, as no one likes to see a local program dragged through the mud, my bias aside. I didn't like seeing UW go through it after the National Championship or the Neuheisel scandal.
Brent Champaco November 12, 2012 at 11:51 PM
I know exactly what you're talking about Kelly :) As far as the culture, the winning mindset, that's Leach's biggest challenge. He seems like a coach who can get the most out of players who aren't exactly top prospects. Wes Welker? Danny Amendola? I can't wait until those types of players begin emerging from Pullman.
Brent Champaco November 13, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Excellent points, Debbie. Knight is an excellent example. Leach can also look at the past decade or so for the WSU men's basketball team. I covered the team when Paul Graham was coach. He had some good players, but it seemed like there was just a climate of losing around his teams. Then they brought in Dick Bennett, and eventually son Tony, both of whom implemented a no-nonsense, winning philosophy. The team experienced a tremendous amount of success, and all of a sudden, guys like Klay Thompson wanted to come play in Pullman. My point? The football team is mired in losing, and it needs to do a 180-degree turn. Part of that includes getting rid of players who won't buy into the system. And yes, I too heard reports of Wilson being angry because he didn't start the spring game. I'm not saying he's lying about the allegations, nor am I saying the coach wasn't correct. I am saying that this is a critical point for Leach, as he has to convince players to buy into his system.
Steve Olson November 13, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I'm Husky through and through so I'm an outside observer but this has disaster of epic proportions written all over it. Under Mike Price the team soared to unprecedented heights. He did it without demeaning his players publicly. He did it with a solid sense of humor and certainly outcoached other teams. He sure knew how to coach against us. You don't have to be a tyrant to win at WSU and all this my way or the highway bluster may be hiding an inability to coach. Walden, Price,Doba and even Sweeney exploited the state talent pool by appealing to kids who were turned down by the UW and by coaching them up. I don't buy this culture of losing. They also convinced parents who were worried about their sons that Pullman was a safe place. I can't see how Leach can do that anymore. There is an air around Montlake, and while you can't really describe it, you know what it is. A lot of us Husky fans accepted Rick Neuheisel but it wasn't long before we realized he wasn't exhibiting what it is to be a Husky. We wound up paying for it twice over when we hired Ty Willingham. Even a Husky knows what it looks like to be a Cougar and though we make our little jokes come Apple Cup time, the majority of Husky fans have always respected that quality, even when we got our elitist butts handed to us. Looking at what is happening in Pullman it is hard to imagine any real Coug is comfortable with this Coach and the message he is sending. It's not how a Coug looks.
Kelly Busey November 13, 2012 at 04:31 AM
John Perhaps we can rely on what was said in a 2009 article written by a Texas journalist: "Actually, nothing in this case is simple. Leach is not some head-banging throwback. He's idiosyncratic and incurably outspoken, but nothing suggests he's a sadist or an idiot who would endanger a player. In fact, he is one of the more well-read and thoughtful men in the game, with a large curiosity and a law degree from Pepperdine. More importantly, he's a serious, demanding educator whose team has a graduation rate of 79 percent, eighth best in the country and first in the Big 12 Conference. He trails only Notre Dame (94 percent), Stanford (93), Boston College (92), Duke (92), Northwestern (92), Vanderbilt (91) and Wake Forest (83) in turning out grads, while he also has made nine bowl appearances in nine years." Additionally, I don't mind a coach or teacher pushing my son to be all that he can be. Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree would agree. Lastly, Pullman is a highly desirable spot for a concerned parent to send their kid. Net that many recruits come from pretty tough areas of Los Angeles. You won't find nut jobs like Phoenix Jones on the streets of Pullman, but rather he looks almost in place in the U-District among the street thugs.
dexterjibs November 13, 2012 at 04:33 AM
These adults that play college football need to toughen up a little bit. I was fresh out of hig school and in basic training in the army and alot worse happened to us at the hands of our drill sergeants. It toughened us up and we bonded as a military team. Unfortunately, our country is becoming soft and being run by Nancy Boys and women that want to feminize our country. Now, big tough college football players are the latest victims in this pathetic effort to turn this country into a country full of wimps and victims. Toughen up.
Ken Jones November 13, 2012 at 06:57 AM
Coach Leach may or may not be the right coach for the Cougs. The Cougs may or may not be the right group of players for Leach's coaching style. In time, the answers will be known. From my perspective, developing a player or a team is like stretching muscles. Too much or too little muscle stretching will result in injuries. So, coaches need to know the limitations of a player, a team or both 'cause coaches can't help the player or the team achieve its greatness without stretching beyond its perceived limitations. Once A Coug, Always A Coug
Brent Champaco November 13, 2012 at 07:00 AM
Thanks, Dan. I truly hope that he gets the program back on track, because I don't think I can stand another three or four years of ribbing from you Huskies :)
John Vidale November 13, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I googled that positive report, which turns out to be by Sally Jenkins. On a hunch, I googled her and Michael Vick, and found where she states the HE is a beautiful case of redemption. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/12/AR2010111204137.html Some people are willing to forgive any pattern of misbehavior, no matter how plain and outrageous, if it wins games. And are you suggesting that UW football players are at risk of being seduced into Seattle (or U-Village) gangs? Can you cite a single incidence of that?
Kelly Busey November 14, 2012 at 04:16 AM
I sure can point to instances where Husky football players were lured into criminal activity, John. Read the book "Scoreboard, baby" for some enlightenment. You'll be shocked.
Kelly Busey November 14, 2012 at 04:21 AM
And actually, John, I was responding to your dig at Pullman ("Then there's Pullman..., but then I'm at the UW"). If you want to compare the setting of each campus based on attractiveness to recruits (and parents of recruits), you have a tough sell.
John Vidale November 14, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Kelly, thanks for the link, I just got the book. It predates my days at UW, although I think that report just resurfaced with the Jerramy Stevens incident yesterday. And the Pullman jibe was just pro forma UW-speak, although my dismay at Leach is genuine.
Brent Champaco November 14, 2012 at 11:43 PM
I'll give you the Knight and Olson comparisons, John. I don't see how Price's firing compares. In fact, one could argue that he was ousted from Alabama because that community is too moral.
Debbie McDonald November 15, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Brent, you mention that 18 players have left or been dismissed from the program. Here is a link to why each player is no longer with the program. Is there really any of these guys you would still want? Most have are gone because of injury or criminal activity. http://www.sportsradiokjr.com/pages/ianfurness_page.html?article=10574104
Brent Champaco November 15, 2012 at 07:56 AM
I saw that report, Debbie, and I agree, those players might have been poison to the team. I think it sheds light on why these dismissals are probably the right thing and support Leach. It also gives us fans hope that, yes, things looks bad now, but we're likely headed for better (and winning) times.
Tu-Ha Nguyen November 15, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Agree. Thank you J. Vidale.
Tu-Ha Nguyen November 15, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Again, thank you John Vidale.
Tu-Ha Nguyen November 15, 2012 at 12:19 PM
“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” ― John Wooden. Everybody remember John Wooden? I don't recall a player who ever walked out on Coach Wooden for being abusive.


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