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.