This latest incident with Cougar Coach Mike Leach has probably been blown way out of proportion but unfortunately it casts yet another real negative light on the sport of football. Now nothing will ever compare to the low point the sport took with the Jerry Sandusky case but this “abuse” scandal threatens to jump right in there with the “concussion” debate and the Bobby Petrino smut-case or any other incident that that proves football is not the touchy-feely environment that many want it to be. It’s just football and anyone who has ever played it can remember being at least verbally abused by some coach or any coach for that matter.
It’s sad for me because I was a coach and it casts yet another negative light on the profession. It’s sad because I respect and love the sport and it’s sad because I was a Cougar captain and started my coaching career at WSU. It’s really sad that all the excitement that Coach Leach brought to Pullman is now clouded in a scandal that didn’t need to be made public. This sort of stuff stays in-house and is not for public consumption.
Abuse in coaching has always been part of the equation and there probably isn’t a single one of us who didn’t feel the wrath of a coach’s anger many times while participating in sports. That is not an excuse for negative and intentional behavior intended to demean, ridicule, or otherwise punish another person but I promise you abusive behavior is practiced in football just as it is in any other part of life where power comes into play. What about in the military? Or in any walk of life for that matter. To assail with contemptuous, coarse, or insulting words. Come on, that never happens in football. I can’t imagine a coach yelling, swearing, or emphatically trying to get a point across. Maltreatment, mistreated, ill-treated, insulting, to revile. (Only on occasions) Face it, football is a violent sport and you have to be tough to play. It pushes you to your extremes but you don’t let your step-dad jump to your defense and make accusations of mental, emotional, and physical abuse. We all know that comes with the territory.
Besides, you don’t have to accept it; you can always quit the team if it gets too hard to accept. Nobody forces you to play the game against your will and certainly all the kids who are still on the Cougar team think differently than does Marquess Wilson because they have chosen to stay and are accepting the challenges that come with it.
Now I don’t personally know any of the individuals involved in this case but I do study the game and Marquess Wilson was a talent the minute he stepped on to the campus at WSU. He was also too skinny and slightly built and it did not look like he was into blocking. He could catch the rock. (on occasions) but I’ve also seen him drop at least four passes this season that were sure touchdowns, so he wasn’t without fault from the playing standpoint. What shocked me is that it doesn’t appear he did much in this last off-season to build up his body because he still looks skinny. He also showed bad body language occasionally when he was on the TV and obviously was not buying into the new program. Would I question his toughness? After watching him play the answer is obviously, yes, he has questionable toughness and comes across as an “I” guy. He (err his stepdad) was not speaking on behalf of all the other young men in that locker room so it creates an unfair image of their “team”.
Besides everything that was sent out on his behalf to the press was obviously designed with an intended purpose of pointing a negative finger at the entire Cougar football family and not just Coach Leach. He could have simply said,” I have decided to end my career at WSU at this time and am looking forward to the next chapter of my life. I want to thank my team mates for understanding my differences with the current system and wish them the very best in the future. Go Cougs.”
This sort of purposeful fracturing of a team is not an accepted thing in any sport. Certain things are kept in-house and obviously that also applies to Coach Leach, who would do well by not being so honest in his feeling and comments on his team. This is a transition period and there is always a certain amount of attrition that takes place. Kids decide to quit football programs or any activity for all kinds of reasons and toughness is one of them. You can’t let your “hurt” feelings get in the way of your contribution to the team. If everyone is running wind sprints then you run wind sprints. When you lose, the whole team loses, and that includes the coaches. Losing creates a whole different atmosphere in any locker room but there is something about addition by subtraction. Maybe the whole team can grow from this and maybe that was Leach’s intention all along. Nobody is more important than the group but when you air your dirty laundry for everyone to see then you are also exposing your own skid marks. When you are exposing a group that you are not even part of then you are simply mudslinging and gossiping.
OK, I admit that when I played for the Cougars back in the mid-sixties, all of those things like verbal, emotional, and physical abuse happened on a regular basis and there was a direct pattern abuse in almost every conceivable way you could imagine. It was like four years of boot camp. Our coach, Bert Clark, had come from Washington and they were firmly entrenched in the physical school of football. Our team was tougher and in better shape than any opponent and that meant running 10X100’s after every practice, bulling your neck and sticking your face and helmet into opponents, as well as practicing 4 hours at a time with no water breaks. I thought my name was “piss-ant” or “noodle-neck” because that’s what the coaches called us.
Our 1964 recruiting class was Clark’s first at WSU and represented his “team of destiny” and he was going to rebuild Cougar football from the ground up with an infusion of 60 scholar-shipped players and another 40 or so walk-ons. It was old school football with lots of live practices and full hitting. I always thought I was too tough to quit and nobody was going to convince me to do so even after two knee injuries, at least a dozen concussions, a cracked sternum, a pinched nerve in my neck, and all the verbal abuse you can imagine. It ended up being stupidity rather than toughness that probably made me stick it out but I am proud I endured.
By the time our class arrived on campus our coaches had already reduced the varsity to less than 40 players by running off close to 50 players the previous spring. Our freshman team (you couldn’t play varsity as a frosh) regularly scrimmaged against our varsity and always featured fist fights and brawls which were rarely broken up. Only the tough survived and it was with great regularity that guys simply up and left. By the time we were seniors there were only nine of us left and one of those has transferred in from a JC. That meant 8 out of roughly 100 were all that survived. I saw guys take off their helmet and throw it in the coach’s faces. I saw one player go after the head coach with rage in his eyes. Many of my team mates simply refuse to take the abuse and subsequently packed it in. All of a sudden their locker would be empty.
Now I’m not writing this trying to pile on more to this scandal but only to say there are obviously two sides to every story and there is too much out there already. The code of loyalty, which is a backbone to team sports, has certainly been breached and too much private team business has become public. Whatever, the remaining Cougars responded with great tenacity in their loss to UCLA and fought all the way to the finish before losing.
Coach Leach is learning just like his players are. This is a different league with a different sort of kid than they had in Texas. Given time he will eventually get “his” kind of players there and hopefully make them competitive again. He was such a breath of fresh air when he first arrived and hopefully he gets to stay long enough to prove he was a great hire. I think we all wish Marquess Wilson the very best in his future and hope he finishes his degree wherever he ends up. I think he was misled in how to structure his departure but he does have some talent even if it isn’t as a blocker or a tough guy.