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.
A three game win streak on the heels of a three game losing streak sets the Huskies up for a chance to finish strong with an almost certain opportunity to play in yet a third straight bowl game. Only lowly Colorado and currently dysfunctional WSU remain on the schedule and between them have a total of one win in league play. Needless to say the new coaches at both schools have struggled in their first year in the Pac-12 Conference. Quite by coincidence I traveled to Pullman earlier this year and watched these exact two teams play against each other. It was a terrible game by two obviously struggling teams and I knew immediately that both staffs were in for a long rebuild as both programs had slipped so much in developed talent that they were not going to fare well in this league. I was right because neither has won a game since Colorado literally stole a one right out from under the Cougar’s noses way back in September.
By the luck of the draw the Huskies were stuck with the hardest schedule in America yet somehow Coach Sarkisian and his staff have kept the ship floating and now have an opportunity to be the favorite in a two game series that could help define the picture of Husky football for some years to come. A quality ending to this season would further indicate Coach Sark has this program advancing in a special direction. Already sitting on a quality recruiting class the Huskies could use another 15 practices that comes with a bowl and they could obviously use a convincing win over Colorado to further prove they have taken that next step in becoming an upper echelon team in this conference. Go out and win the ones you’re supposed to! That’s what good team do! They go on the road and take care of business. They’ve proven it to themselves when they beat Cal on the road following their great upset over Oregon State. Last Saturday they took it to a physical Utah team and won with grit and toughness so they have to believe they can finish this season strong. They will need to do the same things in this game by running the football, stopping the run, being solid in the kicking game and winning the turnover battle. Oh, and getting another solid game out of Keith Price will help as well. Price played probably his best game of the season against Utah and another strong performance here would go a long way towards finishing this season on a positive note.
As wonderful as the Husky defense played against Utah in holding them to under 200 yards, they will need to bring a similar effort starting this coming weekend in Boulder. The Buffaloes have struggled this whole year and rank at or near the bottom of almost every statistical category. They have been particularly vulnerable on defense where they regularly give up over 500 yards and 45 points per game. They are still trying to find the right combination of players and consequently have only their victory over WSU to show in the win column. So, at 1 and 9, Colorado is clearly one of the bottom feeders of this league and Washington will want to give a positive performance to impress both Bowl games and potential recruits.
Now granted it could snow but even the 10:30 am starting time shouldn’t affect the Huskies who regularly practice at 8 in the morning. Should it snow or be lousy weather the Huskies would at least be used to it by the time they finish their season in Pullman the day after Thanksgiving.
Coach Sarkisian always preaches “the games to remember are played in November” and his Husky teams always seem to get better as the season goes on. The Huskies will be favored on the road for the first time this year and cannot afford to be looking past Colorado. They have dug themselves out of the hole and some embarrassing losses to Oregon and Arizona when they gave up 52 points a game but they have kept the faith and have a chance at their best season in ten years.
Currently the Huskies are sitting on 18 committed kids for next year and if Washington could finish with a five game winning streak they would do a lot to hold on to those they’ve got and could add about a half dozen more for another infusion of talent. There is still a lot to play for and the players know that the “good” teams go on the road and win the games they’re supposed to. Don’t they?
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Washington’s win over California was still a victory and when the season is over it will still be counted in the left hand column. Good thing there are no style points in football because this win against the Bad News Bears was just about as ugly as they come. So now the Dawgs need to tighten up their chinstraps because a hard hitting Utah team is coming to town and they will show no mercy if the Huskies don’t improve their overall game by 7:30 Saturday night.
After starting league play with four straight losses, the Utes have absolutely smashed their last two league opponents by scoring 49 points each against both Colorado and WSU. They did it the old fashion way by running the football and playing great defense but have also benefited from three 100 yard kickoff returns by the same player, Reggie Dunn. That feat in itself is one for the record books and certainly broke the backs of both California and WSU. Obviously, the Huskies need to either kick away from Dunn or at least cover kicks with their very best players.
While they’re at it they better stop the Ute’s running back, John White who is the key to Utah’s whole resurgence. Consider this stat: whenever White rushes for over 100 yards (11 times) the Utes have won all 11 games and whenever he has rushed for less than 100 yards (10 times) they have lost every game. That makes the goal for the defense very easy; hold John White under 100 yards and make their freshman quarterback, Travis Wilson beat you. Wilson has only started four games and is only the third freshman quarterback to start in the league, joining Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA. (That’s pretty good company considering Oregon and UCLA are both the current leaders in the two divisions of the conference.)
Washington will need to clean up its act if they expect to beat Utah because fumbling 5 times and losing 3 and being penalized 12 times for 108 yards, like they did against a terrible Cal team, won’t get it done against a steadily improving Utah team whose coach Kyle Whittingham is simply one of the best in the league. Washington will need to bring it’s “A” game in this one in order to complete their home slate on a positive note. The Huskies have only lost one game (to USC) playing in their home away from home, The Clink. A win this week will also make the Huskies bowl eligible and that in itself is the most important thing for this program.
Washington would do well to win the rushing game by having Bishop Sankey continue his fine season by rushing over 100 yards himself at the same time as holding White to under 100. Sankey busted loose for 189 yards against Cal and was clearly one of the stars of a terribly played football game last Saturday in Berkley. He was a darting runner in that one and if he can continues his efforts he will surely finish over a 1000 yards on the season. Most importantly though is for Washington get themselves ready to play a smash-mouth contest against a Utah team that features one of the better defenses in the league. The Utes defense is led by a real star player whose name is actually Star. Star Lotulelei, might be the first Pac-12 player drafted next spring in the NFL draft. He is simply a beast inside on their defense and will make running the ball very difficult all by himself. The Utah front on defense might be the best the Huskies have faced since they played LSU.
So don’t let the Utah record of 4 wins and 5 losses fool you. This is liable to be the hardest physical battle of the season and the Huskies will have to play one of their toughest and cleanest games in order to win it. This will surely be a measuring stick for just how far this program has come this season and a win here could position them for a great finish to an up and down campaign. This one will be a black and blue, hit you in the mouth and stomp on your neck affair. My kind of game. Go dawgs.