On December 6, 2011, the day that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, famous for his love of all things buccaneer, took over Washington State’s Cougars program, students dressed up as pirates.
(AP Photo/Dean Hare)
Eleven months later, a number of members of the media who cover Leach’s team think he ought to walk the plank.
A stormy WSU season filled with losses, rants and public critiques of the players became even more strained this past weekend, when former Cougars star wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who had already been suspended from the team by Leach, announced that he had quit the program in a public statement (as reported by his hometown paper, the Visalia Times-Delta).
I realize the school is saying that I am suspended for violating team policies and may return next week, but this is a lie. This is an attempt by the athletic department to cover up what is really happening in that locker room….
[T]he new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us. This approach has obviously not been successful, and has put a dark shadow on this program….
“My teammates and I have endured this treatment all season long. It is not “tough love.” It is abuse.
Leach, of course, was fired by Texas Tech after he allegedly mistreated Adam James, the son of former SMU football player, ESPN commentator and Senate candidate Craig James.
Leach’s purported Wazzu breaking point occurred around the Cougars’ November 3 game against Utah, which the Utes won 49-6. At halftime of that game, Leach and his staff allegedly berated players to the point of physical confrontation, then held a “Junction Boys”-type conditioning practice the next day.
Also, Leach frog-marched his offensive and defensive linemen in front of the media at the post-game press conference, whether the media was interested in what they had to say or not.
“In four decades of covering the conference, I’ve never seen anything like it,” the Seattle Times‘ Bud Withers said of the press conference scene, which included one player leaving in tears.
The university and the PAC-12 conference will investigate the charges, though Leach says he is “not concerned,” as Christian Caple of the Spokesman Review reported.
“We’re not changing,” the coach had already said last week after Wilson’s suspension. “This isn’t a democracy. We don’t say, ‘Hey, you 125 guys, how do you want practice to be? What sort of direction do you want this to go?’
Even before Wilson’s suspension, the Cougars’ season had gone off the rails. Some would argue this is Leach sweeping out the detritus of a football program that has not had a winning record since 2004 (the year after current UTEP coach MIke Price left for Alabama) but not everyone is sympathetic to that view, especially since last year’s team went 4-7, while this year’s is now 2-8.
At Seattle Weekly, Glenn Nelson wrote that Leach’s October 10 description of his team as having “an empty corpse quality” violated the tradition of keeping it in the locker room, and also shifted the responsibility off of himself.
“That remark, and others similar, was tantamount to Leach farting in public, then immediately sniffing the air and crinkling his nose, as if those actions crossed him off the list of likely perpetrators,” Nelson wrote.
Nelson continued, perhaps presciently:
Leach’s most important constituents, his players, will not confuse public humiliation for discipline. It’s a widely held, but highly bogus, belief that this generation of young athletes wants only to be coddled. On the contrary, they crave structure and will abide discipline, but will demand respect the way their predecessors wouldn’t dare.
Another Seattle Weekly writer, Matt Driscoll, was more terse. “Dude’s a joke – and a delusional, abusive one at that,” he wrote.
But Leach still has his fans among both the national and Washington state media.
“I’ll reserve judgment until more than one player has leveled such accusations,” wrote Sports Illustrated‘s Stewart Mandel of the Wilson statement.
Wilson “had to know the word “abuse” would elicit a serious response, especially given the nature of Leach’s ouster at Texas Tech,” Mandel continued. “While it’s since been dispelled under oath that Leach never locked Adam James in a closet, he made no bones of the fact he believed the receiver was a slacker and malcontent.”
Jeff Nusser of Coug Center also took issue with Wilson’s word choice, while echoing Mandel’s observation that Leach did not, in fact, do to James what many people think he did, but that “perception becomes reality.”
Even if Leach is exonerated, it’s going to be a stain that can’t be removed. We know this, because it’s happened before.
In the wake of WSU hiring Leach, I was appalled at the number of people who still thought Leach actually locked Adam James in a closet. Why did they think that? I would assume it’s because of the initial coverage in the wake of the allegation. In the newspaper business, it’s a well-known fact that allegations appear at the top of A1, while the exonerations appear on C4. Mountains of evidence exists that James’ accusations were patently false, yet the perception persists.
On Monday, the Seattle Times‘ Withers reported Cougars center Elliot Bosch’s account of the Utah halftime. Bosch described assistant coach Paul Valero’s behavior as intense, but still business-as-usual.
“He was just trying to get us fired up,” Bosch said. “He grabbed some guys by the chestplate. He wanted to take a look in their eyes and see if they really wanted to be here, if they were here for the right reasons, if they wanted to win. That’s all he was doing.”
At his press conference on Monday Leach characterzed the loss of Wilson as “addition by subtraction, and probably long overdue.”
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos had already backed Leach prior to Wilson’s written statement, and said he hoped the school’s internal investigation would be “wrapped up by the end of the week.” The Pac-12’s inquiry is expected to take longer.