With Washington State coming up this week, it’s worth remembering that the Cougars’ Mike Leach was on the short list of more than a few UCLA fans when we were looking for a replacement for our prior coach. I don’t think that Leach’s name got a lot of attention in this community, but he was definitely a favorite of the message board crowd in another corner of the Internet.
I can’t say I was ever a passionate opponent of a possible Leach hiring, so this isn’t an I-told-you-so post. Let’s just say I was ambivalent about him coming to Westwood. He surely had some impressive seasons at Texas Tech. He also seems to be somewhat of an original and that also makes for an interesting situation.
Mostly, though, I was skeptical because anyone who gets that much love from the message board crowd (let me just spell it out: I have an incredible amount of respect for the work that Tracy Pierson, Brandon Huffman and others put in at Bruin Report Online and anyone who likes to follow recruiting must have a subscription to their site. But respecting and recommending the work of the professionals on BRO doesn’t mean respecting some of the stuff that gets posted on the message boards) is probably a bad idea to hire. There was just something about Leach that seemed like a poor fit for UCLA. If nothing else, Texas Tech was dying to be rid of him despite his success there – even willing to endure a lawsuit to be rid of him – and if that’s not a huge red glad, nothing is.
In the end, I don’t know if Dan Guerrero ever seriously considered Leach. His name never came up as a real candidate, despite a few fan’s pirate fetish. But, if he ever was on anyone’s short list, we definitely dodged a bullet. Or cannonball. Or whatever it is that pirate’s shoot.
A third of the teams in the Pac 12 have new coaches: us, both Arizonas, Washington State. But it was Wassou, you might recall, who had by far the worst recruiting class in the conference. Leach definitely did not provide a boost last winter around recruiting time. That was the first skull and crossbones flag.
Now, we’re past the midpoint of the football season and Washington State is by far the worst team in the league. They are 2-7, 0-6 in league plan and they lost to Colorado. And despite his record, one might try and cut Leach some slack here, as he’s trying to rebuild the program and convert his personnel to a new system. Any coach gets one year to turn things around.
The second red flag came this week and was detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel.
Mandel acknowledges that he was one who thought the Leach hire was a good one for WSU. He then writes:
On Saturday, Utah (4-5) ensured Leach of his first losing season as a head coach with a 49-6 blowout. Afterward, the notoriously oddball coach ripped his players at a postgame press conference, and he targeted his linemen in particular. "A part of it's effort, and some of it borders on cowardice," Leach said of an offensive line that allowed six sacks. "... It was one of the most heartless efforts up front I've ever seen. And our D-line wasn't any better." Then, in what amounts to overt humiliation, Leach ordered all of the Cougars' starting offensive and defensive linemen to come out of the locker room to field media questions (whether the media wanted to talk to them or not).
"In four decades of covering the [Pac-12], I've never seen anything like it," Seattle Times veteran Bud Withers wrote of the scene.
So, basically, he threw his players under the Black Pearl.
Mandel also writes:
You know what you're getting when you hire Leach. He's the farthest thing from conventional, and he says exactly what's on his mind. However, he also got fired from Texas Tech for allegedly embarrassing a player, and with the exception of his opening remarks ("Our effort today was pitiful. It starts with our coaches, with me in particular"), his entire postgame rant was a Bob Knight-esque exercise in verbal bullying. Coaches sometimes call out players as motivation, but with three games left in the season, that hardly seemed the intent here.
"We're going to have a lively spring, I'll tell you that," Leach said. "There's some individuals that aren't going to be here next year.
From the sound of that, Leach has already thrown in the bandana for this season. Putting all this together, you have to start to wonder just how motivated this edition of the Cougars will be on Saturday.
Clearly, Jim Mora and the team have to take WSU seriously. It’s a classic trap game – a weak opponent following a huge win with USC and Stanford looming. It’s important that the Bruins not walk the plank, errr, fall into the trap.
But as fans, we can at least be glad that the goofballs who were pining for Mike Leach are just anonymous message board posters and not anyone with influence in the athletic department.