By Brady Henderson
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos is standing by coach Mike Leach – both the way he reacted to Saturday’s blowout loss and the job he’s doing in his first season in Pullman.
Moos joined “The Kevin Calabro Show” on Wednesday to discuss a turbulent few days that includes a 49-6 loss to Utah, backlash following Leach’s critical comments regarding his team’s effort and uncertainty about the Cougars’ leading receiver, Marquess Wilson, whose status is up in the air
following a suspension.
The loss to Utah dropped the Cougars to 2-7 overall and 0-6 in Pac-12 play. They’re allowing nearly 32 points per game, but perhaps most frustrating to fans is that the Cougars rank 119th in the nation in scoring despite Leach’s reputation as an offensive mastermind, and a well compensated one at that.
Washington State is 2-7 in Mike Leach’s first season as head coach. (AP)
“Those are disappointing stats to anybody, but at the same time we had a lot of work to do here and a lot of it’s getting done. It’s not showing on the scoreboard,” Moos said. “But I think we still got a chance to get a win or two here.”
Leach has come under fire for what some have deemed overly critical comments about his team after its loss to Utah. Leach called the entire team’s effort “pitiful” then directed more pointed criticism toward the offensive line, calling its effort “heartless” and adding that it “borders on cowardice.”
Eschewing the normal protocol for postgame press conferences, Leach then sent the starting offensive and defensive lines to face the media.
Moos said he understood the move.
“Normally, on a 49-6 loss, the quarterback comes out and he’s got to be accountable and face the music,” he said. “Nobody ever has a problem with that.”
The extent to which Leach has publicly criticized his players this season had already rubbed some the wrong way even before Saturday. Following an earlier loss, Leach said some players displayed an “empty-corpse quality.” Senior linebacker Travis Long leaving the postgame press conference in tears Saturday has been cited by some observers who feel Leach has gone too far.
But Moos said it’s a necessary measure Leach is taking in order to get more consistent effort from each player. Moos singled out Long as an exemplary player in that regard.
“I’m here to tell you Travis Long cries after every loss,” Moos said. “If we had 22 Travis Longs, we’re in the Rose Bowl hunt just because of his attitude and his love of the Cougars and the fact that he hates to lose.”
But not everyone feels that way, Moos said. Nearly a decade of losing – Washington State hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2003 – has created an attitude that Moos is trying to eliminate.
“We’ve got too many Cougars, some in this building that I’m in, some in our fan base – I’m not calling them all out because we’ve got great fans – but there’s some and there’s some on our football team that are numb to losing,” Moos said. “Losing has got to hurt. Winning is great, and you savor wins. But until losing hurts you’re not gonna get where you want to go.”
Moos later added: “I know that we’ve got to get tougher. I’ve said this before that football is a tough sport and in order to be successful you have to have tough players, and the way you get tough players is having tough coaches, and our coaches are tough, and in the end were gonna have a tough football team that is productive.”
Adding to the criticisms of Leach is the success that other Pac-12 programs are having under first-year coaches. Arizona State and Arizona are 5-4, while UCLA is 7-2 and ranked 17th in the country. Moos, however, suggested that Leach didn’t inherit the same level of talent that those coaches did.
Moos said he is confident that Leach will turn the program around, even if he continues to ruffle some feathers along the way.
“You’ve got to remember this guy’s been in the game a long time and he’s had a lot of success,” Moos said, “and what he’s doing right here he will not waver from because it’s worked before and it’s gonna work at Washington State.”