Moore: As WSU’s Rolovich era begins, it’s nice to be all-in on Cougs again
I’m looking forward to this abbreviated WSU football season for at least two reasons:
• This seven-game season is better than nothing, and with all of the games being conference games, that’s only two fewer PAC-12 games than they play in a regular 12-game season anyway. I won’t miss the three non-conference games that the Cougars typically play against nondescript opponents.
• We’ve got a new coach, and this might be the most excited I’ve been about a a Washington State coaching change since Mike Leach replaced Paul Wulff in 2012. This time around Nick Rolovich is replacing Leach, who left to become the head coach at Mississippi State.
When Leach took over in Pullman, I was excited about this quirky mad scientist reviving our program with his Air Raid offense. My feelings started to turn after an interview during his first season. The Cougars were struggling on their way to a 3-9 season, and I asked him if he felt like he had players who would run through a wall for him. I was just trying to get an idea of how hard it is for a new coach to take over a bunch of players who were recruited by another coach.
But Leach lashed out, claiming I had an agenda, and was really put off by the question. We saw this scenario play out more and more as the seasons went on with players and reporters alike. He was a Good Time Charlie when things were going well, and everybody loved his mascot comparisons and marital advice. But when things weren’t going well, look out, you better take cover and better not question Leach about how he’s handling his team.
Leach lost me for good after the New Mexico Bowl, a game the Cougars lost to Colorado State, refusing to take any responsibility for poor clock management that likely cost WSU the win. Then when he blew off Bob Robertson’s post-game interview, well, that was it for me.
So for the past six years, I continued to root for the Cougs and root against Leach, which made no sense at all. If Leach did poorly, the Cougs did too. And if the Cougs did well, Leach did too. I just couldn’t get fully on board with Leach anymore, and for the first time since I arrived at WSU in the fall of 1974, I wasn’t all-in with the Cougs.
More and more I felt like we were so desperate to have a good football team that we sold a part of our souls to get one. That’s probably an overly dramatic statement, and maybe inaccurate, but that’s how it seemed to me.
Yes, we had some fun times with Leach for sure, especially during Minshew Mania. Leach rebuilt the program and brought us back to respectability. But there’s also that seven-game losing streak in the Apple Cup, which wouldn’t be so bad if we were close in some of those losses, but we never were.
Leach refused to adjust his Air Raid philosophy, and then-UW assistant coach Jimmy Lake’s defense kept tearing it apart. Then of course if you questioned him about his lack of success against the Huskies, Leach would bristle and go off on some sanctimonious troll tangent with The Spokesman-Review’s John Blanchette or another reporter, offering a distraction from his own shortcomings as a coach in the rivalry game.
I talked to one of the Cougars’ prominent defensive players when I saw him at a Mariners’ game not too many years ago. I always wondered how Leach connected with his players, and I’m sure you could find players who said he was terrific, but the one I talked to said he was narcissistic, mostly in it for himself.
So when I heard he was leaving for Mississippi State, I was thrilled. I could finally get rid of those mixed emotions. I have no idea if Rolovich will be a successful coach but he’s already hit an offseason home run, having beers with alums, embracing Pullman and Washington State and understanding the importance of the Apple Cup. He appears to be a guy’s guy and a Cougs’ Coug.
I should be a bigger man and wish the best for Leach at Mississippi State, but I admit to being a mini-man because I’ve enjoyed watching his team getting steamrolled in the SEC. There’s something appealing to me about a guy who thinks he’s so smart getting pantsed by opponents.
Since beating LSU 44-34 in their first game, the Bulldogs have scored just 30 points in the four games since. They didn’t come up with any offensive points in a 24-2 loss to Kentucky and were defeated 41-0 by Alabama last week, the first time a Leach team has been shut out.
Then again, the Cougs sputtered in their first five games under Leach in 2012 and had two games against BYU and Oregon State when they scored only six points. So chances are that Leach will get the Mississippi State program going in the years ahead, just like he did at Texas Tech and WSU.
But he’s under brighter lights and more scrutiny in the SEC. I personally can’t wait for his next tirade when he trashes his players or turns on some stupid reporter as his seat grows hotter. Alums there have to already be wondering if Mississippi State made a bad hire.
Life was mostly good with Leach in Pullman, but I’d say that life is even better now with the Nick Rolovich Era set to begin.