Moore: WSU coach Mike Leach’s success isn’t worth his shortcomings

Dec 2, 2019, 1:59 PM
WSU coach Mike Leach...
WSU coach Mike Leach directed pointed comments at a columnist after Friday's Apple Cup. (Getty)

From a WSU perspective, this year’s Apple Cup was ugly on and off the field. After the Dawgs trampled the Cougs for the seventh consecutive year, Mike Leach let a columnist have it in his post-game media session.

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The Cougar head coach said he was surprised that everyone is always surprised when the Huskies win the Apple Cup since they have a top 10 recruiting class. John Blanchette of the Spokesman-Review followed that up by asking: “So you’re not supposed to beat ranked recruiting classes?” causing Leach to go off on him.

“You run your little column and stuff like some sanctimonious troll where you’ve never fair or even-handed with us. So I don’t really care what you think… If you can live your little meager life in your hole and write nasty things, and that makes you feel even, you go right ahead.”

I read a lot of comments about the Leach-Blanchette exchange, and many sided with Leach, thinking Blanchette had it coming because he’s been so negative about the Washington State program over the years. But others thought Leach went too far.

In his Apple Cup column following the game, Blanchette pointed out two errors in Leach’s assertions – Chris Petersen has never had a top 10 recruiting class at Washington, and no one is ever surprised when the Huskies beats WSU.

In a blistering conclusion to his column, Blanchette wrote: “Not that many weeks ago, Leach assailed the leaders on his football team as ‘frauds.’ But when it comes to the Apple Cup, that’s not quite the case.

“It’s not them, Mike, it’s you.”

To be honest, I’ve always been conflicted about Leach – on the one hand, he’s a terrific coach who revived a program that went 9-40 under Paul Wulff, the man he replaced. In spite of the Apple Cup struggles, the Cougars will go to a fifth straight bowl game this year.

But I’ve never cared for him on a personal level. He’s a “Good Time Charlie” who is fun to be around when everything is going well. But when it’s not, look out. You’d best take cover if you even think about asking hard questions or criticizing Leach.

Four or five years ago, I gave up the notion of asking him tough questions. In his first season, after a particularly rough stretch where I thought the Cougs looked like they quit at times, I asked him if he felt like his team would run through a wall for him, or something along those lines.

Leach fired back, accusing me of having an agenda, and what that agenda was, I still don’t know. I was just trying to get a sense of how hard it is for a new coach to get a complete buy-in from players who were recruited to WSU by Wulff.

For a while I tried to ask semi-tough questions, and when I saw that that wasn’t going anywhere, I gave up. I think the last question I asked him had something to do with what he ordered when he went to Dairy Queen.

We first noticed the poor-loser part of Leach in the New Mexico Bowl in 2013. The Cougars lost to Colorado State in the last minute, and there were fair questions about Washington State’s clock management. You could easily make a case for a WSU victory if Leach had called a running play or two on the last series.

Maybe it would not have worked out anyway, but it was a point that was open to debate. Yet when it was brought up after the game, Leach acted like the reporters were stupid for questioning his strategy. Leach then blew off an interview with Bob Robertson, leaving the Cougar legend speechless.

Last year Dan Wolken of USA Today criticized Leach after the WSU coach Tweeted out a doctored video of a Barack Obama speech, writing: “Within the college athletics industry, he is widely regarded as a ticking time bomb of embarrassment.”

And he also wrote: “With a relatively small fan base that likes winning, and at a program that receives very little national scrutiny, Leach can probably get away with just about anything.”

In an interview with Matt Calkins of the Seattle Times, Wolken said: “Mike did something inappropriate and refuses to back down from it, and so, one of the things that we have learned about society right now and where we are as a culture is that if you’re a person in power who does not like getting criticized, rather than focus on the substance of the criticism, you attack the person making the critique and try to make it a personality thing between the popular coach and the media member because the person in power knows that they’re going to win that battle.”

Later in the interview, Wolken said: “Mike for a number of years has been able to enjoy a cult of personality built around his quirkiness. And I think that has served to mask the more unattractive aspects of his personality.”

Listen, I get it, not many people care about reporters. I think we’re closing in on lawyers as the most maligned profession. Even one of my kids laughed when he heard Leach launch into Blanchette, saying: “Go get him, Mike!” So Wolken’s right.

But still, Petersen not only out-coached Leach, he’s also giving him a lesson in how to handle the media. When Petersen fielded questions about his dysfunctional offense after a loss to Colorado, he didn’t act like it wasn’t happening and talked about needing to fix it. Those same kind of questions would have caused Leach to belittle reporters before storming out of the room.

As much as the national media loves to hear Leach giving marital advice and determining who would win a mascot battle, I’ve grown tired of his offbeat tangents. It’s basically his way of avoiding questions about his team.

And when he gets upset with the line of questioning, he typically resorts to condescension, wanting to make you feel much smaller than he is, thus the ‘little column” and “little meager life” comments to Blanchette along with one he made to Calkins, saying USA Today’s Wolken would be “selling Big Gulps in a couple years” at a 7-Eleven.

I haven’t even mentioned the handful of times Leach has ridiculed his players in name-calling rants.

I was excited when Leach was hired by WSU, but it didn’t take long for that excitement to wane. I understand that he’s built a winning program and graduated most of his players. Yes, it would be nice to win an Apple Cup again, but I don’t care about that as much as this:

I miss the days when WSU had classy coaches who used common decency, win or lose.

My alma mater is so desperate for a winner that we’re supposed to look the other way with this unbecoming stuff, I guess. I was told by someone on Twitter over the weekend that I need to be careful about what I wish for, intimating that the next coach might not have Leach-like success, and we’ll go back to one losing season after another with no hope in sight.

I’ll bet the rumors will be hotter than ever in the next few weeks with Leach’s name coming up in coaching searches at Missouri, Florida State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and wherever else.

In the past, I always hoped Mike Leach would stay in Pullman. But not anymore.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jim Moore on Twitter.

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Moore: WSU coach Mike Leach’s success isn’t worth his shortcomings