Washington State invested $141 million in the past five years to improve the football experience for fans at Martin Stadium as well as the overall shine of facilities to aid the arms race of recruiting.
From 2011 to 2014, the Cougars added 21 luxury suites and premium seating overall for 1,900 fans.
There also are new football offices, locker rooms and weight rooms. The facility upgrades are needed to keep up – at least somewhat — with the excesses spent on facilities at such places at Oregon (with Nike millions from Nike co-founder Phil Knight) and Alabama (with a water fall in the locker room).
But Mike Leach endorses another idea to make the Washington State fan experience unique: A game in Australia.
The Pac-12 Conference has been exploring expanding its Pacific Rim reach by staging a football game in Australia and basketball game in China. Leach was asked about the discussions Thursday at the Pac-12 media days.
“Put a game in Australia? Yeah, especially if I could stay a month,” Leach said. “That’s what we ought to do — we ought to go have camp in Australia. We ought to have training camp in Australia, play a game, fly home. That would work for me.”
Washington State’s campus in Pullman, population 30,000, is the Pac-12’s lonely outpost. Unlike Washington, located in cosmopolitan Seattle on the Pacific Ocean with an international airport, the Cougars play in isolated eastern Washington.
But that hasn’t stopped Leach from exploring the world to build his football program.
Three Washington State starters are from American Samoa high schools: senior safety Shalom Luani, sophomore linebacker Logan Tago and senior nose tackle Robert Barber.
Another defensive starter is sophomore defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa from Lahaina, Ha., a neighboring island to the more populated Oahu with Honolulu.
One of the smartest moves Leach made upon taking the Washington State job in 2012 was hiring NFL veteran defensive tackle Joe Salave’a. His efforts recruiting Samoan football players out of Southern California, Hawaii and American Samoa are evident throughout the roster.
Salave’a, the Cougars’ assistant head coach and defensive line coach, is from American Samoa, but he came to Oceanside, Calif., to live with an aunt. He played at Oceanside High his junior and senior years and was recruited to play at Arizona. Oceanside High also is the alma mater of the late Junior Seau, the first Samoan Pro Football Hall of Famer, and is heavily represented by Polynesian athletes.
Salave’a was an All-Pac-12 player at Arizona for Dick Tomey. He joined Tomey’s San Jose State coaching staff in 2008. After one year at Arizona in 2011, Leach hired him in 2012.
There are six Washington State players from American Samoa and four from Hawaii. There are seven from the San Diego area and two from his alma mater of Oceanside High. Other schools have tried to lure Salave’a way, but he says he and his wife like the quiet lifestyle in Pullman.
Leach’s Australia vision and Salave’a’s success recruiting American Samoa and Hawaii have shed some method to what has been labeled the madness of Jim Harbaugh’s satellite camps in Australia, American Samoa and Hawaii (the American Samoa camp was later canceled due to Zika virus concerns).
Another question Leach fielded at Pac-12 media days was about American football expanding into Australia, Europe and other parts of the world. He was asked to name the best place for American football outside of North America.
“Is Samoa North America?” said Leach, although he meant American Samoa (Samoa is a neighboring independent island without an American football influence). “Probably Samoa; Germany is certainly up there. You know who’s really embraced football is Austria.”
Leach also has traveled overseas helping put on clinics in Japan and Europe, including joining retired Nevada coach Chris Ault for clinics last May in Italy.
“It is kind of exciting,” Leach said, “and I would like to see it grow as much as possible in those places.”