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How Far Can Mike Leach Take the Washington State Cougars?

Mike Leach might be the ultimate pirate, but there’s only so much you can do if you have too many cabin boys and not enough quartermasters.

And right now, it looks like the Washington State coach and his crew will have to start lowering the black sail, or the buccaneer flag, or uh, whatever it is that pirates fly.

Bad allegories aside, this much is certain – Leach’s hot seat is about to get scorching if he can’t improve on last year’s abysmal 3-9 season. Which begs the question: How far can Mike Leach really take Washington State football?

Let’s be frank here – for $2.75 million a year, more than Oregon’s Mark Helfrich makes, Washington State is expecting a lot more than 12-25 and coming a season in which Leach fired three assistant coaches just months after not only his own salary was increased, but the pool of assistant salaries was bumped up by half-a-million dollars.

Leach’s credentials are legit, of course. Texas Tech went to 13 bowl games in the previous 43 years before Leach took over the program in 2000. Texas Tech went to a bowl game in all 10 of his seasons with the Red Raiders, including his final year, when he was summarily fired before the bowl game. Allegedly forcing a concussed player to a dark equipment shed and then refusing to apologize cost him his job.

At Washington State, heading into his fourth season, Leach has gone 3-9, 6-7 – with a bowl game loss – and 3-9.

It’s understood that all things are cyclical, but right now Washington State is stuck in a division with a national championship-caliber program (Oregon) and two perennial bowl teams (Stanford and Washington). That, right off the bat, is a big reason why Leach is going to struggle to really take the Cougars places. That’s not an excuse, by the way. It’s just reality. I mean, when’s the last time Indiana won the Big Ten, for instance?

But for Leach to really take WSU places he first has to get his house in in order. Leach had to fire three assistant coaches in 2014, one during the season and two after the season. The Cougars set 42 school records on offense with a passing attack that threw for 477 yards a game, second-best in NCAA history, but WSU was atrocious on special teams and defense. Allowing opposing offenses 6.2 yards per play is akin to never having to put a team in a third-and-long situation.

It’s still a game predicated on defense. Leach can set all the passing records he wants but he can’t win every 60-59 game.

“I thought defensively, we were tugging against ourselves,” Leach told the News-Tribune. “I think there was too many varieties of philosophies, so we had to end that, because I don’t think we had one message to the players. I thought we steadily improved on offense and we kind of stagnated on defense. So yeah, it was tough. They’re good people and all that stuff. But part of it is, there’s a chemistry and a cohesion that’s important.”

So where can he take this program?

How about to Texas Tech status?

Let’s be honest, Tech was never really a contender in the Big 12. It won one division title during Leach’s decade in Lubbock but the Red Raiders competed, never had a losing season, and represented the conference well in the postseason with 10 consecutive bowl appearances, including six victories, during the Leach Era.

That’s the kind of program Washington State should strive for – consistency, with the occasional year once or twice a decade in which it competes for a conference title and a major bowl game.

That’s how far Mike Leach can take the Cougars.


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