WSU career leading receiver Marquess Wilson has been suspended
The Mike Leach era continued rumbling along toward parts unknown Monday, bumping, grinding and apologizing to no one for its mounting controversies.
In the morning, wide receiver Marquess Wilson, probably the most talented player on the Washington State football team, was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, reported to have left a grueling conditioning practice Sunday night after the Cougars were routed 49-6 at Utah the day before. And Wilson might be gone for good.
By late afternoon, athletic director Bill Moos was rallying to Leach’s defense. And by dinnertime, Leach was defending to me what is believed to be a heated exchange in the locker room at halftime involving at least one player and assistant coach.
Forgotten, at least for the moment, is the fact the Cougars are 2-7 in Leach’s first year in Pullman and that he stirred passions after the defeat Saturday by calling out linemen for a performance “bordering on cowardice,” then directed them to answer media questions as a group.
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“We’re not changing,” Leach said at his weekly news conference in the early afternoon. “This isn’t a democracy. We don’t say, ‘Hey, you 125 guys, how do you want practice to be? What sort of direction do you want this to go?’
“Our standards are what our standards are. If somehow the standards don’t appeal to one player or another, that’s pretty irrelevant. They’re either onboard or off, and I can live with it either way.”
The picture I’m getting is that team morale is sagging, concerned parents are in communication with each other, and more than one player has felt disenfranchised enough to call former coach Paul Wulff, now an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers.
In other words, hardly a prescription for a strong finish by a program now 11-47 since 2008, or a don’t-worry-be-happy offseason.
“If somebody doesn’t pull the rope as hard as everybody else,” said Leach, “you shake them off and get new people. It’s about as simple as that.”
Wilson is — was — WSU’s leading career receiver with 3,207 yards. He’s likely done, although Leach would only say he’s suspended. He never clicked with the new staff, which drove him relentlessly as early as last spring, when Wilson was close to quitting the program.
I’m told the season’s boiling point came at intermission at Utah, when the Cougars trailed 31-0 and an assistant coach challenged players.
Leach told me coaches, trying to correct poor first-half technique, “basically circled them up, got in a circle position … yeah, it was intense and face-to-face, but it wasn’t some physical ruckus.”
Moos, who spent the day in Spokane at regularly scheduled WSU-related activities, says he had heard “second- and third-hand” about the halftime scene and planned to investigate it further Tuesday.
As for the turbulence since Saturday, Moos said, “I still have questions whether collectively, we know how to win. Football is a tough sport, and you have to have tough players. The way you get players tough is with tough coaches. From my observation, at times we don’t play very tough.”
The Cougars usually practice Sunday night, but at 4:20 p.m., WSU sent out an advisory it was canceled. Instead, a long conditioning workout took place, and apparently, it was brutal.
“Hey, I’ve been through those,” said Moos, a former All-Pac-8 offensive lineman at WSU. “I’ve seen them work. That wasn’t a punishment session, that was an attention-getting session.”
Earlier, Leach defended his action in having trooped linemen out for interviews Saturday, saying, “I don’t think it hurts to have them take ownership in the team.”
There’s been considerable blowback to Leach’s penchant for publicly criticizing players. Defending it, he said, “In this era of ridiculous political correctness and stuff like that, there seems to be some dissatisfaction for style points. Typically, if I’m asked a question, I give an honest answer.”
A minute later, he was turning sarcastic, saying he’d try to be kind and gentle. And he answered a question by saying, “They’re doing everything they can to be successful. We’ve had a lot of guys participate. They’ve had a lot of fun, and they’re trying as hard as they possibly can. Everybody wants to win really bad.”
So there you have it, another bouncy, buoyant day of WSU football. At the lunch hour, during the routine player news conference, senior Travis Long said, “We just gotta keep fighting.”
Right now, the fight is within the program, and it won’t get better until it isn’t.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org