Coaches Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State and Jim Mora at UCLA have enjoyed reasonably smooth first seasons. Mike Leach at Washington State, not so much.
At UCLA, first-year football coach Jim Mora says, “We’ve got a bunch of really good kids here. It’s been a lot of fun.”
At Arizona, first-year coach Rich Rodriguez says his player attrition “is not nearly as much as I thought. We’ve been demanding, but our guys have hung in there so far.”
And at Arizona State, first-year coach Todd Graham recalls his introduction to his players, saying, “When I took this job, I said, ‘I (inherited) every one of you to be successful. For every one of you that don’t make it, I consider that a failure on my part.’ “
You may have noticed the first-year coach in Pullman, Mike Leach, is not phrasing things quite so glowingly.
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So, as the post-Utah, post-Marquess Wilson tempest percolates at Washington State, the questions are many and the answers are elusive.
Is Mike Leach just that different? Are the Cougars so severely under-talented that upheaval was inevitable? Are the 40 losses in four years from 2008 through 2011 evidence enough to know that the transition would be wrenching?
However we add the fractions in that equation, it’s inescapable that what’s going on at WSU is far different from what Mora, Rodriguez and Graham have experienced.
Mora, speaking on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches conference call, says “two or three guys transferred out” in the UCLA handoff. Rodriguez says the number is “one or two” at Arizona. Graham puts ASU’s attrition at “about seven.”
The turnstile at WSU numbers 18, although somebody inside the program told me last week it was much higher, presumably including walk-ons and others who might have been given a tryout in the spring.
So what’s so different in Pullman?
Yes, the legacy of losing is deeper. The three other programs had bowl seasons in the past few years.
But narrow the focus to, say, the past two years. The Cougars played toe-to-toe with UCLA (losing two fourth-quarter games), beat Arizona State last year, and the Arizona program Rodriguez inherited went 4-8 in 2011 — as did WSU — and fired its coach at midseason.
None of that suggests the Cougars were light years behind those other programs.
Another head-scratching element is the positive face Leach put on five days before the BYU opener. He talked about players having had a “really dedicated offseason,” that they’ve worked “incredibly hard” and, referring to the consistent quality of fall-camp practices, said “I’ve not had a team I could say that about.”
Somewhere between August and November, all that went away.
No doubt Leach’s style, his give-a-rip attitude about singling players out with pungent criticism, is at the heart of the controversy.
A parent of a player told me he’d been called in recent days by parents of two recruits committed to WSU, wanting a read on Leach. So part of Leach’s immediate challenge, and ultimately his success in Pullman, is going to hinge on his ability to persuade prospects he’s a guy you’d want to play for, and not a wack job.
And what’s more …
• USC coach Lane Kiffin doesn’t back away from the growing perception that his dad and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is an NFL strategist who might not be hip to stopping the college spread-option offense: “I think that’s a fair observation. We’ve given up some big numbers to running quarterbacks over our years here, so I’m not going to be defensive about that.” The big number last week was 730, Oregon’s school-record total yards.
• Some cretin who apparently created a false Twitter account impersonated UCLA freshman cornerback Randall Goforth and tweeted inflammatory comments toward USC. “It’s sickening,” said Mora, calling the perpetrator “the lowest form of life.”
• The Oregon State-Stanford game Saturday is an odd intersection of highly regarded teams — ranked 13th and 16th by The Associated Press — that are experiencing flux at quarterback. Oregon State coach Mike Riley is committed to sticking with Cody Vaz, but with original starter Sean Mannion at the ready, while the Cardinal will give 6-foot-4, 224-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan his first start over Josh Nunes.
• Stanford coach David Shaw, a former NFL assistant, on USC’s Marqise Lee: “The best college receiver I’ve seen since I scouted Randy Moss.” And Shaw’s Cardinal has long since played USC.