Fire the coach! This happens at most other colleges, but not at Wazzu! After an ugly home loss in their season opening game, many so-called loyal Cougs are calling for the firing of Washington State University Head Football Coach Mike Leach. Just starting out in his 4th season at WSU, Leach 12-26, a record that has many fans unhappy and feeling that there should be more wins by now. One has to wonder, who would these people want to replace him with? What has happened to the Coug fans whose pride for the Palouse and WAZZU is far more passionate than we see at any other school in the nation?
Saturday, September 5, 2015, in rainy weather, at Martin Stadium, the Washington State Cougars,and FBS school of the PAC-12 Conference lost to Portland State University,an FCS team, of the Big Sky Conference. Does this signal the end of Mike Leach’s coaching days at WSU? Not at all. Is this season over after just one game? Not even close. Is losing to an opponent from a smaller conference humiliating? It stings, but there is much more parity in NCAA Div-1 Football than ever before and these types of upsets, when FCS teams are able to topple FBS opponents, seem to be happening much more often.
Coach Leach has elevated the program to a place where they can now win any game they play. Obviously they need to actually do more of this and earn more victories, but the overall process is working and they continue to improve. Last September, the Cougs fell to Oregon, 31-38, one score away from defeating the Ducks! The following weekend, WSU beat Utah, and in November the Cougs knocked off Oregon State, and both PAC-12 wins were on the road. They also suffered tragic losses in a 3-9 season, but they were a team that could put together some very good games. In 2013, Washington State won 6 games and went to their first bowl game since 2003 and had some big wins, including a 10-7 victory over then #25 USC in early September, and wins over Cal, Arizona and Utah.
The Cougars should have rolled over Portland State, but the pass oriented offense had a difficult day in the rainy weather and after a 10-0 lead in they fell to a senior-dominated, physical Portland State team. The fact that WSU had not lost to a Big Sky Conference team in 60 years may be true, but it probably isn’t as bad as it sounds. The playing field in college football is much more level today than in past decades. This is due to NCAA limits on the number of scholarships football programs may grant to players. The Texas Longhorns used to give out over 120 football scholarships and a coach was once asked if that was fair to some players who may never play in any games with so many players competing for positions . He said something like, “certain players with scholarships may not ever play for us on a game, but we sure as hell won’t have to play against him.”
In 1973, the NCAA limited college football programs to 105 scholarships each. This number was reduced to 95 scholarships in 1978 and reduced even further to 85 in 1992, where it remains today. Since the mid 1990’s, some traditional “powerhouse” football programs have suffered a significant decline in success while many smaller schools, from smaller conferences, have become very successful . Winning is the result of many factors, but the NCAA rule limiting football programs to 85 scholarships has made an obvious and dramatic impact.
The PAC-12 also has tougher entrance requirements, and players who are not able to get into PAC-12 institutions can sometimes find a way into schools from smaller conferences. Beyond that, the Big Sky Conference has a rich history of winning and a ton of pride. On August 25th, the University of Montana beat defending FCS Champions, North Dakota State, 38-35, showing how tough the Big Sky Conference can be. Portland State finished last season 3-9, which led to the firing of their head coach and allowed offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum a chance to take the reins. To say he had a big win in his first game as head coach would be an understatement.
I’m not making excuses for Washington State’s loss to Portland State, but I’m not sure it is accurate to call it the “worst loss in WSU history”, and I don’t think it is productive to or say that Coach Leach should be fired. Washington State hired a great coach in Mike Leach and things are on the upswing, lets not give up on him now. He has raised the overall team grades and the wins are coming, He has a proven track record and if he is not able to win at WSU it could show that the problems complex and the solution is much more complicated than simply replacing the head coach!