Washington State football coach Mike Leach walks off the field… (James Snook, US PRESSWIRE )
Washington State is barely on anyone’s radar when it comes to college football, so fans on the East Coast might not be following what has transpired in Mike Leach’s first season in Pullman. It has a striking resemblance to Randy Edsall’s first season in College Park.
After a 2-1 start – including a win over Football Championship Subdivision power Eastern Washington – the Cougars are in free fall, having lost their last seven games, and they've gone winless in the Pac-12 Conference.
Now one of Leach's star players has quit the team and blamed the coach.
Sound familiar, Terp fans?
Marquess Wilson, the school’s all-time leading receiver, recently left the team amid charges that Leach and his coaching staff have created a toxic atmosphere both on and off the field. Leach said at his weekly press conference that the charges are “categorically denied."
Like Edsall did a year ago in taking over for Ralph Friedgen, Leach has said that his players were not used to being disciplined under the previous regime. As happened with the Terps, the Cougars are getting blown out by good teams like Oregon and losing to bad ones like Colorado.
When Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson fired Friedgen after the 2010 season, I wrote that if he wanted to take the program, as he stated, “from good to great,” he should hire Leach. I also thought that fans should cross their fingers and pray that history didn't repeat itself.
At the time, Leach was out of coaching after being fired by Texas Tech in 2009 when allegations of abuse were raised by player Adam James, son of ESPN analyst Craig James. The younger James claimed that he was ordered to sit in a dark shed during practice. Saying he was merely trying to protect a player who claimed to be suffering from concussion-like symptons, Leach sued the school and ESPN.
Maryland seemed on the verge of hiring Leach, but after bringing a man known as the "Mad Genius" to campus to interview with the search committee, chose to go with Edsall, who had just led Connecticut to the Fiesta Bowl and whose image was of a no-nonsense guy who wanted his players to succeed on the field and in the classroom.
Nearly two seasons later, there are many who still wonder whether Edsall was the right choice. A disastrous 2-10 debut that was punctuated by an eight-game losing streak to close the season and defections by more than a dozen players after it was over has been followed by what has been a star-crossed, injury-cursed season that will likely end with a six-game losing streak and a 4-8 record.
The atmosphere in College Park this season has seemed to calm down, and players I spoke with last week said that Edsall’s demeanor has changed dramatically, helped by the arrival of new coordinators Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart. There seems to be legitimate excitement because of freshman sensation Stefon Diggs and some of the other young players.
Maybe that will happen next year at Washington State, when Leach starts to bring in his own players, as Edsall is doing at Maryland. Given what transpired with the James fiasco at Texas Tech, Leach was an easy target for the first unhappy player in Pullman to go public with his complaints.
It will be interesting to see if Wilson’s allegations are followed by other similar complaints and whether athletic director Bill Moos, a former football player and coach himself, continues to back Leach as Anderson has supported Edsall.
I remember thinking at the start of this season that Maryland fans might pay attention to what Leach was doing at Washington State, and what former quarterback Danny O’Brien was doing at Wisconsin, if the Terps continued to struggle. But the Terps started 2-0 and 4-2, while Leach started losing after the quick start and O’Brien was benched shortly after the Badgers lost in Week 2 at Oregon State.
While many around here are not ready to completely support Anderson’s decision to hire Edsall – as they have his decision to hire Mark Turgeon – maybe backing off Leach was not a bad idea after all.