The Front Row with MARK NELKE Dec. 4, 2011 - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

The Front Row with MARK NELKE Dec. 4, 2011

Buzz - and baggage - in Pullman

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Posted: Sunday, December 4, 2011 12:00 am

"What do you think of the Cougars' new football coach?" I was asked the other day.

"Well, they certainly created some buzz with that hire," I said.

"They got buzz," the man replied, "and baggage."

True, dat.

The Cougar faithful are buzzing over the fact they're getting a coach in Mike Leach who went 84-43 in 10 seasons at Texas Tech, took the Red Raiders to bowl games in each of those seasons, and did it with a high-powered offense.

The baggage, of course, was that he was fired at Texas Tech in December 2009 following an incident where he allegedly made a player who had suffered a concussion stand in a darkened shed.

The player was receiver Adam James, son of ESPN college football analyst and former SMU star running back Craig James.

Leach still has several lawsuits pending.

Not to make fun of someone who had a concussion, but if that episode was indeed true, what would be a similar punishment in Pullman? Make the player walk over to Moscow? Up to Colfax?

The whole story may or may not come out in public anytime soon, so for now we've only heard one side of it.

But WSU athletic director Bill Moos seemed to be OK with what happened after talking to Leach about it recently, so take that for what it's worth.

WHAT PROBABLY didn't come up when Moos and Leach met two weeks ago in Key West, Fla., was the patented WSU phrase, "Couging it" - the unique ability of a Washington State team to, when it was seemingly on the verge of winning a game, to somehow find a way to lose the game.

WSU fans have become resigned to the fact that "Couging it" is just part of being a Cougar fan, and that will never change.

Then again, part of Moos' desire to change the culture in Pullman is that he never has to hear that phrase again.

With all the Monopoly-type money coming in from the new Pac-12 TV deal, WSU is able to spend with the big boys.

“We’re at the juncture where we have to run with the big dogs, or admit we’re a doormat,” Moos said the other day.

What Moos is saying is that you can win in Pullman just like you can in Los Angeles, or Stanford, or Seattle ... or Lubbuck, Texas, for that matter — if you have the players and the right coach. And the attitude.

Oregon State was terrible in football for some 30 years, but played in nine bowl games from 1999-2009.

Oregon was also bad for a long time, going 26 years between bowl appearances, but has played in 18 bowl games since 1989. Yes, I’m sure Phil Knight might have had something to do with that, but ...

I’ve been to Corvallis, Ore., and Eugene, Ore., and those aren’t exactly vacation destinations either.

Moos’ message — lose the losing attitude, win with players who have made the program incrementally better in each of the four years that Paul Wulff was coach. With many of those players back next year — including not one, but two, talented quarterbacks — WSU hopes to finish off next season with the school’s first bowl appearance since 2003 — something the Cougars were unable to do this season.

Would it be too harsh to say they “Couged it” one last time this fall?

“I’m putting together my staff and can’t wait to coach the WSU Cougars & meet their fans,” Leach said the other day on Twitter.

LESS THAN an hour after Moos explained to the media why he fired Wulff, the just-axed coach showed up in the same room to give his side to the same media.

Usually in this situation, the deposed coach conveniently isn’t able to answer his phone, or is last seen leaving skid marks on his way out of the parking lot.

So for Wulff to show up had to earn him a few points, at least.

“I believe the innocence of Wazzu has been lost today,” Wulff said, meaning WSU was now in the business of buying success.

Leach’s hire reminds me a little of the Cougars hiring Dick Bennett to coach men’s basketball a few years back. Bennett was a proven winner at Wisconsin-Green Bay and at Wisconsin, so the Cougar faithful immediately bought in — even though watching his offense might have actually been harder than watching paint dry.

And two years after Dick left, his son Tony Bennett took the Cougs to the Sweet 16.

In part because it’s football, there’s more excitement in this hire. Fans who had been reaching for the remote in recent years are now reaching for their checkbooks.

Fans are talking about WHEN, not IF, the Cougars go to a bowl game next year. Pretty soon, WSU fans will start googling “BCS” to see what that commotion is all about.

Whatever. If it all works out, it could mean another slogan for WSU in future years.

“Wazzu — Innocence lost. Games won. Money raised. Go Cougs.”

Now go raise the flag.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.

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