Even without knowing who’ll lead Washington State in the wake of Mike Leach’s departure to Mississippi State, it’s fairly easy to draw a few conclusions about the future of the Cougars’ football program without Leach.
In so many ways, the former WSU coach did things his way – differently than 99% of his peers in the college football world. Some things may carry over to the next era in Pullman, but many won’t.
Without being totally certain about what’s coming next, here are 10 things we’re fairly certain will change for WSU without Leach.
See ya, Sacajawea
In 2013, Leach moved a portion of fall camp to Lewiston and Sacajawea Junior High while construction workers were adding final touches to the football operations building. The coach liked the camaraderie the trip built – players bunked together at Lewis-Clark State College – so the Cougars returned the year after and Lewiston became a staple of the preseason routine under Leach.
The initial retreat to Lewiston came out of necessity. It seems unlikely a new coach would stage preseason camp there, especially in his first season as he’s still trying to find his bearings.
Reintroduction of an OC
Though he delegated to his assistants and often left quarterback responsibilities to offensive quality control assistant Drew Hollingshead, Leach was effectively the Cougars’ head coach, play-caller and quarterbacks coach for eight years.
Not since 2011 has there been a designated offensive coordinator at WSU – something that allowed Leach to save a few extra dollars for his defensive coordinator and assistant coaches. Leach’s structure is unique, though, so even if his successor is calling the plays or coaching a position group, expect to see an OC and a DC on the payroll in 2020.
Rushing yards galore
Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But running back Max Borghi had an apt description of what his junior year could look like under the direction of a new coach on Thursday. Borghi shared Leach’s tweet, depicting the coach clanging a cowbell with a sword, and wrote, “Mood knowing I will be rushing more …”
Nobody in the country was less committed to the run in 2019 – by a wide margin. The Cougars were the only team in the country with fewer than 300 rushing attempts, running the ball just 210 times. Even if AD Patrick Chun goes the Air Raid route, it’s a good bet Borghi and Deon McIntosh will be more active in the run game next season.
Not every coach is forthcoming about injuries, but most in the Pac-12 are, and the vast majority are more forthcoming than Leach was. The coach notably declined to comment on Luke Falk’s head injury in 2015, which kept the QB out of the Apple Cup, and took the same approach to Peyton Pelluer’s season-ending injury two years later. Leach threatened to leave the interview room on both occasions if questions persisted. Even if the next coach doesn’t offer great detail when it comes to injuries, he’ll almost surely be more revealing than Leach was.
Maneuvering down south
The grueling winter conditioning sessions that became a crucial component of WSU’s offseason training regimen will likely follow Leach to Starkville. “Midnight Maneuvers,” which were set to begin at some point in the next few weeks, weren’t too popular among WSU players, but for whatever deficiencies they had the Cougars were hardly criticized for their lack of conditioning.
Whoever follows Leach will introduce his own offseason workout program, but there’s a decent chance the Cougars have seen the last of “Midnight Maneuvers.”
Rise and shine
Leach was a late riser and a night owl, which partially explains why the Cougars held late-afternoon practices, often starting after 3 p.m., and why the coach’s Monday press conferences didn’t start until 2 p.m. – or were scheduled for 2 p.m., but generally started much later. Leach also stayed in his office well past midnight combing through film and walked home after.
It’s hard to imagine too many other college football coaches keeping those hours.
Tight end time?
Despite Leach’s admiration for tight ends – something he stated midway through the 2019 season – he didn’t use them in his rendition of the Air Raid offense. But others do. Graham Harrell uses the position at USC, so does Sonny Dykes at SMU, and Seth Littrell’s North Texas rosters lists six tight ends.
The Cougars may still be tight end-less if they hire Nick Rolovich, who doesn’t use the position in his run-and-shoot, but otherwise the probability of tight ends returning to Pullman in 2020 seems fairly high.
Under Leach, the Cougars employed two wide receiver coaches, largely because they rostered approximately a dozen receivers (13 on the 2019 team). Dave Nichol coached the inside “H” and “Y” positions, while Steve Spurrier Jr. was responsible for the outside “X” and “Z” spots.
Expect the successor to employ a single receivers coach and spend the extra assistant vacancy on another position group – perhaps quarterback.
The offensive guru who just left Pullman gave his defensive coordinators lots of autonomy and didn’t interfere much, essentially making them “head coaches” of the defense. Meanwhile, Leach stuck with his specialty – the offense – and produced at least two NFL draft-pick QBs, and potentially a third in Anthony Gordon.
That isn’t to say the next coach won’t let a defensive coordinator run his own show, but he’ll almost surely have more input than Leach did. Thatmay be a positive or a negative, depending on who you ask.
The Cougars will bring in someone capable of making a room laugh, but they won’t hire anyone who can set the internet ablaze quite like Leach did. The coach’s quirks and peculiarities made him a magnet for the college football world and the reason a show like HBO’s “24/7 College Football” came to Pullman to spend a week with the Cougars.
Some grew tired of Leach’s batty side, while others embraced it for all it was worth. Now Mississippi State fans get to decide which side they fall on, and Cougar fans should get used to more mundane interviews, press conferences and interactions with their next coach.
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