PULLMAN – The highest-paid employee in the long and colorful history of Washington State University declared Wednesday that WSU’s $11 million investment in him will initially produce coaching tactics not dissimilar to those at a junior high school.
New football coach Mike Leach, whose team begins fall workouts this afternoon at WSU’s Rogers Field practice facility, said fundamentals will be stressed during the first week of practice.
“Whoever was your junior high coach, provided he was above average, virtually everything he told you, we’re going to emphasize big time – and we’re going to do that over and over,” said Leach, who signed a five-year contract after the Cougars fired Paul Wulff after last season.
“I know it sounds strange. But there’s nobody so good that he doesn’t need to play with low pads. There’s nobody so good that they don’t need to come out of their cuts quickly. There’s nobody that doesn’t need to be in a great stance. There’s nobody that doesn’t need to tackle well and block well.”
Leach, who was 10-for-10 in posting winning records and going to bowl games at his only previous head coaching job (Texas Tech), is making no promises in his first year at WSU. The Cougars, 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Pacific-12 Conference (last in the North Division) in 2011, have not finished with a winning record or gone to a bowl game since 2003.
“I’m proud to be a part of the legacy that Washington State has,” Leach said. “I’m not the savior of anything.
“I’ve got a great coaching staff and I’ve got great players to work with.”
The Cougars return about half the starters on both sides of the ball, but Leach stressed that former reserves and newcomers will be given ample opportunity to start.
“We need depth pretty much everywhere,” Leach said.
Leach has not even promised a starting job to senior quarterback Jeff Tuel, although Tuel was outstanding in the spring and in 2010. Tuel missed most of last season with injuries.
Junior wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who set WSU records with 82 catches and 1,388 receiving yards last season, was named a first-team preseason All-American by CBSSports.com. Redshirt freshman Dominique Williams and former tight end Andrei Lintz are part of a strong group of receivers.
Leach is known for directing imaginative, explosive passing attacks. Junior tackle John Fullington and senior guard Wade Jacobson (who missed most of last season due to back surgery) are key men on the offensive line.
Hard-hitting strong safety Deone Bucannon is part of a seasoned secondary. The defensive front seven lacked depth and experience even before Leach kicked three returning starters off the team after run-ins with the law.
“I feel good (about the front seven),” Leach said.
Star defensive end Travis Long is now a buck linebacker, a hybrid end/outside linebacker in a defense that is expected to switch from a base 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske, part of an all-new coaching staff, loves to blitz.
“This is the best coaching staff I’ve ever had,” Leach said. “I’m excited about these players. We’ve improved a lot.”
The Cougars open the season against BYU (Leach’s alma mater) on Thursday, Aug. 30 in Provo, Utah (7:15 p.m., ESPN). … The home opener at newly renovated Martin Stadium is set for Sept. 8 against Eastern Washington (noon, Pac-12 Network). Single-game tickets go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Saturday. … WSU has sold more than 13,100 season tickets, an increase of more than 3,000 from last year. All the suites and loges have been sold along with most of the club seats. … Leach generally avoids two-a-days in favor of one long practice of perhaps 21/2 or 3 hours. … NCAA rules permit teams to wear full pads starting with the fifth practice. … Leach said Tuel has yet to hear from the NCAA about his appeal for a medical redshirt year. Tuel, a pro prospect, has said he is not certain he would return to WSU next season even if he’s ruled eligible. … Scholarship signee Jacob Tuivaiave, a freshman linebacker out of Tacoma’s Washington High School, is not listed on the roster. Leach declined comment on that and reports that freshman cornerback Raymond Ford is headed to WSU after failing to gain admission at California. … Cougfan.com reports that WSU has 12 oral commitments for next season. That includes running back Olito Thompson, who set a Northern California League record with 3,488 rushing yards last season. Scout.com gives Thompson three stars out of five.