Washington State fans are used to losing. The football program only has a .488 all-time record. Their record from 2008 until now is 20-62.
Mike Leach was supposed to change all that.
This season the Cougars are 2-6 and are coming off their worst loss of the year, a 59-37 loss to Arizona. This is Leach's third year in Pullman, and many thought it would be "the" year. Close loss was followed by close loss, until the dam broke last Saturday and Arizona rolled into town. It was the last straw for many fans.
Leach started slow, going 3-9 in his first year as Washington State's head coach, which shocked some. He had a spectacular record at Texas Tech, taking them to ten bowl games in his ten seasons there. After a long feud with the administration at Tech, Leach was fired. After a few years out of coaching, he was hired at WSU.
Most thought the hire was a slam dunk. He is the perfect fit at WSU, he likes the town, the university and the challenge. Pullman is a small town, and he is a small town guy. He had a great record in the Big-12, and for once WSU wasn't hiring a no-name from some small college.
His second year affirmed everything. He led the Cougars to their first bowl game in a decade, a feat that seemed impossible after all the years of losing.
Now, in his third year and with a 11-22 record, a bowl game seems like a fantasy to most Cougar fans. Technically, it is possible. But the Cougars would have to win their last four games in a row, against very stiff competition. Nobody believes they can do it, and with good reason.
So is it fair to say Leach is doing a bad job? This is the third year, and it was expected to be the year WSU went bowling. Most would agree the team is pretty bad right now. A great offense (Leach's specialty) has been dragged down by horrible special teams play and lackluster defense. Leach has had three years to recruit and it should be showing up in the win column.
As I was watching the Arizona game last weekend, I came to a surprising realization. I had fully expected the Cougars to beat Arizona. I had expected the Cougars to win every game this year, and I still expect them to win their last four games.
This is different. Before this season I had never expected WSU to win. I HOPED they would, but didn't expect it. It's a huge change to expect a win. We had lost so many times in the last ten years that it was just normal. Now a loss hurts. It hurts bad. It gets me mad. That's a big difference from my old attitude.
You know why that attitude has changed? Leach. I expect and I know that he can get the job done. He might not, after all it is Washington State. But I expect it.
There is a massive difference between expecting to lose and expecting to win. The losses had become acceptable. Now they are not. They piss me off. I used to hope it would be a close game, a fun game to watch. Now I hope we blow out the other team.
The first thing that has to change in order to become a winning program is the attitude. We have to expect wins. I don't know if it has caught on with the other fans yet, but hopefully it will with everyone involved with WSU athletics. Winning needs to become the new normal, and losing needs to break our hearts.
Good job Coach Leach, you've started to turn it around.