• MUTINY ON THE PALOUSE. When Washington State hired Mike Leach last winter, it was generally greeted as a slam-dunk bid for a known commodity with a track record of prolific offenses and winning records in far less-than-ideal circumstances. It was also a gamble on a guy who had been fired from his last job under circumstances that – while murky, to say the least – cast some doubt on his basic fitness for overseeing 18-to-22-year-olds. A little less than one season in, there have been virtually no signs of the former: The Cougars are 2-9 with seven consecutive losses in Pac-12 games, and Leach's quarterbacks have been sacked more often than any other team's in America. But it only took nine games for a star player to publicly raise questions about the latter:
Dear Cougar Nation:
It is with a heavy heart that I announce my decision to forgo playing football for Washington State University. I realize the school is saying that I am suspended for violating team policies and may return next week, but this is a lie. This is an attempt by the athletic department to cover up what is really happening in that locker room.
It is been a privilege to be a Cougar, to perform on your field and wear the Crimson and Gray. I would like to thank Washington State University for giving me the opportunity to do what I love most, to play football and receive a quality education for the past three years. I'm grateful to the athletic department for the coaching, care and encouragement I have received prior to this season.
This was going to be our year. My teammates and I were aspiring to be the winning team you deserve. Unfortunately for all, the new coaching staff has destroyed that endeavor. I believe coaches have a chance to mold players, to shape men, to create greatness. However, the new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us. This approach has obviously not been successful, and has put a dark shadow on this program.
My teammates and I have endured this treatment all season long. It is not "tough love." It is abuse. This abuse cannot be allowed to continue. I feel it is my duty to stand up and shed light on this situation by sacrificing my dreams, my education and my pride. I resign from this team. I am deeply sorry to those I am letting down. I am not a quitter. I was raised by my family, and many previous coaches to exhibit dedication and embrace sacrifice, but there comes a time when one has to draw a line in the sand.
Lastly, I thank my fellow teammates, those who also have left the program this year, and those we are leaving behind. I hope our departure will bring awareness to the physical, emotional and verbal abuse being allowed in the locker room and on the field. I pray for healing and recovery for all those who have been hurt by this treatment.
That's now former Cougar receiver Marquess Wilson, with (presumably) a little help from Marquess Wilson's attorney, addressing Wilson's exit from the team in an open letter that began circulating on Saturday, a little less than a week after Wilson was suspended indefinitely for allegedly walking out of a workout. Washington State has already pledged to investigate Wilson's claims, as has the Pac-12 on Monday morning. This is kind of a big deal.
As a writer with a grudging but unavoidable obligation to reality, it's the kind of big deal that makes you squirm. From the outside, not only do we lack enough relevant information and context to determine whether Leach crossed the line separating "tough love" from "abuse," but what little information and context we do have is inevitably colored by our standing biases and assumptions re: institutions, authority figures, race and a million other factors that seem to have nothing to do with football – or necessarily to the dynamic between Mike Leach or Marquess Wilson, either. (If you don't believe race/racial politics is driving emotional responses to this story, just read some of the comments here.) We do know that Leach has been unhappy with his team's effort, in general, at one point criticizing some of his veteran players for having an "empty corpse quality," or just going through the motions. The day before Wilson's exit from the team, Leach made no attempt to hide his scorn on the heels of a 49-6 debacle at Utah, describing the effort as "pitiful" and "horrible" and pledged to spend the coming week "working on effort."
Wilson seemed to be one of the guys – given his All-American status on an otherwise obscure roster, perhaps the guy – that Leach wanted to make an example of. In the spring, Leach openly criticized Wilson's effort and periodically demoted him to third-string; by midseason, the relationship had deteriorated to the point of at least one open clash over Wilson's effort during a practice. Although he still leads the team by far in receptions (52), yards (813) and touchdowns (5), Wilson's production was nowhere near his prolific sophomore pace, and he began his last two games on the bench.
That's what we actually know. Hopefully the rest of the story (as opposed to the Adam James affair at Texas Tech) will emerge in coherent, well-reported fashion that at least allows reasonable people to agree on a set of basic facts, even if they interpret them differently. Make no mistake, though: With his baggage and an ongoing debacle of a debut, Leach's career is at stake.
• I LEARNED IT FROM YOU, OKAY?! After all these years of hard work and leading by example, finally, Bo Pelini is really starting to feel like he's making a difference at Nebraska.
If I'm reading Daimion Stafford's lips correctly there, he's advising his coach to invest in the medical technology sector. Good advice, Daimion.
Also, in the same game, there was this play…
…which was technically a touchdown but officially not a touchdown, a crucial distinction that coast Penn State six critical points in an eventual loss and forced the Lions to confront the possibility of a post-Sandusky conspiracy to keep them down:
Matt McGloin has plenty to say. He agrees with you:
"Man, I don't know. We're not gonna get that call here. We're not gonna that call ever, actually, against any team. Doesn't matter who the refs are. We'll never get that call."
McGloin's voice was all the way down in his throat, quavering with pent up anger.
Why won't PSU get such a call, I asked?
"Why do you think it is? It's just the way it is, man."
I said I knew what I thought he was saying. But I asked him to explain it:
"Write what you think. … It's us against the world and we're not gonna get those types of calls in these types of games."
Thankfully, other Penn State players were less… let's say, passionate about the idea that the scandal that rocked the program over the past year might actually affect an official's decision on a close call. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill: "If that's one of the reasons they made that call, that's a shame. But we shouldn't have been in that predicament anyway. We came out [after halftime] and it was 20-6. And they came out and wanted it more." And linebacker Michael Mauti: "We gotta hang onto the ball. It's our job to get into the end zone. We shouldn't let the game be that close in the first place. The referees gotta do their jobs. It's not my job to grade them."
I'm sure those are internalized talking points emphasized by the media relations staff, but in this case, they're effective ones. Personally, I do not think the call is that egregious – it's close enough to plausibly uphold whatever was originally called on the field, which was a fumble – but even if it was, old-fashioned incompetence is always a better answer than conspiracy. And owning your performance is always better than blaming the refs.
• GONE DOOLEY GONE. Tennessee lost to Missouri Saturday in quadruple overtime, the Vols' 13th loss in their last 14 SEC games, sparking the inevitable rumors of Derek Dooley's pending demise Sunday from multiple outlets. Officially, the university – surprise! – says there's "nothing to report" re: Dooley's status, but the locals have already moved on to sizing up potential replacements. And one particular replacement, in particular:
I realize some people are offended by the circumstances that resulted in the former Arkansas coach being unemployed. The synopsis: He had an affair with a young woman whom he also put on the back of his motorcycle as well as the athletic department's payroll. One more thing: He lied about the relationship to his boss.
Counterpoint: He wins games. Lots of them.
In weighing Petrino's off-the-field baggage against his on-the-field success, it's worth noting that he isn't the first prominent coach to socialize with a woman outside his immediate household. It's also worth mentioning that lying is simply a business technique for most coaches.
But it's not as though you would be asking Petrino to marry you or baby-sit your kids. You would just be asking him to do a job.
Do you check the integrity of your pest-control guy? Do you do a background check on your roofer? And in your last conscious thought before the anesthesia is administered, do you wonder about your surgeon's character or his skill?
I don't mean to dismiss integrity as a virtue. I just want to put the situation in perspective.
That column is titled, "I Assure You, Good Christian Citizens of the Great State of Tennessee, Bobby Petrino's Uncontrollable Penis Will Not Be an Impediment to the Essential Task of Winning Football Games." Rather unwieldy, if you ask me, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Other names floated therein include the obligatory nods to Tommy Tuberville and Jon "I Used to Cook These Wings In the Eighties" Gruden, both of which elicit simultaneous yawns and LOLs. (Dumb Jon Gruden coaching rumors are my favorite Thanksgiving tradition.) As little as there is to add to Dooley's impending exit, there will be plenty more to say about his tenure as it comes to a slow, sobering end over the next few weeks.
• BACK TO THE WOODS. Marqise Lee had another huge day in USC's 38-17 win over Arizona State, prompting the eternal question: So where the hell has Robert Woods been, anyway?
"If you've got somebody that people can't stop, you've got to keep getting him the ball," Kiffin said. "If we’re sitting in here and (Lee) touches the ball three times a game, I'd imagine that's the first question (reporters) would ask is, `What are you doing? How do you not get that guy the ball?'"
Asked how he could get the ball to Woods more, Kiffin plainly said, "That's a good question." For the first time, Kiffin also publicly acknowledged that Woods' morale had been impacted by his lack of production.
"Yeah, he's human," Kiffin said. "It was nothing negative. I just, from our relationship, I could feel him. I just think he was a little bit down."
Woods touched the ball three times against the Sun Devils (two receptions, one punt return) for negative yardage, bringing his output for the season to… uh, 653 yards and 10 touchdowns on 61 receptions, in ten games, well below his All-American numbers in 2011, but not exactly relegating him to the status of forgotten man. Prior to Saturday, Woods had at least five receptions in eight of the Trojans' first nine games, with at least 70 yards to his credit in five straight.
Granted, given the preseason hype after his record-breaking sophomore campaign, anything short of stopping traffic on a weekly basis would qualify as a disappointment. (Or in L.A., would it be more impressive to start traffic?) But if the encore is nothing to write home about, that's still what I call underachieving in style.
• Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt is out for the year with a torn ACL.
• Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is unlikely to play Saturday against Jacksonville State due to a bum ankle.
• Louisville loses its leading rusher to a torn ACL.
• The Big East plans to announce new divisional alignments for 2013 and beyond sometime this week.
• The "Have Not" conferences may actually get a larger slice of the pie from playoff revenue.
• The Big 12 is "reviewing" Tommy Tuberville's run-in with an assistant coach in Texas Tech's win over Kansas.
• BYU is going to the Poinsettia Bowl.
• The family of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is looking to have people making sarcastic wanking motions in their general direction for the rest of their lives.
• And as long as he lives, Manziel will never receive a greater compliment than "You're a good quarterback, but I hate you."