More Overtime (cont.)
Last week in this space, I wrote about Mike Leach's orchestrated humiliation of his starting offensive and defensive lines in his postgame press conference following a 49-6 loss to Utah. That turned out to be only the beginning of the public discord surrounding Washington State's program. Last Monday, Leach suspended star receiver Marquess Wilson for walking out 20 minutes into a two-hour conditioning workout the previous night. Rumors circulated that Wilson had quit the team entirely, which he finally confirmed in an open letter released hours before the Cougars' game Saturday night against UCLA.
But Wilson did more than just announce his departure. In the release, he directed some serious accusations at Leach and his staff. "The new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us," he wrote. "... 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." He went on to reference "the physical, emotional and verbal abuse being allowed in the locker room and on the field."
Leach dodged questions about the accusations following the Cougars' 44-36 loss to the Bruins ("I'm not going to talk about anybody who's not here," he said), but Sunday Washington State president Elson Floyd instructed AD Bill Moos and the Pac-12 to independently investigate Wilson's claims to "get to the bottom of the matter."
Wilson, who had a disappointing season following last year's 1,388-yard campaign, clearly knew how to get his message out. He released the statement just hours before kickoff, and he had to know the word "abuse" would elicit a serious response, especially given the nature of Leach's ouster at Texas Tech. While it's since been dispelled under oath that Leach never locked Adam James in a closet, he made no bones of the fact he believed the receiver was a slacker and malcontent. Meanwhile, he'd been publicly criticizing Wilson's focus and practice habits all season and benched him against Stanford Oct. 27.
A recent first-hand account noted a practice where Wilson "dropped multiple passes during red zone drills, then showed little effort during the team's 'skelly' session," after which Leach "followed a verbal thrashing by demanding roughly 20 'up-downs' from the playmaker."
I'll reserve judgment until more than one player has leveled such accusations. Leach would hardly be the first coach to berate his players in practice, but "abuse" can take on any number of forms, and the actions in question may well have taken place behind closed doors. Whatever the case, Leach will go into the offseason with more challenges than simply upgrading the 2-8 Cougars' talent. He's now being investigated by his bosses.
Meanwhile, at Leach's old school, Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville appeared to slap a graduate assistant Saturday against Kansas, and then he tried to explain it away as no big thing. "He was on the field, and I reached to grab him and pull him off," said Tuberville. "When I pulled, I missed his shirt and I grabbed his face mask and his microphone ripped off his head. I was trying to get him off the field."
Really? ... You got that from this?
On Monday, Tuberville was more contrite, saying, "It upset me, too. You don't do things like that. Heat of the battle," and "I have to hold myself to a higher standard." He said he apologized to the graduate assistant, Kevin Oliver.
Would that have been so hard to admit Saturday?
Texas coach Mack Brown made good on his pledge to line up in the wishbone formation for the first play to honor the late Longhorns coach -- and Iowa State was still caught off guard.
While one Lone Star legend moves on, another is blossoming before our eyes.
Mini-previews for three of Week 12's big games:
Ohio State at Wisconsin, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): With all of the hoopla being generated by dual-threat stars Klein, Manziel and Mariota, it feels as if Braxton Miller is playing in Poland. He'll get no shortage of exposure these last two weeks, however, especially if he leads the Buckeyes to an undefeated season.
USC at UCLA, Saturday (4 p.m. ET): As if this rivalry wasn't chippy enough already, there's now two particularly combative coaches involved in Lane Kiffin and Jim L. Mora, and their teams just happen to be the two most penalized in the entire country (a combined 18 per game). It will not be a tranquil afternoon at the Rose Bowl.
Stanford at Oregon, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): It's the biggest game in the country this week, yet Oregon is still favored by 24 points. The Cardinal may well be able to pressure Mariota more than previous Ducks opponents, but it will take an exceptional performance to slow both him and Oregon's rushing attack.