Going the Rounds: Washington State may have come out ahead in recent football coach hirings

  • Tue Jan 21st, 2020 6:14pm
  • Sports

By Rick Anderson

Grays Harbor News Group

As a University of Washington graduate, I’m not necessarily rooting for this prediction to come true. But my gut feeling is that Washington State may have come out ahead of the Huskies in recent head football coaching hirings.

As the UW’s highly regarded defensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake was the logical choice to be promoted when Chris Petersen unexpectedly resigned.

Lake, however, has never been a head coach at any level and he is filling his staff with largely unknown quantities and people with something to prove as assistants. That game plan may work out, but it represents a gamble.

In contrast, newly hired WSU boss Nick Rolovich is coming off a largely successful stint as the head coach at the University of Hawaii.

Initial reports indicate he has already gained the trust of the holdover players from the Mike Leach era. He’s a personable guy whose age and background suggest that he’ll stick around the Palouse for a while.

Rolovich is a devotee of the run-and-shoot offense. That’s a mode of attack that was more in vogue 30 years ago than today, but it still represents an easy transition from Leach’s Air Raid offense.

Leach’s legacy at Washington State before he moved on to Mississippi State might have been exaggerated a tad by some observers. Under his leadership, the Cougars never made it to the Rose Bowl (or any other New Year’s Day bowl), in part because his teams seldom beat Washington in the Apple Cup.

There’s little doubt, though, that he left the WSU program in far better shape than he found it. He was a master at recruiting and developing quarterbacks and his clubs played toe-to-toe with most of their more renowned rivals. Like him or not, he created a buzz about Washington State football that traditionally has been lacking at the national level.

Although the team faces a tall order initially matching up with the likes of Alabama, LSU and Georgia in the Southeastern Conference, Mississippi State fans have every right to be optimistic about Leach’s arrival. Provided they don’t expect him to ever — as in even once — take responsibility for a loss.

Leach routinely would dismiss or ridicule suggestions that his inflexible style and clock management played any part in Cougar defeats. Some of his ex-players, meanwhile, may still be sporting tire tracks from being publicly thrown under the bus following setbacks.

Most area high school coaches would sooner roam the sidelines clad only in their underwear than publicly call their players “fat, dumb and entitled.” That was Leach’s infamous quote following a loss to Utah last fall.

If you think about it, college sports are about the last place where coaches can sometimes get by with that type of comment. Such a quote would trigger a player revolt at the professional level and a parental revolt in high school athletics.

But as long as the well-heeled boosters don’t revolt, outspoken but successful college coaches probably can retain some degree of job security.

Risk/Reward

Although primarily associated with golf (and financial investing), risk/reward analysis also can be a surprisingly effective way of dissecting — and sometimes second-guessing — football strategy.

Whenever their favorite team is in a particularly tricky situation, fans can ask themselves whether the reward in pursuing a certain tactic outweighs the risk.

Consider, for example, the final three minutes of the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers National Football League playoff game of a couple of weeks ago.

Trailing 28-23, the Seahawks faced a fourth-and-11 situation from their own 36-yard line with 2:41 remaining in the fourth quarter.

With a full complement of timeouts at his disposal, Seattle coach Pete Carroll opted to punt — obviously in the hope that the Hawks would regain possession under more favorable circumstances a minute or so later.

But with quarterback Aaron Rodgers completing a pair of key third-down passes, Green Bay ran out the clock.

Carroll later explained that he didn’t like the odds of converting on such a long-yardage situation. His decision was defensible, but didn’t pass the risk/reward test.

The risk was the same on both of Carroll’s options. Regardless of whether they went for the first down or punted, the Seahawks risked not getting the ball back.

But since they would keep a potential game-winning drive alive in pretty good field position with no real time constraints, the reward seemed much greater in trying for the first down. And that’s not even factoring into the equation that Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, with both his arm and feet, is one of the best in the business in converting clutch long-yardage plays.

Carroll takes a lot of grief (sometimes from yours truly) for his strategical decisions. But that represents only one part of coaching.

The Seahawks had the personnel for about a 9-7 season. Instead, they went 12-6 and advanced as far as the second round of the playoffs.

That isn’t the first time they’ve exceeded preseason expectations. Even if he doesn’t always pass risk/reward tests, Pete Carroll deserves a significant part of the credit.