Before we dive into why Washington State is the toughest job in the Pac-12, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. This is not about desirability. That can be judged only on a case-by-case basis.
Mike Riley was always a better fit in Corvallis, Oregon, than he would have been in Tempe, Arizona. No one will ever convince David Shaw that Los Angeles is a better place to live than Palo Alto, California, and vice versa for Steve Sarkisian. For me, Pullman, Washington, isn't the remote wasteland it is often unfairly portrayed to be by people who might have been there a couple of times. I chose to leave the Bay Area to go to school there and have only good memories of the time I spent in what is truly a college town.
Everyone has their fit.
But even those who cringe at the thought of Southern California traffic have to admit it's much easier to win football games there than places like Washington State or Oregon State. That's not debatable. Roughly 90 years of data bear it out.
In the past 92 years, the Cougars have won 46.5 percent of their games. In the conference, only Oregon State (45.8) is worse. But in the past 10 years, the Beavers (61-52) have won nearly twice as many games as the Cougars (34-74).
Plenty of factors weigh in, but let's use a general term that encompasses the most noteworthy: resources.
It's not just money, of which the schools from large media markets (and Oregon) are flush. That part is likely well understood, but success is affected perhaps more so by recruiting, and that's where Washington State's location, as a resource, is a detriment.
In the past four years, there have been 16 four- and five-star recruits from the state. Of those, only two lived within 125 miles of Pullman. And in the Class of 2015, 17 recruits from the state signed with FBS schools -- none with the Cougars. Only Oregon State, which signed one in-state recruit this year, faces a similar challenge. Oregon's national prestige has made it essentially a non-issue in Eugene, but that's relatively new.
On the other end of the spectrum is Southern California, which boasted 27 four- and five-star recruits this year alone. Even without those factored in, the region still boasted far more talent than the Pacific Northwest.
So without much of a local talent base to pull from, Washington State -- which also has the conference's smallest athletic budget -- can only compete for the second- and third-tier recruits. There's the occasional blue-chipper looking for a college-town atmosphere who determines Pullman is the right place for him, but it's usually a hard sell -- especially because of the program's lack of success following the string of three straight 10-win seasons from 2001 to 2003.
No one should say it's impossible to win at Washington State -- because it's not -- but there's not a school in the conference where it's harder. That doesn't make Mike Leach's job a bad one ... just harder than most.