Leach needs to look in the mirror

Washington State's review of its football program cleared coach Mike Leach and his staff of charges of abuse, and it just so happens that those allegations had been almost immediately recanted by former star receiver Marquess Wilson, the player who made them.

Here's a good review of the university's findings from Bud Withers.

The Pac-12 has yet to finish its independent investigation, but the odds are strong it will rule the same way. So what do we call this? A tempest in a teapot that we quickly dismiss because it unfairly embarrassed Leach and the Cougars? Or is it a teachable moment?

It's probably a little of both.

As best as we can tell, Leach's coaching style, while often harsh, did not rise to the level of abuse this year. The bad news is Leach's coaching style did fall to the level of terrible this year.

Hey, folks, it's a zero-sum game in coaching: You either get better or get worse, and there is no question that the Cougars were worse this year than last.

Leach's first year was a failure. He might say his players were "zombielike" or have "an empty-corpse quality" or talk about their performance "bordering on cowardice," but the bottom line is a coach is hired to lead, and Leach went mostly unfollowed this year.

The response to that, of course, is that Leach was breaking down his team to rebuild it. OK, fine. But Rich Rodriguez, Jim Mora and Todd Graham somehow did the equivalent while getting more out of their teams in 2012 than was produced in 2011.

Leach took over a team fully capable of winning six games but won half that. The Cougars lost at home to 1-11 Colorado. They got stomped 49-6 at Utah on Nov. 3, played tough against UCLA the following weekend and then turned in a white-flag performance at Arizona State, losing 46-7.

You can talk about talent gaps and injuries, but the inconsistent or nonexistent efforts reflect on Leach and his coaches. Say what you want about former coach Paul Wulff, but his often overmatched team was far less "zombielike" in 2011.

The dramatic 31-28 overtime win in the Apple Cup was borderline courageous. It was certainly grounds upon which optimistic Cougs can tether their hopes for 2013.

The totality of the horrid 3-9 season, however, falls not on the players but on Leach and his staff. The singular question today is whether Leach can accept that fact and do something about it.

Leach is quirky, well-read and funny. He'd make every college football writer's top-10 list of "Coaches I'd Like to Have a Cocktail With." He's unquestionably one of the game's great offensive minds, even if the Cougars scored nine fewer points per game this year than last.

Yet this season, Leach mistook blind inflexibility for being demanding. His colorful rhetoric shined a harsh light on his players and filled reporters' notebooks, but he apparently didn't turn his evaluative abilities back toward himself. Leach frequently said that his young guys were playing more because they were outworking the old guys. What he didn't see in that criticism was it was more about his failure than his upperclassmen's shortcomings.

A good coach would have motivated everyone, or just about everyone, to work hard. Like Rodriguez, Mora and Graham did this year.

Leach is a good coach. His track record speaks for itself. He went 84-43 at Texas Tech.

He just wasn't a good coach this year.

It's good that Leach has been publicly cleared of an unfair charge. He didn't abuse players this year. But he certainly didn't teach, inspire, motivate and unite them, either.