Expectations can be a cruel word.
Just ask former WSU football Head Coach Paul Wulff.
Last week, Wulff became the fourth and latest victim to the Pac-12 fire sale of head coaches this season. He didn't live up to the school’s expectations and saw his tenure with WSU end with one year remaining on his contract.
A day later, Mike Leach was announced as Wulff’s successor and expectations for the WSU football program shot through the roof.
“Eight wins, nine possibly with a bowl game,” senior sports management major Brandon Michael Williams said. “His offense is unique. Teams will only get three practices to prepare and he will be ready to put a 70 spot up.”
It’s unfamiliar territory for Cougar Nation. The notion of WSU being the little brother to Washington, or not even being worthy of being in the Pac-12, has plagued this program for years. No wait, decades. To think otherwise is a difficult point of view to argue when the program has only put up back-to-back winning seasons five times in the post-World War II era.
But now everything’s changed.
A man who spent ten years at Texas Tech University while taking them to a bowl game every single season is being asked to do the same in Pullman.
With this hire, WSU is finally relevant on a national scale.
“Automatically I want to watch Washington State on Saturdays,” ESPN columnist and former Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan said last Thursday on ESPN’s Around The Horn.
Expectations are high, but they might be too high, too son.
“Here’s what I expect," former Cougar Head Coach and current Cougar Radio color commentator Jim Walden said last week on Seattle’s KJR Sports Radio."Based on everything our athletic director (Bill Moos) has been telling us, anything short of nine wins from now on is not acceptable. If we’re going to run with the big guys, we got to think like the big guys and the big guys fire coaches for not winning nine games.”
Leach will have to put on a meet and greet whirlwind tour through the region of high school coaches so he can start swooping up players. WSU can not have another episode like last offseason when Bishop Sankey of Gonzaga Prep backed out of his verbal commitment to WSU and went cross-state to Washington.
Fortunately for Leach, his two-year absence from the game allows him to still be recognizable. High school freshmen that watched Texas Tech beat No. 1 Texas two years ago on national TV are now still just juniors and might be influenced by the Leach name.
One particular player Cougar fans should want to watch during the offseason is Jake Heaps. Two years ago, Heaps was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation coming out of Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., before deciding to play football at BYU. Recently it’s been reported that while Heaps hasn't come out and said he’s looking to transfer, there’s a decent chance he will.
“With his Mormon background, I could see him being attracted to Leach,” Williams said.
Leach and Heaps share the connection of having attended BYU.
The Cougars already have young quarterback talent with Jeff Tuel coming back next season and Connor Halliday being just a redshirt freshman. But with expectations, we can no longer stand still and be satisfied with what we have. Expectations won’t allow it.
So just how high has Leach raised the level of expectations in the Palouse?
“Getting to the Pac-12 title game in three years I think is possible.” Williams said. “But before his hiring, I couldn't imagine us ever being in it.”