Courtesy Athletic Communications The Cougs highly anticipated first test of the year will come Thursday night in front of a national audience on ESPN. After an off-season of coaching turnover and swirling anticipation, preparation will finally meet opportunity.
Their test will not be written. They have no lifelines. They only have each other when they step onto the field to play against Brigham Young University.
Plenty of hype has surrounded the acquisition of Mike Leach, the former coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. But while hype has been prevalent, questions have also swirled around the new head coach.
Will he save the Cougs from their current rut? Will he bring them back to glory in the Pac-12 conference? How will he handle the recruiting process? How will he change the team for the better?
Yet, even if you believe he will turn the team around and foster a winning tradition in Pullman, he will not have a direct hand in it. Even if he recruits the best players in the nation, he cannot guarantee that they will play well.
Leach brings an amazing reputation to Washington State. He had an 84-43 record at Texas Tech, and coached the Red Raiders to 10 straight bowl games in his 10 seasons there. In fact, he has never posted a losing record in his career of coaching college football.
How many of those wins will transfer to WSU, though? The answer is zero. Leach will have to prove himself just as he did in Lubbock, Texas.
More importantly, Leach will not be the one playing the games this season. Like a teacher in the classroom, he can only instruct until the time of the exam. Then the pupils are on their own.
The players can ask him questions during the game, but he can only say so much. He can devise genius plays, but the players must execute them.
This year’s team certainly has the talent and qualifications to execute often. They have a senior quarterback in Jeff Tuel who, despite having limited playing time last season due to injury, brings leadership and experience to the offense. A veteran offensive line will also help Tuel stay healthy this season.
After ranking ninth in passing yards last season, this offensive unit will be expected to put up similar numbers with Leach at the helm. This shouldn't be a problem considering the coach has steered plenty of successful offensive units in past years.
B.J. Symons, a quarterback under Leach at Texas Tech from 2000-2003, attempted 719 passes and threw for 52 touchdowns in his senior year alone.
Another quarterback who played for Leach, Graham Harrell, threw for over 5,000 yards in both 2007 and 2008, recording 48 and 45 touchdowns respectively those seasons.
Needless to say, Leach makes good quarterbacks into great ones. With the right system and the right players, a coach can breed success.
So go ahead, imagine the Coug winning six, seven, eight games this year. Imagine their offense torching opposing defenses. Picture the grandstands emptying as fans storm the field to surround the team after they win a bowl game.
Just remember this: Giving a gladiator the sharpest sword in the world does not guarantee that he will win in the arena. Even the best coach can only call plays, offer advice, teach technique and motivate. Ultimately, the players must translate all of that onto the field.