CF.C Coach's Chalkboard with Robin Pflugrad

THE NEXT several months, I believe, will be as important as any in the history of Cougar football. As we now enter the stretch drive on the 2015 recruiting class, Washington State -- for the first time -- has the football facilities to compete with every other program in the Pac-12, and maybe the entire nation. With this new reality, expectations will become even greater.

Recruiting is at such a premium -- it is truly the life blood of any great program. And this offseason, Mike Leach must not only win the recruiting battles; he must also fill his current vacancies with the right fit.

What type of defensive coordinator does he want? Does he go odd or even, with a three-man front guru or a four-man front specialist? Does he have his d-coordinator also take on special teams, or corners and safeties, or something else? Will there be WSU coaches who move on for other opportunities?

Meanwhile, life in the weight room for the current players will take on a life of its own. The young secondary and other positions must grow up fast. They have experienced the level of play in the Pac-12 -- now it is time to compete and excel at that level. The development of a young QB that was forced to grow up in a hurry will be extremely important.

The Cougs will not have the extra benefits that a bowl game can bring to a program. The additional 15 practices, extra training table meals, team bonding, etc. The Cougs must use their time wisely, because spring ball is just around the corner.

The Apple (cup) was just plain rotten …

In the perfect coaching world you would like your last game of the year to culminate in your very best performance of the year. There might be dozens of reasons but more importantly, how can the issues be corrected in the upcoming offseason.

Rivalry games are sometimes the toughest games to evaluate. Something strange always seems to happen. One thing I noticed was the fact there was way too much trash talking -- by both teams.

The Cougs needed to show maturity in this area even though they are a fairly young team. It is much more important to think about your assignment than to argue or dish on an opposing player. As I said last week, I felt that Washington had quit a few outstanding players, but hadn’t always played well as a team.

Additionally, the Huskies had the easiest schedule in all of the Pac-12. There first four wins were over an FCS program and three teams with a combined record of 11-26 . My point is this: Respect your opponent and then go beat them.

Washington was a beatable opponent. The game became lopsided because simple fundamentals were not executed. Catching the ball, throwing the ball with proper technique whether dropping back or scrambling, proper pass protection vs. a three- and four-man front, not being able to get off blocks, all of this was on display.

In addition, schematically the Cougs seemed to fall behind what the Huskies were doing. The Dawgs often dropped eight players into coverage and only rushed three. This would have been great for certain types of run plays. But only 10 balls were handed off to Cougar running backs, for 4.2 yards per carry.

With more patience and more attempts, I believe that figure could have gone up to 5-6 yards per carry – and resulted in better 3rd and 4th down efficiency numbers (Cougs were total of 3-15). It would have sustained more drives and kept the ball away from Washington.

The Cougar defense just wasn’t as strong against the run – UW’s running back looked like a Heisman candidate by the end of the evening, with multiple open-field tackles not being made by WSU. The pressure on QB Cyler Miles was very limited, and sacks were missed when they should have been made.

Between fundamentals and scheme, there seems to be plenty of work to keep the Cougars busy this off season.

Black Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…

No, these are not Christmas shopping events. These are the days following the season coaches everywhere hold their breath to see if they’re still employed. It’s a timely topic with three members of the Cougar staff (Mike Breske, Paul Volero, Eric Russell) let got this season.

Coaching is a very rewarding profession, but extremely volatile. The old saying is true: “You’re not really a Coach until you’ve been fired.”

The most important reason why an assistant stays or goes always comes down to the head football coach. It is his program and his prerogative who is on staff. With the huge salaries that Pac-12 and FBS head coaches now command, a difficult season can result in the President, Athletic Director or even a prominent Booster offering their thoughts that someone needs to serve as a sacrificial lamb.

As coaches, we decide we want to be in this volatile profession. But it is never easy to lose your job (in any profession). Often, there are many circumstances that are out of your control.

Once, as a wide receivers coach on a team that led the Pac-10 in passing, I thought things were going well. We had played for a national championship two seasons ago, we had qualified for a bowl game in the present and had just beaten our rival. But on a Black Monday meeting, the head coach informed us that we had all been fired and would not be retained by the new incoming coach. That was the first time I had experienced being fired in the profession I love.

Like many coaches who stay in the game long enough, I have been let go on more than one occasion but that first one is the one you always remember. Your entire family has to make many changes and adjustments. Children have to leave their friends and teachers, often abruptly in the middle of the year. They have to go to new schools in new communities. Spouses often give up their entire careers because of these moves.

And the little things that drive me crazy come along as well: new driver’s license, new car insurance, new bank, new town and finding your way around, new work keys, buy new house, sell old house, and on and on. As a head coach, I felt fortunate I didn’t have to let any coaches go. We were fairly successful at Montana, so a few coaches had opportunities to move of their own volition. As a head coach, you always have to keep a short list of candidates in your top drawer for both positive and negative reasons.

So if it should happen on some future Thanksgiving down the road, where you find yourself yelling “Fire that turkey!” also take a moment to think about the leftovers and how they’ll be spending their Holidays!

Now that’s a Wrap…

There are a lot of things on which they can agree to disagree, but the what-ifs of a football fan and a football coach are often the same. The most important statistic that fans and coaches can agree upon: the win-loss record. With the Cougars finishing at 3-9, it is disappointing to all. However, it was really a year of parity in both the Pac-12 and in college football.

Many games in the Pac-12 were decided in the fourth quarter, with more than usual going into overtime periods. And maybe WSU’s season would have gained some momentum had the Cougs would have won their first two games. Both Rutgers and Nevada finished 7-5 in their respective conferences but both those games were definitely winnable for the Cougs.

The win at home against Portland State was expected. Having Oregon travel to Martin Stadium seemed to be a real plus. Cougar Nation was raucous that September night, and the Cougs gave the Ducks all they could handle. The game atmosphere and new facilities were hugely highlighted in that game, and an upset of the Ducks would have paid multiple dividends in the conference race and in recruiting. The window for error was small, and some questionable officiating didn’t help.

The Utah game ended up being the highlight of the season -- and it really was a terrific win over a team that rose to No. 17 in the nation at one point. The Cougs showed a lot of grit and determination, coming from behind to defeat a quality Pac-12 opponent with an eventual 8-4 record.

The Cal game was one of the most exciting games that I saw all season long, and also the most disappointing.

Another home game showing off the new facilities and a rowdy student section unfortunately left us all broken hearted. It was a further kick to the gut that Cal improved plus-four in wins from last season, while the Cougs were minus-three.

Stanford, Arizona and USC were extremely challenging to defeat. Headed into the season, the thought was to upset at least one of those three to continue on the bowl season glide path of a year ago. But the Cougs were never close in these games losing by a combined 137-71 (although Stanford was still in reach at the start of the fourth quarter.)

The Oregon State game was a quality win on the road and showed signs of optimism with a young, new QB at the helm. ASU really two games in one. Too bad the Cougs couldn’t have played an entire game the way they played in the first quarter. They were on fire on offense and defense for the first 15 minutes, possibly playing their best football of the entire season.

Hopefully there’s much more of that to come in 2015.

Go Cougs!

Robin Pflugrad has spent 29 years as a college football coach, and as head coach at Montana was a finalist for the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award as the nation's top FCS coach. From 2001-05 he was an assistant at Washington State, where he served as tight ends coach, recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach. He was an assistant at Arizona State prior to coming to WSU and at Oregon after leaving WSU. He is a graduate of, and former assistant coach at, Portland State. Former WSU head coach and longtime d-coordinator Bill Doba referred to Pflugrad as “The Bulldog” while at WSU, owing to Pflugrad’s attention to detail and passion for recruiting. He and wife Marlene reside in Phoenix, where he is a football consultant for a number of college programs, a college football analyst for Channel 3 KTVX (CBS). His daughter Amanda works in the New York Jets’ online media department while son Aaron enters his second season as an offensive graduate assistant at ASU.

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