USATodaySports/Snook

COMMENTARY: Now is the time for WSU's Mike Leach to pipe down and coach

MIKE LEACH is now resorting to ”participation trophies” as the reason Year Five of his Palouse tenure is off to such a miserable start.

Participation trophies.

That’s the emptiest excuse for being out-coached and out-prepared this side of the 1992 Apple Cup.

But this snow job isn’t coming from Husky Nation. It’s coming from Mike Leach and his blizzard of ire about Cougar players not being tough enough. Sure, he tossed in a chestnut that he and his staff need to do more to toughen the lads. But that is just a pick to the roll of his message. He blames youth participation trophies and “kumbaya crap” for the Cougars’ 0-2 start against two teams that possess less talent on their rosters than he does at WSU.

In his first three seasons on the Palouse, he cited the culture and inherited players for the losing. Now it’s participation trophies. Does he think Cougar fans are mindless drones incapable of processing a thought bigger than what fits on a bumper sticker?

Participation trophies? Seriously, Coach? Your team is soft and undisciplined because Billy's dad gave everyone on the first-grade soccer team a ribbon?

Last I looked, ribbons had nothing to do with a disdain for clock management. Or not having all 11 defenders on the field to get lined up before the snap. Or failing to recruit enough defensive linemen to go two deep.

The irony of his vacuous rhetoric this week is also laughable.

That’s because football has been the King of Participation Trophies for about 100 years. Going back to the leather helmet days, any high school or college player who gets on the field for a cup of coffee over the course of a season is presented with a large, wool letter in their school’s colors to proclaim to the world that they … hold it now … participated!

At the end of each season, there’s a first-team All-American squad and a first-team all-conference team. The reason “first-team” is included in these appellations is because there’s a second team, third team and honorable mention list, too.

Yes, football is the world's leader in participation trophies.

And yet ...

that didn’t stop Biff Bangs and the boys on the 1915 Cougars from limiting opponents  to 10 points for the entire season. Mel Hein and Turk Edward apparently weren’t lulled into complacency because they guided the Cougars to the 1931 Rose Bowl and later landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Two of the greatest players in Cougar history — Rueben Mayes and Jason Gesser — hail from two of the most laid-back, participation trophy-esque places on earth: Canada and Hawaii. Guessing from demonstrated performance, it didn’t warp their senses of perspective on what it takes to succeed.

News flash: Steve Gleason, the toughest Coug ever, grew up in the so-called participation trophy era. So did Erik Coleman, Billy Newman, Will Derting, Leon Bender and Deone Bucannon. The list goes on.

Not only did Shalom Luani — a known big hitter on the field and allegedly off — grow up in the era but he actually starred in soccer.

Last I looked, Boise State’s and EWU’s players also grew up in the “participation trophy” generation. Somehow, those guys from Cheney still manage to play with fury and discipline.

MY TWO KIDS probably played a collective 40 seasons of various youth sports and I coached about a dozen of ‘em. They, and every kid they played with, knew from kindergarten on that a ribbon, certificate or mini trophy was purely a thank you for dedication and hard work over a long period. It was, effectively, like the letters high school and college teams hand out.

Those kids knew who the best players and teams were. They knew who worked hardest. They knew who hit clutch singles and made clutch passes. And they knew the difference between a thank you bauble and a championship trophy. They weren't fooled into thinking they were better than they were. They were applauded for commitment and team work.

Ribbons and certificates had absolutely zero to do with their broader work ethic, seriousness or ability to absorb concepts. And for the record, the score was kept in every sport from age 7 on -- and even in the earlier years the kids ALWAYS knew the final tally.

The “participation trophies are to blame” syndrome is a too-frequent excuse for those who don’t have the depth of intellect to think beyond their pinky finger or are trying to sell a line of BS to cover up their own deficiencies. You hear it all the time in various walks of life.

Simpletons and charlatans are often the ones talking about participation trophies.

I don’t believe Mike Leach is either but his chatter this week is more befitting someone who blames others for failure to prepare, to lead, to do their job better.

He’s in Year Five and his team is underperforming in a major way. The New York Times features and 60 Minutes profiles are ancient history. He needs to quit believing in his own brilliance and start delivering a consistent winner.

Every single player on the Cougars' 2016 roster was recruited by Leach and his staff. If your players truly are pansies, then ask Beau Baldwin his secret to recruiting. If your players think they don’t need to work to succeed, ask Bryan Harsin how BSU has maintained a consistent winner in a state that produces only a handful of major-college players a year.

Participation trophies and kumbaya have nothing to do with getting out-coached and out-prepared.

Bill Moos says every one of the remaining 10 games on the schedule is winnable. I tend to agree. Now is the time for Mike Leach to do less talking and more coaching.

As Leach himself once said, you’re either coaching it or allowing it to happen. Time to take full and complete ownership, Coach, and get this team back in the direction we thought it was headed following the Sun Bowl.


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