Yes, the final three games of the Cougars’ 2016 football season were a let down of immense proportion, but the moaning about it among some of the faithful is way out of proportion to the broader picture here.
This Washington State team won an unprecedented seven-straight conference games and eight overall.
Let me repeat that: Seven-straight wins in the Conference of Champions. No matter how the season started or ended, that is a huge accomplishment.
Oh, but Oregon was down and Arizona was horrible, the naysayers argue. Total nonsense. This is the Pac-12 we’re talking about.
The Cougs finished 8-5 overall, which is far from where we thought they were headed after crushing Cal 56-21 on Nov. 12 to improve to 8-2. Right after that victory over the Golden Bears, an old Cougar friend and I were on the phone recalling the day in 2008 when the Cougs lost at home to Cal by a 66-3 score. We were both in Martin Stadium that September Saturday and the road back to respectability seemed very, very far away.
That game was so bad that stadium announcer Glenn Johnson had fans flipping through their programs with several seconds left in the first half when — not realizing his mic was still on — he suggested that perhaps it was time to see third-string Cal quarterback Brock Mansion.
The road back took time.
Paul Wulff’s last Cougar team, in 2011, came within nine points of a bowl berth. Mike Leach then made it happen in 2013 with the New Mexico Bowl and has put the Cougs in successively better bowls the last two seasons.
Yes, we dreamed of the glory of an 11-2 record this season — and we did’t make it.
Cry in your beer for 30 minutes and then get over it and look where the program stands. Namely:
- 17 wins over the last two seasons
- 3 bowl games in the last four seasons
- 1 of the great QBs in school history coming back in 2017
- A coaching staff, nutrition program, academic support system and facilities on par with the best in the West
This program is trending in a hugely positive direction.
And with it come rising expectations. I love that. Cougar fans now expect excellence. That is how sustained success is attained.
But remember that this is a process and there will be bumps along the way.
I understand being bummed out by the Apple Cup and Holiday Bowl outcomes, but this sky-is-falling routine by some Cougar fans is the height of ridiculous. The bottom line is that WSU football is headed toward long-term success and there are no short cuts!
Vince Grippi, the “retired” scribe of The Spokesman-Review, wrote an outstanding, perspective-setting column about this Cougar season immediately after the Holiday Bowl. Among his observations:
“Cougar fans want more. They saw glimpses of glory this year and liked it. So next year, eight wins will be expected. That number was reached in 2016. Could it have been nine or 10? Should it have been nine or 10? Sure to both. But think of how far this program has come …”
Cougfan.com's columnist of the premium forum, Josh Davis, also weighed in recently with important perspective.
“Leach took a program largely regarded as one of the worst, if not the worst in college football over a span stretching from 2004 to 2012 (9 seasons) and turned it into not only a competitive team, but a Pac-12 Conference contender … So the fact of the matter is that in five seasons Leach took (a perpetual loser to back-to-back) 9- and 8-win seasons …You cannot dismiss those numbers.”
So as we head into the off season, I leave you with three thoughts:
1) Keep those expectations high, both for the team and for yourselves as fans and donors, because it will help institutionalize sustained success.
2) For those who are whining, turn that mentality into positive energy. Donate more, buy more tickets, join the CAF. In other words, bolster the side of the Cougar Nation that is focused on building and striving, not tearing down.
3) Stay proud of WSU and your football team because we are on the right path.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Glenn Osterhout is a wealth manager in Bellevue who graduated from WSU in 1982. He is chairman of CougsFirst!, and recently donated a large sum to WSU athletics to name the recruiting suite in the Cougar Football Complex after Steve Gleason. This past fall, he was honored with the Biff Brotherton Spirit Award by the WSU Foundation. He is a periodic columnist for Cougfan.com.