MORA GIVES PROPS TO LEACH
PULLMAN – The metaphor was too perfect. Fireworks lit up the Palouse sky before Saturday night's game between the Cougars and Bruins. But on this chilly November evening, the pyrotechnics that accompanied the Star Spangled Banner were but a sideshow to the fireworks happening in cyberspace.
Junior wide receiver Marquess Wilson's already now-infamous letter attacking the Cougar coaching staff, distributed to media before the game, lit up the Cougar Nation far and wide.
It overshadowed everything about the game, which included five touchdown passes by Connor Halliday and a spirited WSU comeback that put the Cougs within one score of knotting what once looked to be a blowout.
Asked at the post-game press conference whether he could deny Wilson's allegations of physical abuse, Cougar head coach Mike Leach was succinct.
"Absolutely," he said. "Next question -- and if you expect to ask another one, you won't keep walking down that path."
Wilson, who apparently will finish his Cougar career six receptions short of the all-time school record of 195 held by Michael Bumpus, now will be remembered more for his words than his feats on the gridiron.
In his letter he wrote: "… the new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us. This approach has obviously not been successful and has put a dark shadow on this program. My teammates and I have endured this treatment all season long. It is not 'tough love.' It is abuse. This abuse cannot be allowed to continue. I feel it is my duty to stand up and shed light on this situation by sacrificing my dreams, my education and my pride. I resign from this team …"
"Not going to talk about it," Leach said. "Not going to talk about someone that's not here."
Halliday echoed Leach.
"He (Wilson) made his decision," Halliday said. "You've got to move on."
As for the game itself, the Cougs came on strong at the end to narrow the final score to 44-36. Were it not for a the mind-numbing train wreck on special teams, the Cougs could have won this game against the No. 17 in the nation.
Cougar kickers, punters, returners, long snappers and offensive linemen put the team in an insurmountable hole that accounted directly for 14 UCLA points and robbed the Cougs of six. That's a 20-point swing.
"I thought we out-played UCLA, but we got four kicks blocked," Leach said. "That's the hardest I've seen this team play; really harder than most teams I've coached."
Freshman wideout Dominique Williams started in place of Wilson and shined. He finished with seven receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion.
"We never gave up," Williams said. "There was never a point where we thought it was over."
He declined to comment on Wilson's departure, instead electing to drive home the point that the team showed great effort throughout.
WSU outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons wasn't afraid to talk about the Wilson situation, though.
"I can only affect the guys that want to be affected," Simmons said. "You and I both know… you've been out at every practice. If there was any signs of abuse you would have seen it. You would have reported it. My mom once told me as a kid a wise man never argues with an ignorant man because from a distance you can't tell who's who. I'm going to leave it at that."
With the loss to UCLA, the Cougs fall to 2-8 overall and 0-8 in conference play, with just Arizona State and Washington left on the docket.
The situation with Wilson has not been confined to the state of Washington. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott even weighed in this weekend.
He was supportive of WSU athletic director Bill Moos' statements late Saturday regarding the Wilson situation, adding that the well-being of student-athletes is the most important at every school for every sport.
"I'm certainly satisfied that they're treating it with appropriate seriousness," Scott said. "They're making sure to investigate any complaints about student welfare."
As someone who has been there all year, watching and reporting on practice for CF.C, disparaging comments like the ones Wilson provided will do no good for a young team finding their way. This coaching staff will prove their true worth by sifting their way through those comments and motivating this team to be better.
One player can't make a team, and in this case, one player surely won't break a team either.