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Are Coug fans too negative?

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"The most positive way the fans can help is by providing unconditional support for the program."

No, those aren't my words. They aren't even a Cougar coach or fellow Cougar fan's words. But they are words worth thinking about.

Why?

As it turns out, they were spoken by a coach in the Pac-10 conference, and a highly regarded (and successful) one at that: Jeff Tedford of California. Here's the entirety of what he said:

The most positive way the fans can help is by providing unconditional support for the program. I have noticed in this day and age of blogging, message boards, etc., that people are eager to give negative opinions. While I understand the frustration from time to time, there is nothing positive that comes from that. It doesn’t make for a positive environment for our players and coaches and only provides fuel for negativity in recruiting, which is used against us. So if you want to help, stay positive. It will go much further than the negativity.

That touched off a post from the good guys over at California Golden Blogs that was the inspiration for the post I'm making now. Well, not the entire inspiration.

Over the last two years, there have been a lot of events that have made Coug fans feel the sting of negativity. Two years of historically bad football. A back-to-Earth period for our basketball program after the Sweet Sixteen and two consecutive Big Dance appearances. Tony Bennett's knife to the back. Bill Doba's semi-firing and the subsequent obliteration of our football roster.

The result? A ton of negativity from the fans. Let's just pull some recent comments from the Sportslink blog and the Cougfan forums (after the jump):

Bone….Please have your team play some defense next season!

Sorry to say, I wanted to see Bone succeed here. But I see more and more parallels to Kevin Eastman.

Eastman was actually okay for a little while, got a couple NIT bids. But then it started to crater based on his recruiting and then it slid right on into Paul Graham who continued to screw things up. I see the same things recruiting wise with Bone as with Eastman.

But you might expect to finish better than 10th? You might expect to NOT go from first to worst in defense? And most of all, particularly with a young team, you MIGHT expect them to show some improvment as the season moved on????

There are two sides to the floor and Reggie showed absolutely no effort on defense. That was consistent all year, his offense went in the tank late in the year.

OK, I was one of the people at the beginning of the season that wanted to root for Paul Wulff and give him a chance. After two games this season his chances are over. My reason is not because he can not coach, but he can not prepare his teams at the start of games. I was at the Hawaii game and was disgusted with the lack of preparation and lack of motivation the cougs showed. I can not believe a team that has only won a few games in the past couple of years could overlook a team like Hawaii. Specially since they beat us last year. Our defense was not good and could not make soon enough changes to stop the early onslaught. HE MUST GO!!!!!

And I thought Doba was bad!!! Wulff needs to go back to Eastern where he can continue his no contact with players attitude and get away with it.

(apologies to the commenters I'm singling out, but they are your words)

That's just a small sampling. And, to be fair, some of these were 'heat of the moment' statements taken after painful losses and some of the more disappointing games this year. But you all know the criticisms tossed around this year. In the fall, it was "Paul Wulff can't coach". In the spring, it started with "Klay Thompson is horrible and should stop shooting." Which morphed into "Reggie Moore is horrible and needs to play defense." All before finally coming to a stop at "Ken Bone is a horrible coach and will destroy our program," after all the recent transfers. It wasn't fun. Only recently have message boards and comment areas come back to life as the off-season shaves off the casual fanbase and the die-hards (like you and I) roam freely on the internet.

This is nothing new, either. We saw it in 2005 and 2006 as the football program began its gradual decline after the three ten-win seasons. A lot of it got centered around Alex Brink, first versus Swogger then versus Rogers, and so on. Even if you don't think Brink belongs with the all-time Cougar greats, and even though we didn't win many games under him and Doba, you have to at least agree with me that our school's all-time passing leader doesn't suck. Still, there was a lot of thrashing about and a lot of negativity in the Doba era. Heck, I was a part of it, getting warned by the Cougfan.com moderators for some blanket "Fire Bill Doba" statements after the UCLA meltdown a few years back (a.k.a. the Maurice Jones-Drew game).

What's really at the center of this? Why are we negative? Why are we positive? At the end of the day, all of us fans have one goal: win games.

It's simple, really. And yet, it seems to be there's a divergence on how to get to that point. Much like in politics, there is a school of thought that says you should trust your chosen leadership because they know best. There is also a school of thought that says you need to challenge your leadership consistently and criticize them when appropriate. Both schools can be right - depending on the situation, of course, and it takes a little of both to move the country forward. Is it ever black and white when to do what? Of course not. But let's get back to college sports.

I hardly think we at CougCenter are flag-bearers for the WSU athletics department. We've criticized coaches - heck, if you google "Paul Wulff Sucks" the second entry is a post by yours truly. We challenge certain decisions, and we will from time to time tell it like it is. However, it seems this year the as some in the fanbase moved largely against Ken Bone we were labeled "Bone apologists" just for staying in the center. For having some patience. I really don't know if Bone will work out, but I'm more than willing to give him a fair shake. The speed with which a lot of casual fans turned against Bone was both disturbing, and, I'd argue, counterproductive. Possbily even harmful to the future of Cougar athletics.

Why is Bone-bashing - and Wulff-bashing, for that matter, bad for WSU? Well, think about it. Was either coach going to be fired this past season for a poor record? Of course not. For Wulff, it was his second year and we knew the cupboard was becoming increasingly bare. In football, it takes a minimum of two to three years to start bringing in players that fit your system and match the coaching staff's values. And, not surprisingly, Paul Wulff remains head coach despite yet another horrific season last fall. I'd argue most die-hard fans don't mind, especially with all the hope recruiting has provided. Meanwhile, Bone was in his first season, with only one upperclassman on the entire roster and a bevy of holes left behind by Benedict Bennett. Do we really want to fire a coach and produce more attrition and more uncertainty about the future of the program?

My point is this: if you want to make the program better by firing a coach, do it when the opportunity to fire a coach is both reasonable and realistic. Think Bill Doba circa 2007. Otherwise, why ride a coach and rant about him negatively? In college sports in particular, recruiting is everything. It's not like professional sports where they guy you're booing goes home to a million dollar mansion and 15 cars all financed by your season tickets. Don't kid yourselves: recruits, especially in this generation, read message boards. They read blogs. I was stunned to find a fairly prominent member of our football team among our membership earlier this year. These are 18 to 23 year old kids (give or take a couple years) with feelings and emotions, who are only paid in tuition, if even that (despite the millions of dollars they generate). I decided a long time ago blatantly negative comments about players are wrong. Constructive criticism is OK, when it's warranted. But you all know that Reggie Moore tries to play defense at a high level. Do you think he felt good after Malcolm Armstead streaked by him for the game winner in the first Oregon game? Absolutely not. Going home and posting on the Cougfan forums that he should feel bad doesn't help (nobody did that, I'm just saying...).

As for coaches, they are open to more criticism, especially given the insane salaries they command in this day and age. But to absolutely blast a coach before you even have a clue he (or she) will be successful? To give internet-using recruits yet another reason to choose UCLA or USC over Pullman? To just throw gasoline on the fire of naysaying and negativity? Those things don't win ball games. Does this mean you can't demand excellence? No. But it does mean you have to be reasonable. It means you have to collect your opinions and get your facts straight before throwing coaches under the bus.

You don't have to do what Jeff Tedford is saying. Total, unconditional support is sometimes counterproductive as well. Few people were rooting for the M's to win in the middle of the Strasburg Sweepstakes, because quite frankly losing in that scenario helped the future of the franchise more. Fortunately college sports don't have drafts, and there aren't any situations like that to blur the lines further. Although sometimes we quietly hope for a loss in the final game of the season just to stop the bleeding and move on to next year. Still, if there's one place where you could root for a team unconditionally, it's on a college campus. Are you really going to give up on Cougar basketball just because you don't like a change in the style of play?

Still, as I've grown more cynical in the past few years as a sports fan, I had a revelation recently, thinking about the Seahawks of all teams. Now, I think Pete Carroll is most likely going to be a failure as a head coach. John Schneider? Eh, probably him too as a GM. Now, I'm faced with a choice: I can whine about it for the next three plus years, call for their heads immediately and go on a message board to say in all caps "HAHAHA I TOLD YOU SO" when the Seahawks lose to the Rams this upcoming season.

OR, I could just support my team. Root for the USC Pete Carroll to emerge, the one who dominated his profession, and forget about the New England Patriots Pete Carroll. The Seahawks will suck next year, too, much as they did last year. Again, I can complain, or I can turn on the TV on Sunday and root for them anyway, because screw it, they are my team.

The most pathetic thing I've ever seen by our fans happened in the sparsely attended Oregon State game in 2007. The game where Alex Brink had something along the lines of no touchdowns to 12 interceptions on Senior Night. In the downpour of rain, and in a stadium with maybe a couple thousand fans still around, a couple older season ticket holders came down into the student section just to heckle Alex Brink. Quite a sendoff for someone who worked hard and invested four years of his life for Washington State. My friends and I were never Brink cheerleaders (to this day I've rarely worn my #10 jersey, although it will probably be re-appearing soon thanks to Jeff Tuel), but even we knew that was really messed up.

The next week, Brink did this:


I hoped somewhere those two "fans" of our team were watching. And I hope it didn't feel as good for them as it did for me.

And you know who enjoyed that play the most? The Coug fans that showed up at Husky Stadium just to support their team. Not because that Cougar team was great (it wasn't). Not because there was a Bowl game or anything else but pride on the line.

Sometimes you can open your eyes and see the sports world the way you did when you were a kid. Crimson team good, purple team bad.

One of the great things about Bill Moos coming in is that just his appearance on campus is making people feel hopeful again about the future of Cougar athletics. He's done absolutely nothing, and yet already Bill Moos' tenure can be characterized a success. Why? Because we feel like there's something great on the horizon. That's a good feeling, and it's one we should have more often.

I guess what I'm saying is, this upcoming season, throw away your expectations. Your preconceived notions about players or coaches or systems. Just try being a fan of your team again. Even if they are horrible. Stay positive. It's hard to do it consistently (especially when you're a fan and you have no control over it), and there are times when you'll crack. Or need to vent. But we, as moderators of Cougar discussion, will try to help make it clear when it's OK to vent and when it's OK to shut up and just move on.

So, let's all be fans again.

Support Washington State. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the results.