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Marquess Wilson, Mike Leach and the shock of a coaching change

Marquess Wilson needed to be pushed -- and hadn't been before. How he responds to his suspension, though, remains to be seen.


Marquess Wilson is a supremely talented player. He simply has a natural talent, a way to make the difficult look effortless and routine. He's been that way since the day he stepped onto campus at Washington State, surprising many -- including myself -- by immediately filling up the stat sheet. The kid can simply lace up shoes and play.

But while Wilson makes the difficult seem routine, he has a tendency to make the routine seem difficult. Remember the drops? The wide-open catches that should've been, but weren't? The drops that came simply due to a lack of concentration, not because of a degree of difficulty or defender in his face? Those were his Achilles heel, the things holding him back from being great, not simply above average.

And let's be clear: Wilson has been damn good at Washington State. He burst onto the scene and has been rewriting records. Take the results out of it, though, and you can see there's things lingering that he's always needed to clean up. He dogged it at times, didn't work as hard as he should, and had a tendency to get down. If he wants to be great, these are all things that need to be fixed.

When Mike Leach arrived in Pullman, he challenged Wilson. He kept challenging Wilson -- verbally, symbolically by pushing him down the depth chart, and physically by making him work harder. Wilson wasn't ready for it, and almost broke early in Leach's tenure -- during the spring, when the staff was forcefully nudging the star wide receiver along.

Just looking at Wilson, it was clear he wasn't used to it. He came to Washington State skinny as a rail, looking like he'd never really picked up a weight. It felt as though he was one of those players who rolled through high school as the most talented player around, then came to college and found he could do the same. He didn't have to work at it, though that also didn't necessarily make him lazy. He did enough to get by, but not necessarily more.

Leach and his staff pushed Wilson to do more, and Wilson broke. In fact, he broke multiple times, playing a game that was kind of a like a yo-yo -- down, then up, then down again and so on. When he was good, he was great -- initiating contact, playing physical and giving full effort at all times. When he wasn't ... well, it was like he balled up and hid.

That's what appears to have happened over the weekend. We were told the same thing that was reported this morning: Wilson left a conditioning workout on Sunday. He may have quit the team as well, but all that's been announced is a suspension. If it all holds, he got pushed and broke.

This is what happens during such a drastic coaching change. I don't know if there's a right or wrong way to transition between staffs, but the change at Washington State has been a complete 180 in thinking. Paul Wulff, nice a guy as he was, tended to protect his players, shielding their egos. Leach doesn't do anything of the sort, as we've seen many times.

Where a player like Wilson could get by on talent alone, Leach has pushed and pushed and pushed in an effort to bring out the best. It's something he's talked about frequently: His job, he says, is to get the most of his players, and he expects their best effort every time they step on the field. That's not just in games, either, it's every single practice, weight session and even in the classroom.

We've seen players fall by the wayside, quitting or being shown the door, many times since Leach has taken over. Some couldn't tough it out. The actions of others led to their own demise. It says something.

There's an accountability and a harsher level of discipline coming from Leach than I think some players expected. Not all, mind you, but some have just hit a breaking point and walked away. They hit a wall, and they quit.

Whether this is the right way to institute change or not is in the eye of the beholder. Leach has been successful by doing exactly what he does, getting the most out of players who may not have the highest levels of talent, and pushing his most talented players to new levels. At Washington State, he's inherited players who may not have been ready for it. And now you're seeing the results.

I don't know if it's right or wrong, but here we are. I don't believe in taking sides, though it seems everyone is either choosing to believe Leach is doing the right things or has pushed Wilson too far and stepped over a line. I do, however, hope that everyone will step back and realize we're talking about 18- to 22-year-olds here.

Wilson needed to be pushed a little harder, and he wasn't ready for it. But maybe he'll bounce back. For his sake -- and his future -- I hope he does.

He needed this, plain and simple. He needed to be pushed and he couldn't be allowed to just get by on talent. It sets a poor example for the team, and it's doing a disservice to Wilson himself, and his future. Whether he steps up -- and whether the rest of the team does too -- remains to be seen.