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Mike Leach ranks high among coaching peers

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WSU’s coach is well-respected by national writers.

World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship - Final Round Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images

EDIT: Only took me half a day to realize that the theme implied in the picture doesn’t exactly square with the headline. Good job, good effort.

Good morning, and welcome, I guess, to the dog days of Washington State Cougars news. As with every year, the high point of football season gives way to basketball (kind of, and with some football recruiting sprinkled in), gives way to spring football, gives way to the NFL Draft. Ideally, we’d have baseball to get us through another month or so, but in WSU’s case, yikes.

Did you notice some sort of common theme regarding what we like to talk about around here? We all hope that will change during the winter months now that Kyle Smith is coaching the basketball team, but for the most part, Cougar Football is what we enjoy talking about the most. Doesn’t hurt that they’re pretty good!

So with the conclusion of spring workouts, and with former Cougar football players having moved on, there will be a paucity of Coug - and college football in general - #content until we start to ramp up for training camp in August. College football writers at large are also aware of this, so that can mean only one thing, RANKING SEASON. Why? Because people love them some rankings. Even those who tell you they hate rankings read every damn article that ranks their team/school at something.

Over the next few months, we’ll see lots and lots and lots of rankings: best uniforms, best mascots, best college towns, best transfers, least worst referees, etc. One topic I expect to roll out en masse in the coming days is coach rankings, and that’s where we’ll go today. Over at CBS Sports, Ben Kercheval devised his own ranking system, and explained why his methodology is different than what we’re used to seeing.

Most writers tend to rank the Power Five coaches only, while a few may throw in the up-and-coming G5 guys as well. Others rank them within the conference. Kercheval decided to put them into tiers, and I like the fact that he didn’t rank everyone. After all, do you really feel like getting mad online if your coach comes in 63rd when he beat the 58th-ranked guy last season?

That’s what always bugged me about traditional coach rankings. Who’s to say the guy coaching for a national championship is automatically better than the one taking two- and three-star recruits and winning nine or 10 games a year? They’re accomplishing two entirely different things, usually with different sets of expectations.

That’s why I’ve decided to once again rank coaches in tiers. It made more sense to group coaches accomplishing similar things than it did to try to decide which one was 10th best or 11th best based on different contexts for data. That’s what we’re doing again this year.

Kercheval broke coaches down into different categories, and only ranked them within their respective group. Those categories are Elites, Program Builders, Proven Winners, and Risers and Fallers. Within Proven Winners, there are a few sub-categories as well.

You’ll be stunned to learn that Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney are the top two coaches. I know, I couldn’t believe it either! I’d have actually ranked Swinney ahead of Saban, and I’d have found a separate tier for those two, because the gap between Saban/Swinney is probably bigger than the 3rd and 25th-ranked coaches.

As you probably guessed, Mike Leach ranks pretty high on the list. There were only five coaches in the “Elite” category, and Leach came in midway through the “Proven Winners” portion. Kercheval lists each coach’s championships, and it was somewhat disappointing to see that Leach’s column was one of the few blank ones. A closer look reveals that the author included just about any title under the sun, as he counted whatever Jim Harbaugh won on the FCS level. I mean, ok.

I was pleased that Leach ranked ahead of Harbaugh over all, because Harbaugh hasn’t come anywhere near achieving what was expected when he arrived in Ann Arbor. The only other nits I’d pick with these rankings, in terms of where Leach falls, are with Dan Mullen and Chip Kelly. While he did a very good job with the Mississippi State Bulldogs relative to their history, Mullen had a winning conference record just one time during his nine seasons in Starkville. I think Mullen will do big things in Gainesville, but whether he can catch Georgia and Alabama remains to be seen.

I also wonder how long Charles “Chip” Kelly is going to be able to live off his Oregon resumé. Kelly is in the top portion of the “Proven Winners”, and while he has proven that he can win at the at the Power Five level, he hasn’t done so since 2012. I am confident that Kelly will have UCLA turned around in a couple years, but he obviously isn’t there yet.

One more issue with Leach’s category - Justin Fuente doesn’t belong anywhere near it until he establishes a consistent winner in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech was 10-4 in his first season, 9-4 in his second season and 6-7 a year ago. That 6-7 record includes a 14-point loss to 4-8 Old Dominion. The trend line for VPI is headed in the wrong direction, and it remains to be seen whether Fuente can turn it around.

Football

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Basketball

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The first two years are probably going to be bumpy, but check back in by January 2022 and I get the feeling the Cougs will be going swiftly in the right direction.

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Kyle Smith comes to Washington State after three seasons at San Francisco. The Dons went 21–10 this past season, including a win over Stanford.

This Week in Parenting

Couple semi-related things - First, we were driving home from baseball practice Thursday night, and it had been raining. It was also past bedtime, so I told the boys to get out of their wet and muddy baseball stuff and get ready for bed. As we neared the house, the 7 year-old asked, “Are we gonna take off all our clothes [pause] [pause] [pause] and set the roof on fire?”

Mrs. Kendall nearly fell out of the car in hysterics, while I had no idea what was so funny. Turns out that he pulled a line from Pitbull’s “Fireball” which Mrs. Kendall likes to play in the car. While the line was funny on the surface, the true comedic genius came when he let the first line just sit there for a couple seconds. He’s a damn funny kid sometimes, but I can’t ever let him think that or it will be open season.

Speaking of baseball...

DISCLAIMER: My kids both play little league baseball, and while they’re decent at it overall, I wholly recognize that they almost certainly don’t have the God-given talent to play at any sort of high, or even mid level. They’re ordinary little league players.

That said, the little league situation at our overseas location is a damn train wreck. During the 10 year-old’s first game, I noticed that the pitcher was throwing from well in front of the rubber, a rubber that wasn’t even dug in!!! I asked a coach about this, and it turns out that they let the pitcher throw from anywhere in pitching area, so you have kids pitching from well inside the standard 46 feet. WHY?! How does this help them?!

Also in the 10 year-old’s league, you can’t steal bases and you can’t take a base on a wild pitch. Again, WHY??!! I also noticed that the field itself seems to be in disrepair. The infield grass is so long that it kills every ground ball, and there are so many bumps that you’d think the kids were playing in a prairie dog sanctuary. When I asked the coach about the long grass this week, he said that the base is responsible for maintaining it, and they don’t cut the grass until it reaches four inches in length. One more time, WHY?!

The 7 year-old’s league is coach pitch. This is a jarring transition from the last two years in Florida, when he was in machine pitch (which was really hard!). Over here, if you swing and miss enough of the coach’s meatballs, they bring in the tee, and you get to swing until you hit the ball. I’m not going to magnify this into some larger societal symptom, but is this really helping anyone?

One would think that an overseas American base would be the gold standard for youth sports programs among military installations, because it’s not like we can sign the kids up for the German youth baseball league. We’re over here on an island when it comes to American youth sports, and we might as well be on the moon. It’s very disappointing.

As I said at the top, I am not the parent who thinks his kids are gonna get a scholarship or a minor league contract. Hell, they might not even play in high school. But when your baseline for little league baseball is Florida, the transition to this program is surface-of-the-sun to black hole. I mentioned machine pitch for the younger kid, which was incredibly challenging. In the older kid’s Florida league (I imagine it to also be the case for most places in the states), your ass was pitching from 46 feet. If you threw a wild pitch, anyone on base was running until you stopped them. Don’t want someone to steal? Throw them out. The 7 year-old was just another player last season in Tampa. This year, compared to his teammates, he’s Mickey Mantle with a good liver.

There are a few kids on the both of their teams who look like their introduction to the game was the first practice. I help out with the 7 year-old’s team sometimes, and it seems as if some have never seen a baseball. I’m not here to criticize any parent, but if you sign your kid up for baseball - or any sport for that matter - shouldn’t you help the kid and his/her coach (who is also just a regular old parent with a day job) by taking little Jimmy or Sally Brayden or Kaetelyn into the yard to teach them some of the basics?

I don’t know. It just makes me curious I guess, and the sports programs over here aren’t helping. Matter of fact, they’re doing the opposite.

Beer

Best beer I had this week: It’s hard to find barrel-aged dark beers over here, at least in the abundance that they’re available in the U.S. So when I found Dead Man’s Hand Rum Barrel-aged Stout, it was a welcome addition to the fridge.

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