Don't worry. You read that headline correctly.
Mike Leach is a football coach. A highly paid football coach. A coach that just stunned USC in the Coliseum. If that's any indication, he's well on his way to turning around WSU football. He may not know much of anything about basketball. I imagine he knows the basics: dribbling, shooting, how the game is scored and so forth. He knows (hopefully) that Washington State fields a basketball team. Furthermore, he is probably aware that the team is mediocre, and has been for quite some time. Why, then, is it Leach's job to save WSU basketball too?
Like most circumstances in life that seem odd, this one can be traced back to money. Around the time Jim Sterk gave way to Bill Moos as athletic director at WSU, the Pac-12 (or 10, if you prefer) Conference -- really, all of college athletics -- was undergoing a seismic shift. Live sports like college football had struck something of a gold mine. Never before had television networks been willing to pay so much for a product like this. Football is one of the last televised events remaining that is best experienced live. Live means that a fan cannot get the same experience via DVR. A fan cannot record the game and just skip through the commercials. If they choose to do this, they risk finding out what happened because what happened is everywhere. A fan therefore must watch live, and much watch all the packaged commercials for cell phone carriers and Doritos Locos Tacos and such. Those commercials pay the network, and the network pays the schools. Handsomely.
It is from this money Bill Moos found the cold, hard cash to buy out Paul Wulff's contract and pay the best football coach available on the open market. That coach was Mike Leach. He wasn't going to come cheap. His hiring, his salary, it all sent a very clear message through the WSU athletic department: We're doubling down on football. Football is the cash cow in NCAA athletics, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Basketball makes money, yes, but it is small potatoes compared to the behemoth that is college football. Want to know why UConn lingers in the purgatory of the AAC? Why Kansas was nearly left out in the cold of conference realignment? Because great basketball programs aren't great football programs. There's money, and then there are stacks upon stacks of gold bars.
For Moos to see a return on his investment, WSU must win. Winning is a panacea for all ills. People are happier, skies are bluer and money comes in at such high volumes Bill Moos could literally make himself into that made-of-money guy driving the motorcycle in the GEICO commercials. It is from this rising tide of money that all the other ships in WSU's harbor are lifted.
Now we get to Ken Bone. I don't want this column to be a referendum on Bone's coaching. We have plenty of time to discuss that down the road. If I could get back to the ship analogy, Ken Bone is essentially the captain of the U.S.S. Cougar Basketball. Frankly, it doesn't matter a whole lot what he does right now: If the seas are rough, we're all in for a bumpy ride. If the money comes in, facilities improve, recruiting improves and the team's performance follows right behind.
I did lie a little bit in that last paragraph. Bone's performance does matter somewhat. Tony Bennett won when the seas were pretty darn rough. He won when the school was short on cash, bad at football and Beasley had an orange-themed interior design that made you wonder at first if you had actually driven to Oregon State. But let's pretend you hate Ken Bone (some of you probably don't even have to pretend). Want him gone? Then WSU needs to buy out his contract. That takes money. Money that is largely generated by a school's football program.
The opposite case holds true. Love Ken Bone? Even if you don't, imagine the Cougars go berserk this year, go 14-4 in the Pac-12 and make a triumphant return to the NCAA Tournament. Guess what happens now? Ken Bone is suddenly a hot commodity in the coaching market. That is, unless WSU can secure him with a long term contract. The answer again is money. Money is the solution to many of life's problems, except of course that it can't buy you love. That is why I -- and at least one popular British musical act -- don't care too much for it.
But I digress. The whole point of this commentary is that money can buy a brighter future for the WSU basketball program. However, the money has to come from somewhere. The most likely somewhere exists a block away at Martin Stadium, and Mike Leach is the man with the power to open the vault.
Can Leach continue to turn WSU football around? Strange as it may seem, Cougar basketball's future may depend on the answer.