I typically want to avoid Coach Hot Seat Talk in the middle of a season. First, we don't have a clue what the entire story is for this year. What if WSU rips off another four, five, or six wins? That's unlikely ... but so was losing to Portland State. Second, I wait way too many months out of the year to enjoy the games in a football season to have focus pulled toward the melodramatic soap opera of a State Of The Union.
CougCenter has received a bit of criticism for being too negative, and it's true a lot of the opinion-based articles have slanted away from optimism about the current state of the program. However, I have (conveniently) already written a lot of what my response to all this would be, and it's far less despondent than some of my counterparts. If you're interested in that, or need to find some other voice to back how you feel, follow the links.
I wrote this following the losses to Rutgers and Nevada last year. As I was thinking about writing something that wasn't all doom and gloom after the loss to Portland State, I re-read it. It was stunning how much it was still relevant -- change the player names and a couple of sentences here or there and you wouldn't know that it wasn't written about 2015 Washington State after Week One. Which is a problem.
But I'm not convinced it's a catastrophic one.
Bringing in a new head coach is, as Bill Connelly puts it, such an extreme roll of the dice that you really don't want to do it unless you are absolutely positive the current staff can't reach your program goals.
I also wrote about program-building last December, and it's the most relevant read I can link for you. The themes outlined hold true today, and if I were to counter anything written about the state of the program this week, it would be with a virtually identical article. The major take-away is the same: WSU is currently stalled in Stage Two.
From the end of it:
You don't advance a stage every year. Simply be cognizant of how long you've spent there and be realistic about how long someone in your station should tolerate a holding pattern. The blue bloods of the world operate on a different geological clock than we do here -- and that's not admitting some kind of defeat, it's observing a current reality.
Jeff Nusser posited that we, as fans, should re-evaluate how we approach tolerating that holding pattern, and that is a valid criticism. In doing so, he brought up a metric ton of decade-long WSU Football (bad) history, which is both a great point to make when talking about how fans should feel about a program, and nearly invaluable when discussing the practicality of the current Coug re-build advancing where it needs to.
WSU is 2-2 on the season, with a competitive loss to Top 25 Cal, exactly where six authors projected them in our season preview. So what changed?
When you start the season with "unbridled optimism for what's to come," it's completely understandable that a loss to the Vikings on opening weekend would sour everything, and all those caveats that were accepted earlier transform into glaring marks.
Losing to an FCS team can derail positive vibes among any group of fans, but suffering what is arguably the worst loss in program history right out the gate can damn near derail a season. But it didn't. There were enough good things on offense and defense against Rutgers, Wyoming, and Cal to still think WSU can find at least four wins on the remaining schedule and not get committed.
Especially if this young team keeps playing up to opponents. We mentioned that as a worrisome trait for the Wyoming game, it makes Wazzu a real threat to blow-up someone's season if they keep doing it now.
Whether the Cougs end up with three or seven wins this season, WSU is probably still in Stage Two. Meaning they would have spent two or three seasons there, and you can be justifiably upset with that if you want to. If Mike Leach even wants the improvement to speed up, you certainly have to right to as well. I'm just more willing than others to give a coach a few seasons in Stage Two than smash the reset button, hoping progress was saved at the latest checkpoint.
Most of us knew this was an on the verge six-win team, so it's weird to me that people are freaking out over a 2-2 start after a mostly well-played game against a ranked team. We should expect this to be a nail-biter season, and there's still plenty of opportunities left this year for this team -- who's improved every week so far -- to show how quickly it's approaching Stage Three: A six-to-eight win team that every few years makes a run at 10 or 11. Which is an ideal spot for WSU to operate long-term.
Think about the re-building Oregon will have to go through next season. Oregon State is still figuring itself out under Gary Andersen; who knows what they'll be. Cal will likely lose Jared Goff and most -- if not all -- of their starting receivers. Stanford will have an enormous amount of roster turnover, including at quarterback. UW will probably be looking solid under Chris Petersen but will still be really young. Coug fans are talking about Oregon being vulnerable this week ... the entire division is vulnerable next year. Our friend CougSutra at WSUFootballBlog noticed the same thing.
Wazzu could -- potentially -- lay claim to being the most experienced team in the North next season. Complaining about youth right now is staring at your feet walking down the road. Look up. It took three recruiting cycles, but most position groups have fairly comfortable, quality depth for a few years out.
And if you think the Air Raid is out-dated, or programs have learned it's "tricks", or whatever other popular opinion is floating around the internet and through the stands ... we actually had that conversation a couple years ago. There's some things in there that could be tweaked, but for the most part it addresses a majority of the current criticisms.
A question has floated around that goes something like: What is the bar? Which is a mostly pointless exercise. The bar is a bowl game. It has always been a bowl game and will always be a bowl game ... until you feel you deserve better. People can argue whether or not it's acceptable to find successes in a losing season, to be satisfied with what we can identify as growth, and maybe you can ... but you're not the majority. College football fans largely identify success with bowl games. Six is a magic number, and always will be.
No one can tell you how upset you should or shouldn't be about the program you support. That's on you. I'd just offer a question: How many emotional business decisions in your life were the best ones? We all want WSU to be a great program, hell some of us would settle for a few seasons of mediocre at this point. When you think about a multi-million dollar business decision, you have to do it practically, and with WSU, the rebuild is still on-going and we don't have nearly enough evidence this season to even remotely suggest it can't ever get there.
Now, on to the fun stuff.