Monday, October 20, 2008

Can Leaders Be Created?

With Paul Wulff closing practice on Sunday, as well as several more to come, it's clearly look-in-the-mirror time. From the head man all the way down to the practice squad, it's time to dig in and figure things out. I don't think this bye week could have come at a better time.....unless it was last week and USC simply wasn't on the schedule. But really, the mental state for everyone in that locker room right now has to be in the toughest spot imaginable.

But the thing that is standing out now, after this last debacle, is the call for leadership. You are really hearing it for the first time, that there is a real void. But I think this has been brewing since August. Consider:
  • One report we heard was that several players, standing on the sidelines during a tough August practice, were seen jacking around and not paying attention. This was what led Wulff to vent to the press that some players just weren't tough enough yet or understood what it takes to become a good football team, remember?

  • Things looked promising vs. Okie State. The team had a decent bounce about it, and the defense played a pretty good game when you consider all the offensive troubles. And even after a very difficult first half, they came out and had two consecutive TD drives to start the third quarter, and you could see some upside here. They even ran the ball fairly well, against a team that now looks like a Big 12 title threat (have you seen what Okie State has been doing this year?). Just clean up some things offensively, fix some of the brutal special teams disasters, and this could have been a ballgame. I know I walked out of Qwest thinking that there was real promise with this team.

  • But if we only knew what was to come. There was a report we got from someone on the sidelines during the Cal game that a lot of players not in the game looked completely disinterested, with very little talk or interaction amongst themselves. Just no energy whatsoever, and you would expect more excitement for the home opener. Obviously when you get run off the field like they were vs. Cal there isn't going to be a lot of cheerleading, but this was reportedly before the game had even started, before the rout was on.

  • Against the Ducks, some reports started showing up in the media, with Alfonso Jackson saying that they were flat for the game. Coach Wulff denied that, and he thought they came out ready to play. Something sure seemed off though.

  • They actually showed some real energy in that UCLA game. I know that's a memory now long gone, but they did put their heads in there and fight for as long as they could. Obviously it didn't work out, with the offensive line issues and Marshall's first road start a very difficult one to say the least. But that was at least a spirited effort. No talk at all about being flat in that one.

  • For a short time, the Oregon State game was actually interesting. Anyone remember the 2nd quarter? The flurry of interceptions, the offense had a nice TD drive, Louis Bland ran one back for a score, and they "won" the 2nd quarter 14-3. There was real emotion and again, a little bit of promise, but of course it all evaporated in the 2nd half.

  • Finally, the USC game. Wulff said afterwards that they are competing, and people aren't exactly quitting.....but we get down early, and "the emotion just leaves us." Bud Withers had the emotional tone in his notebook from Sunday, and openly asks where is the emotion.

Now boys will be boys, in terms of the August screwing off/disinterest on the sidelines. Summer practices can be hell in the 90+ degree heat, etc, and it's difficult to keep a laser-like focus all the time. But you hear and read guys like Kevin Lopina, playing with a freshly healed fractured vertebrae, saying players better come here ready to fight or else turn in your gear. You hear Andy Mattingly openly question the desire, and say a few times that losing just doesn't bother the players, that they are too used to it. And you hear things off the record, like no energy or passion, or that nobody cares about their teammates or winning.

What does that tell you? It sure as hell tells me that there WAS A CULTURE ISSUE here. This wasn't about trying to pass blame on the prior staff, and hide from things as a coach, as some of you have openly suggested in our comments. Once again, I ask that everyone go back and read that Seattle Times article. Seriously, just go back and spend a few minutes to go over it. Remember this quote?
"WSU is a hard school to go to, man," Williams says. "You ain't got nothin' to do but get drunk and smoke weed, and not go to class because you're too tired from doing what you're doing."
It's a sledgehammer reminder of where things were when Wulff walked into this mess. Rip our coach all you want, question his background, whatever you need to do to feel better about things. But do not fail to understand the enormous task he was handed in trying to get this deal going in the right direction.

That said, what can be done? Will leaders suddenly emerge from the ashes of this mess? For the first time we've heard Kevin Lopina and Andy Mattingly speak up about things, about how there are some problems with some players here and it has to change. Maybe they are going to naturally step forward, as upperclassmen, to take the reins. I know the buzz has been positive on Louis Bland and some of the other frosh in terms of leadership. But they are just frosh, and 9 out of 10 vets aren't going to listen or follow a rookie, ever. They just won't.

So what we have here is a wide gap. On one side you have the older vets who have never tasted success, and obviously it doesn't bother many of them too much. They were raised in this program under Doba's hands-off approach. Now Wulff comes onto the scene, with a whole new level of accountability. You have to go to class and get decent grades now. You have to lift weights, harder than you ever have before. Heck, you have to EAT the meals you are supposed to eat, and coach Wulff is going to keep track of all of it. Talk about a change.

On the other side you have these young recruits with lots of energy and leadership abilities, guys Wulff and the rest picked to be part of their program. But outside of a few of them, the vast majority are redshirts. They are simply too young to lead right now, that clearly these older players won't follow their lead right right now. And it's obviously hard to be a leader when you aren't even playing.

Add it all up? It's a transitional mess, on and off the field. I for one hope we see a new change, beginning with this bye week. I hope Lopina and Mattingly become the offensive and defensive leaders going forward. Clearly they are pissed off by the whole thing, and that's step one to making a change isn't it? Maybe some of the freshman and sophomores are willing and eager, but have been waiting for some upperclassmen to take the lead? Maybe this will really and truly be the turning point for the entire program?

Happy Monday, and GO COUGS.


atlantacoug said...

hey we are famous.

logan said...

To all the posters who are jumping, running, throwing themselves off the ship:

See you in a couple years (hopefully next year), when you come back after we start winning. the real fans stick it out and support the team when they REALLY NEED US. but they need real fans, the fans coug nation is truly made of.

It will be great when you all come back and fill the stadium when we are winning again, but it will be WAY more gratifying for the real fans who stuck through it all. Robbie Cowgill, Kyle Weaver, and Derrick Low know what I'm talking about.

I can't wait to drive across the mountains to see the cougs against arizona and the pups...hopefully I'll see some of you there too...maybe...

Anonymous said...

This is what we need right now. No more negative we suck stuff ok? It is bad for everyone including recruits who read stuff more than any other time. A call for leadership is the way to go right now. CPW is building the foundation for the future. He has a plan but it does not work with the transition. 3 years from now it will look better. He has to to what he can to not have the empty cupboard in a 3 years. Look at the mess uw is in think they would like to go back and redshirt some guys? You play them too young and you get punished plus you waste their peak years. Look at osu and oregon they have tons of fifth year guys and it shows. Redshirt players and preserving eligibility now. He will continue to bring recruits in who fit into his system and that is how you eventually experience success. Dont whore yourself out to quick fixes because in 3 years you are left holding the bag with nothing to build with. He is doing it will ensure us long term success not just good every few years.

Woody said...

My post to day are just quick hit random thoughts:

-Atlanta Coug you are not supposed to comment or care about "National" articles/opinions degrading us, be careful!

-I did not comment this weekend, because it would not have been productive.

-I have come to the conclusion that the staff last year were better coaches and could coach the kids up better for games, but obviously could not recruit and retain players adequately. I think their actual coaching ability allowed them to mask and hide the inadequacies behind the scenes, not a long term solution.
Here's to our current coaches becoming better coaches.

-Boy, I have commented in the past that I was sick of losing by 6 td's. The boys took care of that problem, losing by 10 td's makes you long for the days of losing by 6 touchdowns. Serenity Now... Serenity Now!

-The Rank and File will "tolerate" this debacle of a season, but I have a feeling that because of the Titanic nature of our season we are having, the threshold for pain going forward will have evaporated for Coach Wulff. I am guessing "significant" improvements will have to be seen next season. What does significant mean, no idea. What does improvement mean, again no idea. I hope and think we will know it when we see it.

Finally the thought I kept coming back to yesterday.

Either we hired a great coach who has true long term plans in Pullman (lifer). Who has stripped the program down to the studs to build it correctly and "weed" out the cancers within, and eventually we will be in store for a healthy perennially bowl bound team with a Rose Bowl hit every so often.

Or we hired a D2 Coach and his entire D2 staff that is completely over their heads and not sure what to do from week to week.
Implementing this grandeous plan to blow up the program and rebuild it in their image only to find out that the architect is not only not a certified architect but is George Costanza pretending to be the architect, Art Vandelay. And eventually this plan will set the WSU Program back a Decade or more.

Let's hope it is plan A!

Go Cougs!


kaddy said...

Call me crazy, but I think it's Plan A. I still don't like the fact that we didn't even try to compete against SC, but at least we have no more injuries. The Stanford game should be pretty telling.

Aubs said...

GO COUGS!!! 'Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

I know you profiled Minn's coach last week but what about Frank Beamer? He was a former va tech player who came home to turn around the program and struggled big time early. He had losing seasons 4 of his first six years and they wanted to fire him, but they broke through the dam in 93 and have been a bowl team ever since. Jim Mora of the Hawks said this about him:

"There's a certain culture they have up there, they are all grounded kids and we want to have that same kind of culture here"

Anonymous said...

Whoops, here is his wiki page -

LouisianaCoug said...

Woody- perfectly stated concerning the two scenarios.

Quite frankly, I really don't think there is much in between. I think most people agree it was a risk to hire this guy (no credentials, D1AA, Eastern staff, etc.)

But it it could be GREAT, it really could. He is a Coug, and given time and recruiting, it may be just what we needed. But right now, it's just more of a role of the dice. If Wulff supporters could acknowledge that, maybe we can meet halfway and just say "we'll see".

And to others, please don't make the assertion that those who have expressed displeasure with Wulff are either:

A.) front-runners or desire immediate gratification. Nothing could be further from the truth, I think a lot of us are long time Cougs who remember the days when USC and the UW wouldn't even play us in Pullman! Talk about knowing your place in the college football world! and
B.) that we won't still support the program, or that we aren't passionate, or "true fans".

You don't have to adore the coach to adore the team or school. We may express concern or displeasure, but its just because we care that much. To reiterate- I'm not saying Wulff can't do it, I'm just not going to throw myself to blind optimism quite yet. Give him time and we will see. I pray he returns us to where we were 5 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I am a student here at WSU and had a conversation with one of the players in class about this very issue. You guys are right, he told me that most if not all but very few seniors on the team just flat out don't give a damn about the team, their legacy, and most obviously competing. I am proud of Lopina and Mattingly for speaking out about this issue, and I hope that Wulff does something immediately about this.

logan said...

lousianacoug, i'm not saying you are one of those people, but i'm tired of all the posters who say they won't be renewing their season tickets, or that they should fire wulff now. it's just ridiculous to assume wulff can do anything with a depleted roster of walk-ons and walking wounded. Wulff told us to be patient in JANUARY (or sometime around then), he knew back then that it would be a tough road to we at least have to give him a year to get his players into the system, and weed out the cancers that have plagued our team.

People can be upset with him this year because he didn't put his best squad on the field (redshirting good players) to be competitive this year...but the future is more important to him, and that you have to give him credit for. not many coaches would make that decision with the pressures of D1 football fans breathing down his neck. He's not going to risk the future of this program to be more competitive now and appease fans. I think in time we will see that his plan was worth this year's struggles.

we just have to keep supporting him, and if in a couple years there's no improvement, then all's fair game.

you can't give someone a pinto with no engine and expect to compete with ferarris.

Sedihawk said...

Interesting takes, all. Louisiana, we know you care. If you didn't you wouldn't take time out to post stuff here, so we know. You have your opinions, and it's clear where you stand. I don't agree, and I believe the plan will work out - over time, if the time is given - and things will turn out. But it's sure tough to watch right now.

Logan is right though, in that from the beginning there hasn't been much BS from Wulff over the state of the program. I'm sure he thought we would be better than this though, and if we could have gotten at least a little bit lucky with injuries, who knows. Maybe this thing could have been a lot smoother. But it is what it is.

Anonymous, interesting about the players who don't care anymore. Sad, but interesting nonetheless. People ARE hearing stuff like that, and it is coming from various sources. I wish this wasn't the case but it's obvious there are problems. I don't know what they can do to reel some of these guys back in, but the rest of the season is looking tougher by the day.

I'm with Kaddy though, in that this Stanford game is going to be verrrrry interesting. Maybe there are some surprises in store with the closed practices as part of it? Maybe players are just kicking the crap out of each other and settling a few things, once and for all? Or maybe they are just circling the wagons, banding together and going to try and finish strong? We'll find out in a couple of weeks.

'03CouveCoug said...

I had to wait until today to post…didn’t want to get mixed up in some of the angry comments from Saturday and Sunday!

Unfortunately, at this point, it is pretty evident given Saturday’s performance along with Lopina’s and Mattingly’s post-game comments that many players have quit on the team. Perhaps those that are waiving the white flag are merely players accustomed to being coddled, not having to work hard and playing by their own rules. Perhaps those that have mentally checked out have done so because they’re sick and tired of playing for a coach that doesn’t believe in them and continues to question their ability, dedication and commitment. I happen to think that it’s somewhere in between, leaning more towards the former.

Look, we all know that Doba and Co. made it pretty clear that upper-classmen would get the benefit of the doubt, no matter what the circumstances, which I’m sure many of the players got used to. It also sounds like many on the team have gotten used to losing and have accepted it rather than try to make themselves better. That’s pretty disappointing news. It’s becoming quite obvious that many on the team cannot or will not use adversity as a tool for improvement.

Which brings me to my point…in hindsight, I now firmly believe that Wulff (or any coach for that matter) had absolutely ZERO chance to get this team to even achieve mediocrity simply because of the make-up of the upperclassmen “leading” it. So, we won’t be able to tell what we’ve got in a coach for at least a couple more years. Which is why, just as louisianacoug said, we’ve all got to take a “Wait and see,” approach to this regime. It doesn’t matter if you’re mad as hell, like many obviously are or if like me and of the mindset that it was going to be a bad year anyway, so just be patient. Regardless, this is going to take time to hash out.

I’m not going to sit here and write that Wulff and Co. are doing everything right and blindly believe that all will be well. I HOPE it will, but there is little to go by at this point. I guess that the bottom line on this subject is that I’m personally glad that we’ve hit rock-bottom and can only go up from here. Thank goodness for the bye week. I sure hope that Sunday’s meeting will separate those that want to turn this thing around from the losers that have accepted being a truly awful team. After that, with any luck, the collection of players motivated to be the start of the change can re-group and be competitive for the rest of the season.

One last rant and I’ll wrap up this novelette…I know that Saturday’s game was brutal, and for those that made the trip to Pullman even more so (I applaud your effort). For those that have gone on the record here and other blogs stating that they’re going to quit donating, or buying season tickets, etc., fine, that’s your prerogative. I don’t begrudge you for deciding not to spend your hard-earned money on a lousy product. But please, can we all stop uttering the phrase, “Embarrassed to be a Coug?” I truly think it’s a ridiculous statement. Football is such a small part of what our University represents. So many great things have been and will continue to be accomplished by the thousands of staff, students and alumni of our beloved WSU. It is belittling to all of those great things and people to be “Embarrassed to be a Coug,” simply because our football team happens to be awful right now.

All right, I’d better wrap this up.

Go Cougs!

Anonymous said...

Long time Gopher fan here. Sounds like your new coach walked into a big mess, way worse than what Brewster faced at Minnesota. You can win at WSU, you've had success in the past. Give Wulff a chance to implement his program. Sounds like he has the right idea. I know it's no fun getting pounded week in and week out, but for programs like MN and WSU it takes time to rebuild. Good luck.

Oklahoma Cougar said...

Really, I am not sure what to say...
we have seen tough times before, most recently in hoops...

Kelvin Sampson's team was truly awful in that memorable 1-17 Pac-10 season... Dick Bennett's first year team was truly awful in his first year, especially in their infamous trip down here to Stillwater. But, both of these coaches were great coaches whose teams always competed.

Contrast that to Kevin Eastman, Paul Graham, or Len Stevens. All of these coaches had average to awful teams. All of these coaches at times put teams on the floor that looked like they were just going through the motions.

The question here is: does this football team remind you more of Sampson's and Bennett's awful teams, or Eastman and Graham's awful teams?

CPW has made it clear, from almost his first day on the job that he is coaching for the future. But, doesn't future start today?

Sedihawk said...

Thanks Minnesota fan. I tried to make the connection based on how well things are going for you this year after a 1-11 season, but our cupboard was obviously bare. You guys started a frosh QB and he stayed upright last year, however, while ours only survived a couple of games. Maybe if he had almost a full season of in-game action next year could be more promising, but now, who knows what will happen. But thanks anyway.

OK Coug, I would say without question they remind me of the Paul Graham teams. Teams that laid down and looked completely disinterested. The Bennett teams lost badly but there were some bright spots early, including wins at UCLA and later at AZ?

I have heard the comps to the hoops teams, and I am not sure if it's accurate or not. Obviously the bad teams, and the adage from Bennett of get kids you can lose with, that sort of thing. But isn't it easier to turn it around with a small, core group of basketball players who can dominate the minutes compared to all that goes into a d-1 football program? I know what the Bennett regime has pulled off isn't easy, when you consider they truly started in the basement. But to dig out of this football hole just seems like more of a monumental task based on the sheer numbers of it all? I don't know though, but it is a good question and something to think about.

atlantacoug said...

Time heals all wounds right? I was so down about the performance on Saturday, the national mockery on every media outlet etc.. now just 3 days later I am 'hopeful' a bye week and some healing can make us respectable for Stanford game.

Oh, the humanity. The plight of a die hard fan. It must be a form of mental illness.