At least 17 players have left the Cougars program since Mike Leach was hired, and he expects more to follow. / Getty Images
By Adam Lewis, Murrow News Service
The Cougars’ all-time leader in receiving yards has been suspended for a violation of team rules, a spokesman for the from the WSU football program said Monday morning. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported that Wilson walked off the field 20 minutes into a two-hour conditioning workout Sunday night.
Leach benched Wilson two weeks ago when he became increasingly frustrated with his star player’s poor practice habits. Wilson leads the Cougars with 813 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
A disappointing 2-7 (0-6 Pac-12) start to the 2012 season has those who believed the Cougars would end a nine-year bowl drought wondering what happened on the field and away from it.
The simple answer is that, away from the field, the new coaching staff prefers players they pursued during its first off-season to former head coach Paul Wulff’s recruits, according to multiple players no longer with the team. Meanwhile, no players -- former or current -- went on record questioning the former Texas Tech head coach's policies or practice tactics.
Blair Bomber, a former wide receiver who announced plans to transfer to Eastern Washington, a step below the FBS level, after rising in the depth chart during spring practices, said his justification for leaving was simple.
“In the end, the new coaches liked their receivers’ game more than my own,” said the redshirt sophomore.
Former tight end Aaron Dunn opted to transfer to Western Washington, a non-FBS school, to play basketball shortly after WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos hired Leach. Ranked a four-star prospect by national recruiting service Scout.com coming out of Spokane’s Mead High School, Dunn said Leach’s Air Raid Offense didn’t mesh with his skill set because tight ends aren’t typically included in his system.
“With any coaching change, especially in football, the new coach is going to want to get his guys in and guys that fit in their system the way that he wants them to,” Dunn said. “That leaves a lot of guys from the old system out. “
Bomber, Matt Simmons, Spencer Waseem and Tyrone Duckett left the program three weeks ago. None were likely to earn playing time in 2012. Wulff recruited all four during his unsuccessful four-year stay in Pullman.
The 6-foot-6 Dunn didn’t envision earning any meaningful playing time despite his decorated high school career.
“I just kind of knew what was going to happen as far as playing time,” he said. “I respected that, but at the same time I didn’t want to play special teams and get a couple snaps a game on offense for all the work that I would have put in.”
Dunn also hinted there was no attempt from him or Leach to cultivate a spot for him. They spoke only a few times.
“It was pretty limited,” Dunn said of his relationship with the first-year staff. “I didn’t really talk to him that much . . . He was one of the pioneers of that.”
Leach chose 5-foot-11 freshman wide receiver Brett Bartolone early in fall camp to play the “Y-WR” spot for which Dunn would have been forced to compete. The decision reinforced Dunn’s suspicion – Leach prefers speed to size.
“You can always say we’ll work guys into the system, but if you look around (his teams) you see guys like Wes Welker,” Dunn said, referring to New England's diminutive wideout. “You don’t see (Pats' big tight end) Rob Gronkowski in an Air Raid system. I’m obviously not that person.”
Leach said two weeks ago the recent attrition is a product of the coaching change. He also said he wouldn’t be surprised if more players left the program. Thirteen players left WSU when former head coach Paul Wulff took over in 2008.
“We’re going to raise the bar around here,” Leach said. “And folks that don’t fit in with that, we don’t expect to have them around. And there’ll probably be more than that.”
Moos questioned the ability of his program’s former players to compete successfully in the Pac-12. The Cougars are 11-47 the past five years.
“Part of it in some cases is lack of playing time. Most of the time that’s because of questionable talent,” Moos said. “We’re building a program that’s going to be competitive in the Pac-12 and we need to have Pac-12-quality players.”
Moos said some of the players who left likely weren’t mentally tough enough to contribute to a winning program, either. Leach said his team had “bassett hound faces” after WSU’s season opening 30-6 loss to BYU. He appeared not to care about future defections after WSU’s 49-6 defeat Saturday to a Utah team that is currently fifth in the six-team Pac-12 South.
“I’m going to lose some of them, believe me,” Leach said.