A headline in the Washington Post sports section today says, "Hiring of coach Mike Leach shows Washington State is ready to shed underdog label."
It also seems ready to shed quite a bit else. There are campuses devoted to football and those with a focus on academics. This is usually a choice between the two: The overlap tends not to be large.
In WSU's case, what does this sound like?
WSU's new football coach Mike Leach, less then two years out from his firing at Texas Tech, was hired at a base salary of $2 million a year (plus add-ons that add another half-mill or so to that), which is twice or more the highest salary ever paid before to a WSU coach. This at the PAC-12 institution with the smallest marketplace, the smallest stadium, lowest average attendance and smallest athletics budget. He will be among the top-paid coaches in the PAC-12.
About that firing ... Leach did deliver wins in his Texas Tech years, finishing 84-43. But then in December 2009 he was caught up in an incident involving a player with a concussion, and within one month - from the time of the incident - he was first suspended, then fired. (There were also, in the reasons for the firing, allusions to "other things", which makes you wonder, since in Texas they don't tend to fire winning football coaches lightly.) And he didn't go quietly: There were lawsuits, charges and counter-arguments. Since then he has been a broadcast football analyst, but hasn't been hired back to coach since his firing.
Nor is that all. There are any number of videos circulating now, including the infamous "fat little girlfriends" video embedded here. He may not be the most shining possible ambassador for WSU in the season ahead. (You might also, for additional perspective, check out this one too.)
But at WSU, that's far from all. Athletic Director Bill Moos said (in the Post article) that he "is asking that fans fill the 32,000 seats at Martin Stadium and open their wallets to make bigger donations. ‘I opened my checkbook for you, you open your checkbook for me,” Moos said. Construction started this week on an $80 million project to add premium seating, luxury boxes and a new press box to the stadium. Also on the drawing board is a $60 million football operations building."
Well. This year, the Oregon Ducks haven't been matching their 2010 spectacle. And in the last couple of years the Boise State Broncos have been falling a little shy of their national-attention-getting seasons.
They should count their blessings.