Bad Times for Cougar Football

Well… we now know what the Seattle Times knows regarding the Cougar football program. There wasn’t a lot of information that we didn’t know, although it shed some light on Cougar linebacker Andy Mattingly who highlighted the story by wielding a frying pan:

Andy Mattingly, a linebacker coming off an outstanding sophomore season, was in Spokane in late January when a friend called for help. His front teeth had just been punched out in an argument with some soccer players from North Idaho College, he said.

The friend joined up with Mattingly and Trevor Mooney, a WSU tight end. The three went to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where two of the soccer players, a goalie and a midfielder, shared an apartment.

First, they knocked. Then, Mattingly kicked in the door. The midfielder grabbed a steak knife, the goalie a butter knife. Mattingly picked up a frying pan off the stove.

The midfielder jumped out a window. This left the goalie — Cesar Lira, 5 feet 10, armed with a butter knife — to contend with Mattingly, a 6-4 linebacker swinging heavy kitchenware.

Mattingly hit Lira’s head so hard the pan’s handle broke, court records say. Lira got back up, jumped out a window and called police. He had a 2-inch gash and was “bleeding profusely,” a police report says.

Much like the Times’ seering indictment of Husky coach (and current UCLA coach) Rick Neuheisal, this sheds a lot of light on the Doba era and a culture of indifference to wrongdoing at WSU. It goes to show you that a team can win with character problems (like the Husky Rose Bowl team) and lose with character problems. The point is you never truly win when your players fail to represent the University in a decent manner.

It is easy to say that legal punishment is enough for crimes and then fail to extend it to football punishment. Doba took that route, as evidenced in this quote:

When Doba was coach, he had to deal with a player, running back Kevin McCall, who also served 45 days in jail. In 2005, McCall was convicted of a gross misdemeanor, pleaded down from a felony rape charge. Doba suspended the player from offseason activities — but no games.

“I think he’s been punished enough,” Doba said at the time.

If he could go back in time, I bet Doba would have serious doubts that he took the right approach to discipline. McCall should have been suspended for games, not “activities”.

As time goes by, it becomes less of a stretch to say that hiring Bill Doba wasn’t the best coaching move for WSU. It hurts to say that, of course, because we remember Doba as a “nice guy” who himself was a quality character among the Palouse landscape. Still, remember that Bill was hesitant to take the job in the first place. He had to be convinced to take over the program from Mike Price. He had an exceptional first season, bolstered by Price’s previous leadership of the program. But beyond that, and beyond the benchmark win in the Holiday Bowl, the Bill Doba era at Washington State was marked by losing, discipline problems and quarterback controversies.

The irony is that one of the most hated players during Doba’s tenure – Alex Brink – was actually a model student and one of the majority of Cougars who stayed out of trouble. But from a fan’s prospective losing is often just as much of a crime as one of those little misdemeanors that have come so frequently to the Cougar program.

The story in all makes me frustrated at what has happened to WSU football over the past five years. Beyond the discipline problems, there was the issue that the recruits being brought in just weren’t quality character guys. Take this gem of a quote from defensive back Courtney Williams, who was dismissed from the team because of academic problems:

“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.”

The Spokesman-Review’s Vince Grippi wondered if this was a true statement regarding WSU, at least for some people. Here’s my response that appears on his blog (edited for a couple minor mistakes):

[Williams’ comments] aren’t true. WSU isn’t different than other schools. I won’t say that football players are “worse” than the student population, but just that they seem to live in a whole different culture than 80% of the people that go to WSU. They are treated like celebrities – with all the perks and problems that go with that status.

My feeling regarding the experience at WSU is this: it is what you make it. If you want to smoke weed and skip class, you can do it. If you want to study hard, stay out of trouble and get a degree you can do that too. It’s like any other big school in the nation. If Williams couldn’t succeed at WSU, he won’t succeed anywhere.

And that’s what it is: a culture difference. There’s a disconnect between someone like me – a regular student plowing through coursework – and a football player. Despite all the academic advantages that Brink talks about in the Times piece – tutors, study hall, computer lab, not to mention favorite status from some professors – some football players live in a world where they are pressured away from the classroom. It’s just not cool to go to class and study; the social pressure drives them to stay home and smoke or drink.

I have a friend who took a Psych class with Trandon Harvey. The teacher wanted to acknowledge Harvey after the game winning touchdown he scored the previous weekend in the Apple Cup. When asked to stand up, no one did. Harvey had skipped class. And while it is unfair to single out Trandon, who made it through four years of school with a degree, this sort of attitude seems to be the norm among football players and a certain percentage of students. The culture says it’s OK to miss class, and miss class frequently.

And if Trandon Harvey can be successful at school while skipping a class here and there, imagine just how much class the ones who fail are missing. The lesson here: just show up.

It seems to be a situation that follows the 80/20 rule. 20% of students at the WSU campus in Pullman do 80% of the partying. Football players, being treated as celebrities, fall into the 20% because they have virtually unlimited access to the social side of WSU. The vast majority of students – the other 80% – go to school most of the time, drink and party some of the time, and find a way to balance all the pressures of college. That’s not to say all students are successful. A large number of students flunk out and head home after a year or two in Pullman.

And it is odd that we hold athletes to a different standard. Nobody cares when a non-athlete from inner-city Spokane flunks out after his freshman year and heads back home to SFCC. But we do care when an athlete, especially one that has talent, fails to make the grade and gets kicked off of the team. Losing Darrell Hutsona and DeMaundray Woolridge, for example, really hurts the Cougar running game. However, if those players were regular kids, we wouldn’t think twice about it. We think of football players as “student-athletes”. We hardly ever think of them as students, and think of them too often of them as athletes.

Ultimately, the change has to come in the form of the personnel brought in during recruiting. When you bring character guys in, you get better athletes and better students. Tony Bennett proved this with a basketball team that makes up half of the conference all-academic team. If you bring in guys that are willing to work to get better off the field, odds are they will work just as hard to get better on it. It takes team players, not just talent, to make things happen. Think about one of Doba’s most highly touted recruits, Arkelon Hall, who gives us this:

“Every spring, I outperformed everybody,” Hall, still bitter, said of his days at WSU. “I felt like I should have been playing. That’s why I left.”

Really? Is that why Hall fell behind Alex Brink on the depth chart? And Gary Rogers? And Cole Morgan? Hall was academically ineligible, so he couldn’t have played even if he “should have” been on the field. People may be fuming at Doba if Hall has success at Memphis, but they really shouldn’t be upset. Being a team player means you don’t make comments like that, and you actually do things like show up to class and work to get at least above the minimum GPA. Hall never did those things, and it is for those reasons that he no longer playes for WSU.

Hall and Williams are representatives of that bad culture that has led to the Seattle Times’ article being unleashed upon WSU. The key for the future of the program is finding guys that rise above it – like Brink, like Jed Collins, Matt Mullenix, Micah Hannam (the Cougs’ first-team all-academic team members from last season) and numerous others who may not be all-academic but still work to make the grade every semester. It doesn’t matter how talented Woolridge and Hutsona were, because in the end Dwight Tardy gets the spotlight just by keeping his grades up. There are difficulties for students, there’s no doubt about that, but in the end it’s the ones that excel in both school and football that we remember.

It’s in the Hands of Coach Wulff, now. At the end of the Times piece there is a guarantee that the situation will improve. If WSU is to be successful by any measure on or off the field, Wulff must follow through on that promise.


One Response to “Bad Times for Cougar Football”

  1. This is Why We Love Tony Bennett « Stadium Way Says:

    […] Bad Times for Cougar Football […]

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