After a long, frustrating season, Mike Leach still has the support of his athletic director. (US Presswire)
A little over a month after being accused of "physical, emotional and verbal abuse" by his best player, Washington State head coach Mike Leach was cleared of wrongdoing Wednesday by his boss, athletic director Bill Moos. In a four-page report submitted to university president Elson Floyd, Moos wrote that his investigation turned up "no report or detection of abuse or inappropriate behavior" and "no evidence… that the safety of any player has ever been compromised."
The review was prompted by allegations levied against Leach by former wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who was suspended indefinitely and later left the team in early November after reportedly walking out of a workout. In a subsequent statement addressed to "Cougar Nation," Wilson accused Leach and his staff of attempting to "belittle, intimidate and humiliate us," and called his suspension "an attempt by the athletic department to cover up what is really happening in that locker room."
In his report, however, Moos said he interviewed a dozen players ("with attention paid to position, year in school and ethnicity") who unanimously supported the coaches. He also wrote that on the same night that Wilson's letter accusing Leach of abuse went public, Wilson texted him to take it all back (emphasis added):
The players said they believe in the coaches and that they will take the program to a higher level. They said the coaches are tough but fair and care about them as human beings. They went on to say the coaching staff has boosted confidence of the team and that all the players are treated equally regardless of role.
They majority of players stated that the player that walked out of practice [Wilson] let the team down and put them, their coach and WSU in a bad light. What is not widely know but is of great importance is I received a text message from the departing player following the UCLA football game where he recanted the allegations of abuse made in a letter written by he and a relative and sent to the media earlier that evening.
The only reservations in Moos' review concerning Leach involved "a sand box next to the practice field" used for disciplinary conditioning drills. During the first half of the season, Moos wrote, "water was used on occasion to harden the sand in the box and at times players were sprayed," until he personally put an end to both practices. Otherwise, he found the coaches "firm, fair and most of all, consistent."
Leach was hired in Pullman last December, two years after his infamous departure from Texas Tech amid allegations that he mistreated a player – Adam James, son of Craig James, the former SMU/New England Patriots running back turned broadcaster turned failed senatorial candidate – in December 2009. Although he was fired in Lubbock amid a media circus, Leach has vehemently, consistently denied all charges, and cast significant doubt on his accusers' claims and motives.
Wilson, widely projected as a preseason All-American, emerged instead as the embodiment of Leach's thoroughly disappointing debut. In the spring, Leach openly criticized Wilson's effort and periodically demoted him to third-string. By midseason, the relationship had deteriorated to the point of at least one open clash over Wilson's effort during a practice. Although he still led the team in receptions (52), yards (813) and touchdowns (5), Wilson's production was nowhere near his prolific sophomore pace, and he has started each of this last two games on the bench.
Wilson's trajectory mirrored his team's. For the season, the Cougars averaged nine points per game below their mediocre scoring average in 2011, and rank last nationally in both rushing offense and sacks allowed. In October, following their third consecutive loss in Pac-12 play, Leach publicly criticized some of his veteran players for having an "empty corpse quality," or just going through the motions; from there, they dropped five in a row before their only conference win, an overtime upset over rival Washington in the season finale.
Wilson is eligible to enter the 2013 NFL Draft, though his stock has already fallen into the lower rounds and could drop further if he's tagged with the dreaded "character risk" label. With a redshirt year to burn, he would also be eligible (pending his academic status) to transfer to another FBS school, sit out 2013 under NCAA transfer rules and spend his final year of eligibility in 2014; if he transferred to an FCS or Division II school, he'd be eligible to play next year.