Damned if you have an almighty coach, and damned if you don't

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

Washington State, with all its new TV money, was able to afford paying Leach $11M over five years. (AP)  
Washington State, with all its new TV money, was able to afford paying Leach $11M over five years. (AP)  

The Pac-12 had a lot to apologize for this week. Their first championship game pits a potential national championship contender and the worst bowl-eligible team ever, with an opening point spread of 30 that has climbed to 31, largest for a postseason college football game. It would be an embarrassment of galactic proportions if the galaxy hadn't already blown up in central Pennsylvania and western New York.

But then God smiled on Larry Scott's little enterprise by providing his first championship broadcast with a fabulous new addition -- the new Pirate of Pullman, Pegleg Leach.

With one television-money-fueled stroke, the Oregon-UCLA debacle has been mercifully upstaged by, of all people, the gentlemen and ladies of Washington State University.

Why, if we weren't already chastened by what excesses can happen when the cult of the coach takes over a school, we would be ecstatic.

Of course, this puts Leach in something of a bad spot, when all he really did was take a job after not having one, and really didn't do anything overtly wrong while he was at his old one -- unless you want to count when he gave the death penalty to the running game at Texas Tech.

But you can already see hints of what Ohio State is going through in far larger share -- Urban Meyer as the answer to "Who's Bigger Than Jim Tressel?" It is the ongoing curse of college athletics that the coach stands far too often at the top of the organizational pyramid, and in many cases that pointy perch allows them to forget that there should be limits to power.

But there has always been an alternating curse -- not having such a coach. And even after what we have seen this year, most places would rather have the all-powerful devil they know than the affable and reasoned one they don't.

And since at Washington State the football program has been in something of a mess since their three consecutive 10-win seasons in the early 'Oughts, Leach seemed like a gift from heaven, with a side trip to the Bank of Larry Scott, who jacked WSU's TV money from $4 million a year to $16 million.

And suddenly Washington State, the most modest of plants in the entire Pac-12 diaspora, could suddenly afford the $11 million over five years Leach commanded, plus the additional money to pay his expensive staff.

Once again, a heady whiff of football entertainment makes everyone happy yet again. Especially when the biggest game of the conference is expected to be such a monumental downer. I mean, a lame-duck coach at UCLA, shipped with his team to take a ritualistic beating at the hands of their direct opposites in Oregon, and then parlaying that beating with the one they just took the week before at Southern California into a bowl game.

The game would quite possibly be the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and if our Comrade Palm is correct, UCLA will play Illinois, which also fired its coach after going 6-0 and then losing its last six. In short, the winning team will have seven losses, making it the worst imaginable bowl game in bowl game history ...

... unless somehow Illinois was replaced by Penn State, which would make it the worst bowl game in bowl game history for an entirely different reason.

We have diverted from our theme, then, only to show you why schools love coaches they can cultify -- because this is the unthinkable alternative to the unthinkable power and arrogance of the culted coach.

And you know that in this culture, if given a choice between the right thing and the fun thing, we inevitably choose fun.

And if Mike Leach isn't fun, well, what's a potential cult for?

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.


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