Updated Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 10:31 PM
SALT LAKE CITY — You had to be there. Not for the game, which was over by midafternoon, but for the postgame.
When the Mike Leach era finally blossoms in Pullman (and "when" seems a bit presumptuous today), perhaps we'll all remember a sunny Saturday at the base of the Wasatch Mountains as the day it hit bottom.
First came Utah's 49-6 victory over Washington State, the Cougars scoring on the last play of the game. Then came Leach's seven-minute vent, in which essentially he called into question his players' collective courage.
Asked about the lack of protection for quarterback Jeff Tuel, resulting in six sacks, Leach said, "A part of it's effort, and some of it borders on cowardice ... it was one of the most heartless efforts up front I've ever seen. And our D-line wasn't any better."
That was right after he said, "Utah could have beat us by a hundred."
But the proceedings were just beginning. The usual protocol is for media members to request a handful of players for interviews. On this day, a WSU operative said the starting offensive and defensive lines would be out instead, per Leach's directive, not the players requested.
Into a small interview room the huge linemen strode, first the offense, then the defense, much as you might march your kid down the street to apologize to a neighbor.
Then Travis Long, whom Leach has consistently praised for his production and leadership, bolted the defensive group before that session was done. He appeared to have tears in his eyes.
In four decades of covering the conference, I've never seen anything like it.
A few minutes before he met the media, Leach referenced on the WSU radio network the "empty-corpse quality" quote he unspooled a few weeks ago and said of this latest effort by the Cougars, "That could have been a zombie convention."
At this point, the Cougars are 2-7, and their vision of a bowl game disappeared with this loss for the ninth straight year. Given that Leach has called out various units on the team before, it's eminently reasonable to ask:
Has he lost this team?
If he has, I'm not sure he cares. If a waiver wire were available to college coaches, Leach would make Pete Carroll look conservative.
When I posed the question about "losing" guys, he said, "Oh, I'm going to lose some of them, believe me. If you have to beg an 18- to 22 year-old kid to give good effort, you're dealing with the wrong individual."
Let the record show that Leach, at the top of his tirade, put blame on himself and his staff.
"Our effort today was pitiful," he said. "It starts with our coaches, with me in particular, and it starts with my assistants."
And then, after a day when Utah led 31-0 at half, he also said this:
• On pass-protection problems that have led to WSU allowing 40 sacks: "I mean, our five couldn't whip their two. Sometimes they (rushed) two — which means if five of our guys went into an alley and got in a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred ... the worst of it was, it wasn't even not knowing who to block, it was just refusal."
• On the notion that the Cougars may have felt comfortable having taken Stanford to the wire last week: "We still lost, last time I checked."
• On what's ahead: "We're going to have a lively spring, I'll tell you that. There's some individuals that aren't going to be here next year. When we get off the plane, as coaches we're going to meet and figure out what we're gonna do throughout the week."
But here's what he needs to do first: Look in the mirror and ask whether he's doing everything he can, and whether the Cougars are being coached up. This WSU team has a lot of the same parts that lost in overtime to Utah in Pullman a year ago, went 4-8 and might have scratched its way into a bowl game if Tuel hadn't been hurt most of the season.
Meanwhile, of the four Pac-12 programs that changed coaches last offseason, only one, WSU, is struggling mightily.
That's not to put it on Leach. But he needs to be part of the self-examination, not just those 18- to 22-year-old kids.
In Pullman, it ought to be an interesting week. Month. Offseason.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
RICK BOWMER / AP
Utah receiver Reggie Dunn outruns WSU safety Anthony Carpenter in the second quarter. Dunn had a 100-yard kickoff return to open the second half.
Washington State coach Mike Leach is quiet here, but he had plenty to say after the game.