No fighting. No stealing. No illegal drug use.
WSU Head Football Coach Mike Leach preached these principles to his football team the minute he arrived on the Palouse. A violation of these rules, he told players, would result in dismissal from the team. No second chances. No team unity council to decide a suitable punishment.
For former linebackers Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell, the message never sank in.
Leach kicked Kaufusi off the team this weekend after Pullman’s fearless police department raided his apartment, finding a small amount of marijuana. Mizell was dismissed after he got in a fight at Delta Tau Delta fraternity two weeks ago. According to reports, Mizell refused to leave the party when asked.
The news comes as no surprise for those who have followed Mizell’s career closely. The former Florida State recruit has ran into trouble at every stop in his athletic career. Many fans assumed WSU might only get to see him play a few years in Pullman. As it turns out, they were right.
Kaufusi, on the other hand, had been an exemplary student-athlete during his two and half years on the Palouse. His speed and flying locks made him a fan favorite. It’s disappointing he chose to ignore Leach’s commandments in favor of his favorite recreational drug. It’s no surprise the decision was met with mixed emotions throughout Cougar Nation.
The pair of dismissals leave the Cougars dangerously thin at linebacker. Both Mizell and Kaufusi would have likely started in Defensive Coordinator Mike Breske’s 3-4 scheme. Each had the playmaking ability to transform the Cougars back into the Palouse Posse defense that roamed Martin Stadium during the mid-90s. Both might still someday play in the NFL.
What was already a leaky defense now must replace every starting linebacker from the 4-8 2011 team. Breske will look to Darryl Monroe, Chester Su’a and a host of inexperienced players to fill the void.
That being said, Leach made the right decision.
To bend the rules because a player’s ability might help the team win a few more games is never the answer. Those types of decisions land schools in hot water with the NCAA (see Oregon football) or on the front page of ESPN.com for having a program with no player discipline (see UCLA basketball).
Leach felt he needed to send a message that there is zero tolerance for rule breaking. That philosophy is sound when you’re trying to rebuild a program that’s gone 9-40 the past four years.
If the loss of Kaufusi and Mizell costs the Cougars a win or two next season but creates a culture where drug use is not accepted then so be it.
Last year’s basketball team embarrassed the university with their persistent drug use. Fans and alumni are sick of seeing WSU athletes in the police log rather than the top of the Pac-12 standings.
Leach has only been here three months. But apparently, so is he.