Some Cougars like social-media ban

Washington State coach Mike Leach stands along the sideline during a game against Houston on Sept. 13 in Houston.

He didn’t conduct a scientific poll, but Washington State football coach Mike Leach is under the impression that many of his players applaud the social-media ban he has imposed.

Of the 12 players who expressed an opinion, five “thought it was a great idea,” Leach said Monday at his weekly news conference.

“I will say that surprised me,” he said. “It wouldn’t have changed what I thought about it or what I was going to do. But it did surprise me.”

The idea is to limit the distractions that Leach thinks have played a role in his team’s three-game losing streak. The Cougars (3-3, 0-3) try to get back on track in a Pac-12 game against Colorado (3-3, 1-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium.

Washington State is favored by 13½ points for a game that will be televised by ESPNU.

The Cougars also learned their contest Oct. 26 at Oregon will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will air on ESPN.

Leach’s team-wide, season-long prohibition of Twitter and other social media was made public by the Pac-12 Network on Saturday during the Cougars’ 38-34 loss at Arizona State. But the coach said Monday the ban has been in place for a couple of weeks. It applies to players, of course, but also to coaches, apparently Leach included, the only exception being coaches’ messages to recruits.

It’s the first time Leach has placed social media off-limits to his players since his first season at WSU in 2012. He declined to draw many parallels between that 3-9 team and his current group, but “I do think it was a distraction. I’ve thought about it (imposing a ban) for quite some time, not just them but myself as well. In hindsight I wish I’d done it the day we got to (preseason) camp.

“It’s actually been quite refreshing to me,” he said, “because I’ll tell you this. I end up using my phone less just because I’m not touching it as much. It’s been a nice little vacation. So love it or hate it, our team is on vacation from it too.”

Against Colorado, the Cougars will try to continue rebounding from the unforeseen resignation of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys two weeks ago. Leach appointed linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni as interim DC and cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath as interim co-DC, and he was happy with several aspects of their debut in those roles last week. Bellantoni made the calls from the press box while McBath tried to improve communication and emotional vibes on the sideline.

“I think the communication was better,” Leach said, “I think we lined up better and I thought we had a lot more energy on the sideline.”

But the Cougars continued to give up big plays, including touchdown passes of 40, 86 and 33 yards, and they again failed to force any turnovers.

“I thought we played really hard,” Leach said. “I also thought we improved, because I think we’ve been disjointed on defense (this season) and we haven’t totally grasped an identity. I don’t think we did a great job of giving a clear message in camp, and of course we had the coming and going of Tracy. So we’re trying to make up for lost time. And then, it’s pretty much a byproduct of playing with nine instead of 11. Nine guys would do pretty well (on a given play).”

On offense, “I thought we were pretty productive,” the coach said. “The biggest thing is we’d get in our own way and do dumb things from time to time. There was never a point where we didn’t move the ball. But there are points where all you need to do is make a routine play and we’d do something dumb. We just have to be tough enough to be consistent.”

Among the camera operators at the news conference were those working on the forthcoming WSU episode of “24/7 College Football,” the new HBO documentary series that has already aired shows on Florida and Penn State.

Last week the HBO crew visited Arizona State as it prepared for its win against the Cougars, and that show is scheduled for Wednesday night. The WSU episode, which is this year’s finale, will air Oct. 23.

Dale Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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