AUBURN, Ala. — Half a block from famed Toomer’s Corner, some Washington State fans whooped it up at a barbecue joint, forecasting the score in this evening’s football game with a decided WSU slant.
They might not even have noticed the old Rolling Stones tune on the sound system moments later, reminding “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The Mike Leach regime at Washington State, 2.0 version, launches here in the sticky Deep South against Auburn, still grinding, still working through issues, still in search of itself.
One thing we know by now about Leach entering year two: He’s not a sentimentalist. When he took over in 2011, he declined to retain WSU’s respected receivers coach of two decades, Mike Levenseller. This week, Logan Mayes left the team, and I’d have figured him to be in the least likely 10 percent to do that.
“First of all, it’s not about Logan,” his dad Rueben told me the other night. “I don’t want to take away from the Auburn game. If people are thinking about Logan, his last play as a Cougar was a big play that will never be changed.
“He’s a heck of a player and a great kid and great student with great character. That’s what people should know about Logan Mayes.”
Mayes started three games last year and had 2.5 sacks, plus the key hit on Washington quarterback Keith Price that prompted the most-remembered play in the game, an interception in overtime. Now he’s transferring to Cal Poly, and if your color is crimson, that has to sting a little.
Rueben Mayes, of course, provided the program some of its greatest moments three decades ago, and since then, most people would say he’s amassed in class what he did in rushing yardage as a collegian, when he became the WSU career leader.
Father was more talented than son. Logan, 6 feet 2 and 247 pounds, was a better defensive end than linebacker, and that’s surely what WSU coaches concluded when they switched him out of the hybrid “Buck” spot. Then Mayes missed the spring, having had surgery for a torn ligament in his hip, an injury he played through in 2012 and that no doubt set back his development.
Still, it was a surprise when, as Rueben says, his son was told he “would never have a chance” to be in the two-deep at defensive end.
“That was really tough for him,” said the father.
Perhaps it’s semantics. Perhaps what Mayes was told was that it would be very hard for him to crack the two-deep.
At any rate, Mayes slogged through fall camp, indeed not making the two-deep, when finally, he had a talk with Leach to see if moving back to Buck might be a better option.
“He wasn’t as good a (pass) drop player as they would like,” Rueben said. “And they said he was too small to be a rush end in a 3-4 defense.”
When I got together with Logan in midsummer, he seemed sold on the notion of defensive end, saying, “I’d rather have confidence in knowing I’m going to be the guy who’s coming (rushing). I think it’s a good fit, and especially as coach Joe (Salave’a, line coach) has been saying, we’re going to have more of a defensive-line emphasis on getting to the quarterback this year.”
Lots of things, though, seem better in the summer than they do after fall camp. Rahmel Dockery, another potentially prominent player WSU lost this month, said in July he “really liked” the cornerback spot where he’d been moved last season from his first love, wide receiver.
But I don’t think Dockery ever truly bought into the move, nor did his father Steve. Dockery left a couple of weeks ago.
When I asked Rueben Mayes if he had any sort of relationship with Leach that might shed light, he said, “It’s not my place.”
Perhaps the surgery took half a step from his son. Per usual, Leach hasn’t commented, other than to issue a vague non-answer. It seems to be great sport for him, which is fine when the player is Joe Dokes from Nowheresville, Calif., but a little different for fans and boosters when he’s the son of one of the top five players ever in the program.
“The thing about Coach Leach is, he’s very calculating,” said Logan weeks ago. “He’s very outcome-based. He’s not going to have a blind faith or blind obedience (to) anyone. If anyone thinks that, they’re mistaken.”
Now a new edition of Cougars takes the field. If it’s really a better program without Logan Mayes in it, then they’re headed for great places.