One day after his Washington State football team staged an aerial assault on the Oregon Ducks, Cougars coach Mike Leach politely rejected the opportunity to stage a verbal assault on Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Aliotti, who called it “low class” for Leach to let the Cougars continue to throw the ball late in Saturday night’s lopsided loss to Oregon, did not draw much of a reaction from Leach.
Asked via text message to respond to Aliotti’s remarks, Leach wrote back to the Cougfan.com website, “I don’t criticize other teams or coaches. I focus on coaching my team.”
Aliotti and Leach are known for making strong comments to the media, but it’s rare for a coach to criticize a rival coach after a convincing victory such as Oregon’s 62-38 decision in Eugene. WSU quarterback Connor Halliday set a Football Bowl Subdivision record by throwing 89 passes, capped by two touchdown passes in the final 3 minutes, 48 seconds.
“That’s total bull(crap) that (Leach) threw the ball at the end of the game like he did,” Aliotti told reporters. “And you can print that and you can send it to him, and he can comment, too.
“I think it’s low class and it’s bull(crap) to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team.”
By Sunday, however, Aliotti backed off. Whether it was his idea or at the insistence of the university isn’t known. But he released a statement of apology through the school
“The bottom line is, I’m sorry,” Aliotti said in a statement released by Oregon. “I’m embarrassed that I got caught up in the moment after the game. There’s no excuse, but sometimes right after the game the adrenaline is still flowing and I made a huge, human error in judgment. I wish I could take it back, and I promise it won’t happen again.
“I’d like to apologize to Mike Leach and Bill Moos (Washington State athletics director), Washington State and its fans, and Oregon and our fans.”
Leach and his players were complimentary of the undefeated, second-ranked Ducks after the game.
“If they’re not the best team (in the country), they’re certainly in the top five,” Leach said.
“Oregon’s a great team,” safety Deone Bucannon said.
“Their team speed rivals anybody,” Halliday said. “It’s really impressive to watch them . . . Oregon’s a team we can learn from.”
In stark contrast to Aliotti’s post-game remarks, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich had nothing but good things to say about Leach earlier in the week.
“He seems like a great guy . . . a very intelligent person,” Helfrich said. “And hilarious.”
Helfrich also Leach’s pass-happy offense is “a great system” and that the Cougars are “very, very talented.”
Asked at his regular Sunday press conference about Aliotti’s remarks, Helfrich said, “I talked to Nick today, and first of all we have a lot of respect and he has a lot of respect for Coach Leach and (current WSU and former Oregon athletic director) Bill Moos for Washington State, and I think the content and the manner of his comments was not representative of him or our program.
“I know he’s remorseful and more or less caught in the moment of defending our players. We’ll all learn from that and move on.”
The Cougars led the nation in pass attempts and were last in rushing attempts and rushing yards going into Saturday’s game. Nothing changed in that regard after Halliday passed for a school-record 557 yards and the Cougars ran the ball just 12 times – counting four quarterback sacks – for two yards. Halliday ranks second in the nation with 2,798 passing yards.
Coming into the game, the Ducks were ranked in the top 20 in points allowed per game (13.8) and total yards allowed per game (338.7). Oregon had not given up more than 24 points, 280 passing yards or 376 total yards until Saturday.
“They want stats, they got stats,” Aliotti said. “But we got the most important stat and that’s the ‘W’ and we are happy about that.”
The Cougars, 39-point underdogs, gave the Ducks their second-closest game of the season (Washington lost by 21 the week before) by rallying from 38 down in the fourth quarter.
“How dare Washington State not just lay down and die!” college football writer Tom Fornelli sarcastically wrote on CBSSports.com. “They were playing the mighty Oregon Ducks! You don’t try to score points against the Oregon Ducks reserves, you just take your 50-point beating and tell the Ducks you were honored to have the privilege of being run over!”
Stay tuned for the rematch next year in Pullman.