SPOKANE, Wash. -- New Washington State coach Mike Leach wants to take his team back to junior high as fall drills open on Thursday.
Leach said Wednesday that he plans to emphasize blocking and tackling in the first week of practice as the Cougars seek to improve on a 4-8 season that ended with coach Paul Wulff getting fired.
"Whoever was your junior high coach, virtually everything he told you we are going to emphasize big time," Leach said in a conference call with reporters. "The most important skill on offense is blocking. The most important skill on defense is tackling.”
"The fundamentals never go (away)," Leach said.
Leach, the colorful coach who turned Texas Tech into a football power before he was fired in 2009, has had a busy summer -- going bear hunting and attending actor Matthew McConaughey's wedding, among other activities. But the focus in Pullman now turns to football.
One of the first personnel decisions Leach faces is whether to keep senior Jeff Tuel as the No. 1 quarterback or elevate backup Connor Halliday, a sophomore.
Both players will get plenty of reps, and then he plans to designate a No. 1 within the first week of practice.
Both quarterbacks are coming off injury-plagued seasons, and both would benefit from better play by WSU's beleaguered offensive line. The line is more experienced this season, but still suffers from a lack of depth, Leach said.
The Cougars appear to be strongest at receiver, where star Marquess Wilson returns for his junior year. Also back are Bobby Ratliff, Bennett Bontemps, Gino Simone and there's a slew of younger players led by touted freshman Gabriel Marks.
"There is not a lot of experience there," Leach said. "We have to manufacture experience in camp.”
Veteran running backs Rickey Galvin and Carl Winston are back.
Defensively, the line is suspect as three players who had been expected to contribute were dismissed from the team.
"You've got to put the interests of the team first," Leach said.
Overall, Leach said the Cougars still lack depth behind their starters.
"Our first level guys I feel pretty good about," Leach said. "We need depth pretty much everywhere.”
Most of fall camp will be devoted to developing skills, and the Cougars won't start concentrating on season-opening opponent BYU until perhaps 10 days before the Sept. 1 opener.
"I don't think you sit and game plan three months for one game and six days for every other game," Leach said.
Leach said he has heard no more news regarding a proposed documentary television series about his first season at WSU.
He also is finding remote Pullman, 75 miles south of Spokane, to his liking, and rejects any notion that he is seen as the savior of WSU football after being lured north by a $2 million contract.
"Pullman is a gorgeous place," Leach said.
He added that the football program has a great legacy and he is "not the savior of anything.”
"I've got a great coaching staff and players to work with and we are going to do the best we can," Leach said. "All anybody has is their best effort, and that's what they are going to get out of us.”
After opening at Leach's alma mater, the Cougars return home to face Eastern Washington on Sept. 8. Their Pac-12 home opener is Sept. 22 against Colorado.