Gardner Minshew was on his way to Alabama to hold a clipboard for a year before beginning his coaching career. It seemed like the right path for Minshew, who had a year of eligibility left after graduating from East Carolina as a part-time starter at quarterback.
He knew he wouldn’t play at Alabama, but he wanted to go into coaching and hoped to learn everything he could from Nick Saban and his staff. Saban told Minshew he would hire him as a graduate assistant in 2019.
Then Washington State coach Mike Leach made the call that changed Minshew’s life: “How would you like to lead the nation in passing?” Leach asked him.
Minshew took the bait and has guided the Cougars to unimaginable heights. He now is a serious Heisman candidate and a legitimate NFL prospect. Minshew has throw for 4,325 yards and 36 touchdowns in leading Wazzu to 10-1 record. He set a school record with seven TD passes Saturday in a 69-28 victory over Arizona.
He also is cult hero to Wazzu fans, thanks to his mustache that’s the new symbol of greatness for the school. He is a guy having fun and it shows, even placing one of the famous fake mustaches on Leach during a live postgame interview.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for a school that was mourning the January suicide of WSU quarterback Tyler Hilinski. The term “godsend” is used far too often. In this case, what better way to describe what Minshew has done for Wazzu.
Now the season of his life comes down to the game of his life. It’s rivalry week in college football. No matter what has gone wrong in the season, it’s a chance for your favorite team to win against the team you hate.
The biggest game in the Pac-12 this year is the Apple Cup, Washington-Washington State on Friday in Pullman. The Huskies are a disappointing 8-3 after being mentioned as possible national championship contenders when the season started.
As it turns out, the Cougars are the national title contenders, something no one would have dreamed possible in September. However, it all can end with a loss to the Huskies, who have won the last five Apple Cup games. The winner Friday is the Pac-12 North champion.
UW fans don’t want to hear it and don’t care, of course, but it’s much better for the image and the reputation of the conference if WSU wins. The Pac-12 has taken quite a beating nationally and often is viewed as the weak link of the Power-5 conferences.
The Pac-12 was 1-8 last year in bowl games, the worst record for any conference ever in the playoff era. WSU can bring some much needed respect to the Pac-12 by winning Friday and going on to win the Pac-12 title game to stay in the playoff picture.
And Minshew likely would remain in the Heisman talk. Not bad for a guy who thought his playing days were over.
Minshew probably will lose the Heisman battle to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, the guy Minshew would have watched from the sidelines. Now he may sit with Tua in New York as a Heisman finalist.
A lesson to us all of how life can change for the better.