Paul Wulff set to join princes of Pac-10
Upon taking over a Washington State football program spinning its wheels, Paul Wulff said the right things. He threw down the gantlet to rival Washington.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
PULLMAN — Upon taking over a Washington State football program spinning its wheels, Paul Wulff said the right things. He threw down the gantlet to rival Washington.
He appears to have labored hard to change the culture. There seems to be a lot of buying what he's selling.
Saturday at Qwest Field, we begin to find out more about the Wulff regime — maybe the most important part.
Indirectly, Rick Neuheisel talked about it a month ago at Pac-10 media day. Over lunch, someone asked him how the league might have changed since he made his tumultuous exit from Washington five years ago.
"My last year, 2002, Pete Carroll was a good coach," Neuheisel said, referring to the USC head man. "Now he's an icon.
"Mike Bellotti [Oregon] has reached the status he's deserved. Jeff Tedford [California] is now a bona fide big-time coach. Dennis Erickson [Arizona State] was already; now he's come back and rekindled the magic. The Pac-10 is a legitimate hotbed for big-time coaches — on par, I would say, with the SEC."
Into that fraternity, where stripes include national titles and NFL head-coaching experience, comes Paul Wulff and his staff, with a background in Division I-AA at Eastern Washington. They're the ruffians at the queen's long dinner table.
Does it matter? Will it make any difference someday when WSU is trailing 24-21 midway through the fourth quarter and they've got to call up the right play on third-and-11?
A year ago, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh faced the same questions. He came from San Diego, another Football Championship Subdivision school (the old Division I-AA), and hired a relatively unknown staff. There were a lot of doubters.
Harbaugh's team beat USC and Cal — and won him a lot of converts.
"Finding where the landmines are takes six months to a year," Harbaugh says. "It doesn't matter if he's coming from I-AA. It's a new job."
We're not going to know about this WSU staff until it has to stop Oregon's spread offense, or until it stacks up against UCLA's formidable coaches. But when I brought up the question a couple of weeks ago, the new Cougars in charge didn't show a lot of concern.
"X's and O's-wise, it's no different, absolutely none," Wulff insists.
Says offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, "Things are being taught at the I-AA level the same as they're taught at the I-A level."
Last year, Chip Kelly came from I-AA New Hampshire to coach Oregon's offense and the move didn't seem to bother him.
This much, we know: If the new staff's ingenuity matches its energy, WSU football would seem to be in good hands.
Remember The Times quote a couple of months ago from Leon Burtnett, an assistant under Bill Doba?
"We never beat Washington on a kid in the state that Washington wanted in the time I was there," Burtnett said.
That may have already changed when WSU got a commitment from receiver Gino Simone of Skyline High. And Wulff is determined to make it a regularity.
In one week of the May recruiting-evaluation period, with the maximum seven assistants on the road, the Cougars visited some 275 high schools in the state.
Some of those prep coaches hadn't seen anybody in crimson clothing in a while.
"They were very happy to see me," said co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears, who handles Northwest Washington for Wulff.
Says Rich Rasmussen, WSU's recruiting coordinator, "Our philosophy was, don't drive past a school, take the time to swing by it.
"Obviously, there's some that are difficult to get to, with their locations — the Neah Bays and Forks. But for the most part, we were able to hit all the schools in the metropolitan areas."
Not that the new staff had to make wholesale introductions. It knew many of the coaches from days recruiting at Eastern Washington.
In fact, Wulff says, "It's a lot easier to recruit in the sense that every kid is very attentive, instead of before, where the kids were all waiting for the Pac-10 to come by.
"What's a little harder, probably, is our net is bigger."
The Wulff staff has seen it happen before: A call, an e-mail comes in from some coach they got to know, tipping them on a player from another school.
"We want to make this as homegrown as possible," Wulff says. "The only way we can do that is by hustling, uncovering every rock we can. Since we got here, I cannot tell you how hard this coaching staff has worked."
History says it will always be an uphill battle for the Cougars to successfully contest the Huskies for in-state recruits. But they plan to make Washington work.
As for that other component, the coaching, it's a lot easier to scheme with good players than bad ones. Just ask Jim Harbaugh.
"Oh yeah, the thin résumé," he said, referring to the skepticism when he took over, paralleling Wulff.
"A lot of people wanted that [Washington State] job, and he got it. That tells me he's ready for it."
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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