WSU coach puts emphasis on Cougars' nutrition
One issue new Washington State coach Paul Wulff corrected quickly was ensuring that his football players attended training table and ate nutritious foods.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Portland State @ Washington State,
4 p.m., FSN
The Rude Awakening of Paul Wulff began only a few days after he arrived at Washington State last December.
After all the hosannas and huzzahs and congratulations, he noticed something about the players he inherited. This didn't look like a big-time football team.
So ... step No. 1 on the way to restoring the Cougars to the level of success of a few years ago:
"We're making kids eat their meals," says Wulff, the WSU coach.
Of all the potholes associated with rebuilding a football program, I would have figured a lot of things — grades, girlfriends, Xbox 360, bad talent, lousy work habits, crummy coaching — might have come into play first. You assume that when all else is crumbling, kids would, uh, eat.
"We have our own little training table, which has really good food," Wulff explained the other day in an interview from Pullman. "They're required to eat X amount of meals a week. Kids weren't eating them. Therefore, you have kids not growing. They aren't putting in the proper calories.
"It was very evident to see how they looked physically, compared to where I had just come from."
He means Eastern Washington.
As Wulff tells it, a football player hopeful of adding weight and eating nutritiously should add 10 pounds of muscle and strength a year.
"You've got to layer it," he says. "A few kids — the Greg Trents, Kenny Alfreds — were physically where they needed to be at this stage of their career. It just wasn't the culture."
Let's see if we have this straight: You could either eat well, as much as you wanted, for free as part of your scholarship. Or you could go back to the apartment, or out, and pay for it.
No wonder the NCAA docked the Cougars so heavily last spring for academic shortcomings.
"They were burning a lot of money by not even eating," Wulff says. "So now we chart every week's meals, how they ate."
Aha, you say, another screed documenting the ills of a coaching staff not there to defend itself anymore, versus one whose regime is giving up yardage like Century 21 and just got shamed by Baylor.
True, the former staff had the Cougars competitive and was probably unlucky not to get WSU into a bowl game from 2004 to 2007. But, judging from the eight scholarships the NCAA stripped due to faulty academics, and the Times' June investigation detailing how 25 players were arrested for jailable offenses in 18 months — most under the old staff — I'm going to make the leap and assume program discipline wasn't job one under Bill Doba.
Wulff detailed other changes, things like an emphasis on keeping appointments, showing up to meetings on time, and for some at-risk players, a class-attendance card that professors are asked to validate.
"We have to stay the course and keep doing what we know is right," Wulff says. "We're asking them to do a lot of things they've never done before."
Wulff says there has been a reasonably high level of buy-in.
"It takes day-after-day consistency to really develop," he says. "Sometimes it takes a little tough love to get that across. But ultimately, that's what they wanted. The kids that really wanted to excel wanted that."
In WSU's fretful year of transition, Wulff has to walk a fine line: We ask him for honesty, a level of candor, yet to speak his mind sounds like criticism of Doba.
"I've come into a situation that's no different than somebody else taking over a new business," he says. "There were some things internally that maybe weren't exposed. It's no different from any other major business. You evaluate it and you start building it and fixing."
Here's what's not so internal: Because of recruiting mistakes and JC players who washed out, there are only 23 Cougars among the oldest three of the five scholarship classes on the roster — fifth-year seniors, and fourth- and third-year players. Washington has 27. Oregon has 31. Oregon State has 35.
That means when WSU visits OSU next month, the Cougars could have six fewer veteran players on each side of the ball, six fewer seasoned, possible game-changers on every snap.
Wulff thinks the inexperienced Cougars, if healthy, will improve. They'll need to, because the teeth of the Pac-10 schedule is ahead. And never mind that for now. Portland State visits today in a game WSU could lose.
"We're going to get better," Wulff said, "come hell or high water."
In the meantime, fellas, eat your vegetables.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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