Paul Wulff needs at least a chance to succeed
Washington State coach is supposedly on the hot seat, but his program has been hit hard by injuries, a lack of talent and other factors, some of which are beyond his control.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
WSU @ Oklahoma St, 4 p.m., FSN
As Washington State begins a new football season, Paul Wulff's seat is said to be hot enough to liquefy the Mendenhall Glacier. He needs to win this many games, he needs to win that many. Take your pick.
Sports Illustrated wrote that Wulff needs to win "at least five" to maintain fan support.
You've got it all wrong, people. Losing games should only reinforce why the Cougars need to hold onto Wulff.
OK, we exaggerate. But in a Joseph Heller-Catch 22 sort of way, Wulff's 3-22 record in two years only helps underscore why WSU ought to see his regime through.
First, there's the pragmatism of it: Given that WSU has one win over a BCS-level team in two years, you think the line of candidates to replace Wulff is going to stretch from Bohler Gym to The Coug?
If you want to tie the can to Wulff after the 2010 season, this is what you're saying: He should be gone from a place where the weight-room was systemically dysfunctional; where he inherited an APR penalty of eight program scholarships; where he's had a ridiculous run of injuries; where it's traditionally tough to win and nobody gets fired after three years.
Oh yeah, and this: Where there was alarmingly little talent when he took over late in 2007.
In the first two years Bill Doba was coach (2003-04), a total of 16 slots on the All-Pac-10 first and second teams were filled by Cougars, all recruited in the Mike Price regime.
In the first two years of Wulff's tenure (2008-09), with the preponderance of the roster signed under Doba, there was one first- or second-team selection. In 2008, the Cougars failed to have a first- or second-team all-league pick for the only time in a Pac-10 Conference now entering its 33rd season.
In the past two springs combined, WSU has had a grand total of three NFL draftees or free-agent signees. Oregon State and Arizona — not the highest-level programs in the league — had 13 and 12, respectively.
If you think there has been pro-caliber talent on the WSU roster not being developed to that level, well, e-mail me for information on some ocean-view parcels outside Colfax.
About the injuries: In the public discourse, those are a fuzzy, unpopular topic. Everybody has them, and nobody wants to hear about them, right?
According to a researcher at Phil Steele 2010 Football Preview magazine, WSU lost 67 starts due to injuries last year, the highest number in college football since 2006. The next-highest team in 2009 (Tennessee) had 44.
Recently, I asked Bill Moos, the new athletic director, where he stood on Wulff. Moos was part of an advisory group that helped make the hire in 2007.
"I really want it to work for him," Moos said. "In an ideal world, he fits the (WSU) profile of someone who's paid his dues, is a former player and isn't going to leave (if he has success).
"I was involved in the hiring process. I felt he was the guy, and I'll stand by him."
So uncompetitive have the Cougars been the past two years that it's difficult to know whether Wulff and his staff are good game-planners or game-day strategists. The talent deficit has been so large, the debate doesn't get to that level.
"It'd be easier to judge Paul as an Xs-and-Os game-day coach," Moos said, "if he had three years of players like this freshman bunch coming in."
The talent is improving. When I caught practices in Pullman two weeks ago, the best receiver on the field was playmaking 6-foot-3 freshman Marquess Wilson. JC defensive tackle Brandon Rankin will be a force in the Pac-10. Freshman offensive tackle John Fullington (North Mason) looks like he'll play right away.
The quarterback, sophomore Jeff Tuel, has an arm, great feet, smarts and leadership ability.
Meanwhile, Wulff's staff has 12 commitments for 2011, including a four-star running back, Bishop Sankey of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane (he is taking other visits, however), where WSU has recruited well.
"I like the way we're recruiting Eastern Washington and the entire state," Moos said.
It's not at all unreasonable for WSU fans to expect noticeable improvement. If that isn't in evidence, or if it becomes apparent that Wulff is not the guy who can rally the troops, then all bets are off.
Personally, I'd measure the Cougars not in wins as much as: Do they resemble a football team? Are they hanging around well into the second half of most games, with a shot to win? Does the roster suggest there's a future?
If the answer is yes, then Wulff deserves the benefit of the doubt. Change things now, and WSU becomes a place where you can't win for losing.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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