Washington State athletic director Bill Moos considers the case for sticking with coach Paul Wulff
The result of Saturday's Apple Cup game could impact Washington State coach Paul Wulff's future. Bill Moos, the WSU athletic director, needs to decide if Wulff is the right coach for the Cougars.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
The 103rd Apple Cup seems to cleave neatly into two story lines. The Huskies either make it to a bowl game, or they don't. And the Cougars either keep their coach, or they don't.
Regarding the Bill Moos-Paul Wulff dynamic, here's the first thing you need to know: While Washington State faithful regard their new athletic director as akin to the messiah, someone who has confronted every circumstance, this is a new exercise for Moos.
He's not in the habit of having to take a cold, hard look at the football program beyond asking the coach, "What do you need now?" In 17 years as an athletic director at Montana and Oregon, his coaches had one losing season. Mike Bellotti went 5-6 in 2004, and the Ducks were 10-2 the next year.
Moos says he hasn't made a decision on Wulff. So we can only speculate. Here's what I'm guessing is the debate inside his head:
If I'm Moos, I'm alarmed at Wulff's 5-31 record, and the nine games in which WSU has surrendered 50 points or more. And as an athletic director, I'm worried about declining attendance and apathy — Moos' word in describing some pockets of the fan base.
I'd have to know that Wulff is a work in progress, somebody whom Moos himself has tried to mentor in things like cultivating a robust, winning image publicly.
Moos sees the Wulff equation as part of his greater plan for WSU football. He wants to build a complex adjoining Martin Stadium, a foundational piece that would enhance recruiting and elevate the facility to a solid Pac-10 standard, no matter who the coach is.
If I'm Moos, part of me is torn by the idea of trying to lure a coach with a splashy name — an act that would simultaneously stamp Moos and the Cougars as taking a new stand on football.
But it's not that easy. Musing last summer in his office on the subject of his new football program and the advisability of a new hire, Moos said, "You'd better be halfway down the aisle before you get a divorce."
In other words, you don't just fire Wulff and set out to hire a new coach. There had better be a plan, and it needs to be something more than going out and replacing him with the coordinator from the hot team 2,000 miles away.
It wouldn't surprise me if Moos had made back-channel inquiries about the availability of a prominent free-agent coach or two, just to take the temperature, without resolution on Wulff. That might be the genesis of a couple of national outlets this week suggesting Wulff is likely to be fired. (But the reports linking Bellotti to WSU seem illogical.)
Moos realizes, of course, that he was on an advisory committee that recommended Wulff. And Moos, loyal to WSU like few others, knows Wulff is an alum, too, even a fellow ex-offensive lineman.
So, about that idea of a "name" coach: You'd be firing your old one after three seasons. That's unheard-of at Washington State, and not exactly the message you want to send to the new guy about stability. And, you'd be doing it before a bulldozer has ever broken ground to improve facilities, so you're recruiting a new coach on a promise.
You'd be doing it at a significant cost — perhaps mitigated by the advent of the new Pac-12.
To do all that, Moos would be to saying Wulff's challenge in rebuilding this program wasn't that imposing. But there was the APR hit of eight scholarships, the 25 players documented by The Times as arrested in an 18-month span bridging the handoff from Bill Doba to Wulff, and a steady succession of injuries that took out more starters than any other FBS school in 2009.
The injuries eased somewhat this season, but still, there was the broken arm to a promising freshman tight end, Aaron Dunn, in fall camp; a career-ending neck injury to safety LeAndre Daniels; a broken arm to running back Rickey Galvin on his first college carry at Oklahoma State.
If I'm Moos, I'd be cheered by the apparent ability of Wulff's staff to recruit, even in dreary times, and by the fact WSU has one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Jeff Tuel.
In the absence of victories, I'd be encouraged, at least, by the Cougars' feisty play since the UCLA game Oct. 2 — minus one no-show at Arizona State — capped by the breakthrough at Oregon State on Nov. 13.
I'd like the fact WSU had more representation on the Pac-10 All-Academic first team than anybody.
Still, this is a tough business, and if I'm Moos, that's why I'm withholding judgment. It's not a bad thing to hold Wulff's feet to the fire. There's a president, Elson Floyd, who wants to win, and he'll want to hear good reasons for retaining Wulff.
But mostly, if I'm the new AD, I want to have every last shred of evidence available before making my decision. I want to know that the Cougars, if they can't win this Apple Cup, can at least play the Huskies tough. I want to see Wulff get his team ready this week, and motivate it, and manage it on game day.
I want a final sign that Wulff's program can have a breakout season in 2011.
If Moos really hasn't reached a final verdict, then Wulff's team can make a closing argument Saturday.
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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