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Originally published November 29, 2011 at 10:01 PM | Page modified November 30, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Bud Withers

In the end, maybe Paul Wulff just wasn't "presidential"

In the "nasty, cruel business" of coaching, Washington State athletic director Bill Moos decided Paul Wulff wasn't doing enough to energize Cougars fan base.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

quotes Well put! Paul Wulff was not a failure, just failed to succeed! Read more
quotes Folks, Mr. Moos made the decision that he needed to make. Paul took us as far as he... Read more
quotes I can understand the move, but I am still disappointed. Wulff inherited a program in... Read more

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This, as they say, is where the rubber meets the road. In the cruel arena of assessing coaches, there's no time for sentiment, only for cash flow.

The Cougars dismissed Paul Wulff on Tuesday. An old WSU offensive lineman, Bill Moos, called in another old WSU lineman and told him he was done. It must have torn both of them up.

You had to have a devil's heart not to cheer for Paul Wulff. When he was a 12-year-old in Northern California, his mother went missing — never found — and his deceased father is presumed to have killed her. Later, coaching at Eastern Washington, Wulff suffered through the death to cancer of his first wife, Tammy.

But the blogosphere, and the whims of the fan base, don't have a tender spot. The reality is that even though the Cougars improved markedly from the subterranean state Wulff inherited in 2007, there are $80 million in facilities improvements on the drawing board at WSU, and too many donors were either disenchanted or simply disengaged.

A 9-40 record over four years, however you choose to parse the reasons, will do that.

WSU was getting close under Wulff, no doubt about it. The question is, close to what, and I believe that's the issue Moos spent days and nights wrestling with.

I think if quarterback Jeff Tuel had stayed upright an entire season — as he did, almost miraculously in 2010, though he was sacked 48 times — WSU would be preparing for a bowl game right now. The Cougars needed two more wins, and I think somehow they would have cobbled them together among lost opportunities against San Diego State, UCLA and Utah.

The Cougars have been out of the postseason for more years than anybody in the Pac-12, since 2003, and a bowl game has come to represent the Holy Grail, even if it takes only a .500 record to get there.

But what then? Were the Cougars bound to continue an upward arc and become a serious contender for a Rose Bowl, or were a lot of niggling things — like some of this year's grievous kickoff and punting problems — going to get in the way? Giving Wulff the benefit, say, of a bowl game in 2012, what was going to happen in 2013, 2014 and 2015?

To keep Wulff would have almost mandated a contract extension of at least a year, which would have been wildly unpopular among a significant part of the fan base. Otherwise, WSU would have been merely letting him coach the last year of his contract.

The bottom line for Moos regarding Wulff? In the parlance of electioneering, I don't think he believed he was presidential.

Maybe it wasn't one, overriding deficiency (other than winning enough games). It was just a succession of signals that suggested to Moos that Wulff wasn't going to take their alma mater to the place Moos believes it can go.

There are indications Moos rolled his eyes at the decision to insert Tuel into the Idaho State opener three series in, when the game was clearly in hand and Tuel had been vomiting earlier with a virus. Maybe it was typical of Wulff's luck that Tuel broke his collarbone five plays after he got in the game, leaving Wulff open to second-guessing.

On Oct. 17, I covered a luncheon of WSU boosters at a waterfront hotel in Seattle, a gathering designed around the next game with Oregon State at CenturyLink Field.

Before a group of people (including Moos), many of whom were in business suits, Wulff wore a polo shirt inside a WSU windbreaker. A big deal? Not at all. But it was perhaps just one more sign to Moos that he didn't have a commanding figure leading his football team.

Ultimately, while there was unmistakable progress under Wulff, it wasn't enough to invigorate the fan base. I sat in on Moos' hourlong radio show in Spokane on the Monday after the sizzling victory over Arizona State, and he had to be chilled at the scant couple of fans who called in.

"We have apathy in our fan base," Moos said at the announcement of Wulff's firing.

Later, Moos conceded, "It can be a nasty, cruel business."

Tuesday, it claimed Paul Wulff, a good man who left too much to chance.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com




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