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Originally published November 26, 2011 at 9:30 PM | Page modified November 27, 2011 at 1:51 PM

Paul Wulff likely out as Cougars coach

Sources close to the situation say Wulff, whose Cougars lost 38-21 to Washington on Saturday at CenturyLink Field, will be dismissed after a meeting with athletic director Bill Moos, barring a last-minute change of direction by Moos. It could happen as early as Sunday, possibly Monday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Paul Wulff has likely coached his last football game at Washington State.

Sources close to the situation say Wulff, whose Cougars lost 38-21 to Washington on Saturday at CenturyLink Field, will be dismissed after a meeting with athletic director Bill Moos, barring a last-minute change of direction by Moos. It could happen as early as Sunday, possibly Monday.

A reversal of thinking is unlikely, and sources familiar with the process say the Cougars will have former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach at the top of their list of possible replacements. Leach has been out of coaching since 2009 after a controversial exit from Tech that resulted in him suing the school.

Moos said through a spokesman after the game Saturday night that he and Wulff would determine on the plane ride home a time to meet on the status of the program and that "anything beyond that is pure speculation."

The result of the Apple Cup was not a factor in the decision on Wulff, who has a year remaining on his five-year contract. Wulff has been under heavy scrutiny all season from Moos, who opted to retain him a year ago in a relatively close call.

Wulff would finish with a 9-40 record, a .184 winning percentage that is worst in school history.

Moos, who has been WSU's athletic director for 18 months, has refreshed plans to renovate Martin Stadium and build a football-only training-and-offices facility at the west end of campus. Regents recently approved the $80 million stadium remodel project and there have been significant concerns about the ability to raise funds with a fan base divided on Wulff.

"He has to have a coach to do for him what he's doing for Elson Floyd," an informed source told The Times recently, referring to Moos and the WSU president.

Wulff was a lightning rod for criticism after taking over a disheveled program from Bill Doba after the 2007 season. There was a talent deficit, a scholarship hit because of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate standards, a passel of injuries and other issues that put the program at an immediate competitive disadvantage.

With modest talent at quarterback and a general talent shortfall in 2008, the Cougars were shut out three times and gave up 58 points or more six times. They were compared to the worst teams of all time, but managed a double-overtime victory over Washington.

WSU was more competitive in 2009, but still managed to win only a single game, and after a 30-0 loss to Washington in the Apple Cup, Wulff had to survive a push to remove him after two seasons.

The Cougars gradually got better, but the victories were too sparse to turn the administrative tide for him in a significant way. With a 3-22 record the first two years — no matter how tough the circumstances when he took over — it was difficult for him to gain traction with many alumni and boosters.

WSU beat Oregon State last year in a big surprise, won an uplifting comeback game at Colorado Oct. 1 this year and had a rousing upset of Arizona State on Nov. 5 behind a memorable performance from quarterback Connor Halliday. But with a chance to notch a second straight upset, against Utah, the Cougars eschewed a potential game-winning chance at the 1-yard line in the final seconds, kicked a field goal and lost in overtime.

Wulff's fate might have been sealed on Sept. 3, oddly, in a 64-21 victory over Idaho State. Jeff Tuel, the standout junior quarterback, awoke that morning with a virus and the Cougars started senior Marshall Lobbestael.

But Tuel, after taking medication and asking to play, entered with 6:14 left in the first quarter. On his fifth snap, he tried to run right to escape a rush, was tackled and suffered a broken collarbone.

It essentially ruined his season and led to instability at the position through much of it. Tuel returned Oct. 15 but played only a game and a half before injuries sidelined him for the year — possibly torpedoing WSU's chance to get to six wins and bowl eligibility.

Leach, meanwhile, coached Texas Tech to 10 straight bowl appearances but left amid controversy after the '09 season. He had signed a five-year, $12.7 million contract with the school in February 2009.

But an incident in which he allegedly mistreated one of his players, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James, prompted the school to fire him, just short of a deadline in which he was to receive an $800,000 bonus. Leach sued for wrongful termination and after some legal wrangling over whether as a state entity, Tech had sovereign immunity, greatly limiting potential legal action, the Texas Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

Leach has been out of coaching the past two years, but has been open about interest in returning. He was interviewed for the Maryland job last offseason but it went to Randy Edsall, and speculation has been that Leach's tangled exit from Texas Tech has hurt his chance at being rehired.

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

Paul Wulff's coaching career
Paul Wulff spent eight seasons as head coach at Eastern Washington, before becoming the coach at Washington State in 2008.
Year School Overall Conf. Postseason
2011 Washington St. 4-8 2-7 -
2010 Washington St. 2-10 1-8 -
2009 Washington St. 1-11 0-9 -
2008 Washington St. 2-11 1-8 -
2007 Eastern Washington 9-4 7-2 FCS Quarterfinals
2006 Eastern Washington 3-8 3-5 -
2005 Eastern Washington 7-5 5-2 FCS First Round
2004 Eastern Washington 9-4 6-1 FCS Quarterfinals
2003 Eastern Washington 6-5 3-4 -
2002 Eastern Washington 6-5 3-4 -
2001 Eastern Washington 7-4 3-4 -
2000 Eastern Washington 6-5 5-3 -

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