We have a couple of stories in tomorrow’s paper, one on football and one basketball related. Read on for the unedited version of each, along with some web-only notes.
• We’ll start with the football story and the big news from Wednesday’s practice …
PULLMAN – There are immutable laws of physics, just like there are immutable facts in physiology.
And when those two collide on the football field, there is usually an adverse reaction.
Such was the case Wednesday afternoon during a routine tackling drill in the Washington State Cougars’ fourth spring practice.
Starting linebacker Andy Mattingly, a senior leader of a defense trying to bounce back from a tough 2008, was making a tackle. The ball carrier remained in motion and Mattingly’s right arm didn’t.
The result was an injury to Mattingly’s pectoral muscle, bad enough to necessitate an MRI today and more than likely ending his spring.
But, as WSU coach Paul Wulff sees it, there is probably no one better on the team to overcome such a setback than the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Mattingly.
“Physically, Andy is close to where he needs to be,” Wulff said. “Even if he misses spring practice, he’ll work hard enough to be 100 percent by fall.”
Mattingly will join senior offensive line leader Kenny Alfred, who underwent hip surgery over the winter, on the sidelines, where they’ll have to concentrate of the mental aspect of the game.
“Those guys have played a lot of football, they’re smart enough players, they’ll have a great summer, work hard and be ready to go,” Wulff said.
Mattingly wasn’t in pain, making a joke about his arm to another player, but left the snow-dotted field and returned later out of pads.
“It doesn’t help,” Wulff admited. “The nice thing is he’s smart enough and veteran enough he can overcome it.”
• If the initial reaction to such an occurrence is negative, Wulff’s experience has taught there is a reward down the road.
“Injuries at the present time don’t always help,” he said. “Sometimes a guy will step up and surprise you, but generally speaking, it’s not immediate. But in the long run, there is a positive to it.”
And that is?
“It will give some more guys a chance to play,” Wulff said. “The advantage when you have injuries, they’re not immediate. They come a year or two down the road, believe it or not.
“More players are getting the opportunity to participate and that allows them to become a little better.”
• Defensive backs Tyrone Justin, who started at cornerback six times last season, Kevin Frank, Daniel Simmons and Deon Ford, a linebacker, returned to practice. They had missed the first three days of spring after being suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Wulff would not say what the four did to earn the suspension but did say they were currently completing punishment handed out by the team’s Unity Council, a group of players who oversee team discipline.
Cornerback Romeo Pellum is still suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
SPRING NOTES: Slippery conditions became a problem late in practice. Snow started falling early and began sticking on the Rogers Field turf as the afternoon wore on. Wulff saw the benefit of practicing in adverse weather, but “at the same time, I’d like to hope to have this type of practice in November, not April. … Most of the time it is OK, but today wasn’t real productive as practice moved along.” The conditions, Wulff said, made ball security so paramount that other fundamentals suffered. … The one big play during team drills was turned in by senior defensive end Jess Feagin, who intercepted a Kevin Lopina screen pass and returned it for what would have been a touchdown. … Much of the early part of practice was spent on the fundamentals of special-team work. The final segment was devoted to turnovers, with players sliding after fumbles in the spring snow.
Meet the new Cougars
Transfer from College of San Mateo
Wolfgramm spent last season redshirting after transferring from junior college. But he didn’t waste his time. He not only used his 6-foot-3, 288-pound frame to disrupt the first team offensive line with the scout team, but also worked with the main defense in case of injury. Turns out, it was Wolfgramm who was hurt, rupturing two disks in his back while preparing for Cal in September. He played through the injury as long as he could, but finally sat out the last third of the season and underwent surgery. He’s sitting out spring practice as he rebuilds strength in is left leg, but expects to be fully healed by fall. And the coaching staff expects him to make a big impact up front.
• Now we move on to the basketball story from Tony Bennett’s press conference in Virginia …
It was the same Tony Bennett, only the outfit was different.
Bennett, who left Washington State University this week, was introduced as the University of Virginia’s basketball coach Wednesday in an almost hour-long press conference.
The words were similar, the inflection identical, but Bennett sported a new look. He was wearing an orange and blue tie.
“You’ll have to ask the boss,” Bennett said when asked about it. “That was one of those questions I don’t think I negotiated very well.”
“You know he’s a coach’s son,” said his new boss, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage. “He’s coachable.”
After the laughter subsided – Bennett rarely wore a tie at WSU – he talked extensively on his hopes for his new program, but also spoke about his former school as well.
“It was hard to leave, but it takes a place like this to make that happen,” Bennett said. “Pullman is special and anybody who has been there understands that.”
Though he said not too many places could have pulled him out of Washington State at this point of his career, Bennett had one main reason for moving on.
“This fits,” he said of Virginia, which finished 10-18 overall, 4-12 and 11th last season in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference.
Bennett said he felt he left WSU with a well-stocked program.
“We had a bunch of freshmen and sophomores coming into WSU,” he said. “I’m real excited about their future,” he said. “We had two kids on the all-freshmen team. Certainly the next head coach will have to build it up for a year or two, but there’s some great promise.”
Towards that end, Bennett said, he talked with the four high school seniors who signed letters of intent and encouraged them to stay the course.
“(I) said there’s something very good on the horizon there and encouraged them to go there and meet the new head coach, just as we’re doing here,” Bennett said. “They all went there because of the coaching staff, certainly, but also because of Washington State and the people there. I’m encouraging them to honor their letter.”
Bennett, who opened the press conference saying he wanted to build a program that lasts through integrity and passion, struggled to keep his composure when talking about his family. He also said it was a struggle when he said goodbye at WSU.
“You have to think about the things that are hard,” he said. “Talking to your team that you have recruited. Saying goodbye to the people who gave you your first chance. That was hard.”
But he appreciated how it worked out.
“They were very supportive,” Bennett said. “When I met with the president of Washington State (Elson J. Floyd) and the athletic director (Jim Sterk) about other jobs, they said this was not a good fit or just think about this.
“With this one, they said ‘we certainly want you to stay but understand your interest in the University of Virginia.’ I thought that was one the classiest things that I’ve seen an AD or a president do.”
“I’d been there six years [counting three years as an assistant],” said Bennett. “The hardest thing is to sit in that room and every recruit that comes in and asks, ‘Coach, are you going to be there for me?’ What I told everyone: ‘I plan on being there, but I don’t know what the future holds.
“I was up-front with guys. I thought I’d be staying, but there was always that chance.”
• University of San Diego coach Bill Grier, mentioned by Sterk as someone he would like to talk with, told the San Diego Union Tribune on Tuesday he’s not interested in WSU. “I feel good about the kids we have returning here next season and I’m happy with where I am,” he told the paper.
• There were reports former NBA player and coach and Dick Bennett protégé Terry Porter was on campus for interviews. Several WSU officials denied that Porter was in Pullman.
Sterk said Wednesday afternoon that he had not talked with Porter but would be interested in him as a candidate.
• As WSU moves through the process, Sterk has made calls asking for recommendations. One name that came up was that of former University of Arizona coach Kevin O’Neill, who is currently working for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
O’Neill filled in at Arizona last season when Lute Olson was on sabbatical but was let go when Olson returned. Before that O’Neill coached at Tennessee, Northwestern and Marquette and in the NBA, spending one year as the head coach of the Toronto Raptors.
• Sterk said on a Seattle radio show he would not let any of the recruits out of their letters of intent until after a new hire was made and he had a chance to talk with them.
• That’s it for this evening. It’s been a busy week and it will only get busier as coaching candidates start to move through the pipeline, the players talk and spring football starts to warm up (we hope). Until tomorrow …