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WSU has ups, downs in first scrimmage


COUGARS

It was raw Saturday morning at Martin Stadium and we’re not talking about the play on the field. We’re talking about the conditions, with the 36-degree weather compounded by a strong wind that cut like a machete at times. Despite that, there were some highlights from the Cougars’ first scrimmage – and a corresponding lowlight as is the case with intrasquad affairs. We have the unedited version of our story on the link, along with some more notes. At the very end is our feature for tomorrow’s S-R on incoming athletic director Bill Moos, so read on.

••••••••••

• First we have our scrimmage story …

PULLMAN – There’s a thing about intrasquad scrimmages. And it was evident after Washington State University held its first of the spring Saturday in Martin Stadium.

The players can see it one way, the coach another.

“OK, inconsistent,” said sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel, speaking for the Cougar offense. “That would probably the two words I would use to describe our performance. Ups and downs. Some really good stuff and some not so good stuff.”

“We had some ups and downs, but overall we had some good intensity and some good plays,” said senior safety Chima Nwachukwu, speaking for the defense.

“It was crisp, a lot like practice on Thursday,” said head coach Paul Wulff, covering the big picture for the whole team.

“Our intensity level was solid for the whole (scrimmage),” Wulff continued. “That’s the first time we’ve put back-to-back quality practices together.”

At times it was the offense displaying the quality, most notably on a series of big plays.

The first was a 24-yard touchdown between Tuel and Gino Simone on a flat pass that went the distance in large part due to a Jared Karstetter downfield block. The same two combined on a 29-yard completion later when Tuel was able to thread the needle on an out route despite a cold, swirling wind.

There was also Marshall Lobbestael finding tight end Skylar Stormo over the middle for 20 yards and Esa Johnwell for 22 more; a Marcus Richmond 40-yard run off right tackle; a Chantz Staden 18-yard delay around the left side; and the last play, a Lobbestael jump ball to the end zone that was tipped but caught by the 6-5 Stormo.

Most of those plays came against the second-string defense, however. The first group had its moments as well, sacking Lobbestael on back-to-back plays – there were four sacks total, with Brandon Rankin, Travis Long, Myron Beck and Alex Hoffman-Ellis each getting one – and goal-line interceptions by Tyree Toomer and Aire Justin.

“I really think our d-line is coming along,” said Nwachuckwu, leader of the secondary. “I can really notice the difference. A lot of the runs aren’t coming back to us. We’re not really having to make plays back there.

“I kind of get down on myself because I feel I’m not getting in on any plays, but that’s a good thing.”

That defensive line took a hit Friday when possible starter Toby Turpin was dismissed from school by WSU’s Student Conduct Board for an undisclosed academic incident. The senior started six games last year and made 28 tackles.

“It’s a real unfortunate situation for any student, whether you are a student athlete or a student,” Wulff said. “There are students that get dismissed for a variety of reasons all the time on campus. It’s very unfortunate for him and us.”

But Long, Rankin and a host of others put enough pressure on backup Lobbestael (5 of 10 for 67 yards, one touchdown and one interception) and starter Tuel (7 of 13 for 84 yards, one and one) to keep them uncomfortable.

“They did a great job,” Wulff said of the defensive front. “Very active, their effort was good. There is some steady, heavy competition in there right now.”

Staden finished with 58 yards on 15 carries while redshirt freshman Leon Brooks added 20 on 11.

The biggest blow for the running back corps was a possible medial collateral ligament sprain suffered by Richmond after he had 61 yards on just six carries. The fifth-year senior was on crutches with ice on his right knee afterward and Wulff said it is questionable if he will return this spring.

Overall, the Cougars’ third-year coach felt strongly about Saturday’s result.

“It was probably the most quality scrimmage we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Wulff said. “I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress. I know where we’ve been and I know where we are at today and I know we’re a much improved football team.

“We are by no means where we are going to be, but we’re very optimistic.”

•••

• We also have some other notes. … Besides Richmond on crutches after the scrimmage was over, quite a few players missed the action due to a variety of injuries. On the defensive side, linebacker Mike Ledgerwood and linemen Jordan Pu’u Robinson and Justin Mann were out with concussions, linebacker Jarred Walker with a sore knee and cornerback Terrance Hayward with a sore shoulder, the same one that bothered him last year. On offense, linemen Steven Ayers and Tim Hodgdon had concussions, Zack Williams a shoulder sprain and Carl Winston a sprained big toe. … The starting offensive line, with the folks out, was Wade Jacobson at left tackle, Micah Hannam at left guard, Andrew Roxas at center, B.J. Guerra at right guard and David Gonzalez at right tackle. Tuel was the quarterback. The running backs and receivers rotated. … On the defensive side, Long, Rankin, Anthony Laurenzi and Kevin Kooyman were up front, Hoffman-Ellis, Hallston Higgins and Beck were at linebacker, Justin and Daniel Simmons at corner and Nwachukwu and LeAndre Daniels at safety. … The offense turned the ball over three times with the two picks and a fumbled handoff between Richmond and Tuel that Sekope Kaufusi pounced on. There were troubles with the snap exchange in both the shotgun and under center between Roxas and the quarterbacks, something that will have to be cleaned up. … In total, there were 59 plays between the offense and defense. … Simone led all receivers with 63 yards on three catches while Stormo had three for 37. Wulff said the emphasis was on running the football but the passing game wasn’t as effective as it should be. “We have to grow up still in our passing game,” he said. “It was kind of a cold, windy day, and we didn’t handle it probably as good as we would like to. And that’s something those guys got to grow into here a little bit.” … Tuel, from Fresno, didn’t like the wind much, that’s for sure. “It was different. We were doing the skelly deal and I threw a ball to Gino and it just took off behind him. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never thrown in wind like here in Pullman but it’s just something that’s going to make me better.” … The field goal kickers took there chances win the wind, with Nico Grasu 2 of 4 with a long of 41, Alex Gauper 2 of 4 with a long of 47 and Blake Dunn 0 of 1.

•••

• And here is our feature for tomorrow …

PULLMAN – Bill Moos likes to say all roads lead to Pullman. He says it, more than likely, because he’s lived it.

He traveled the back roads to Pullman as a child. He drove the highway to Pullman as a young man. He is returning, seemingly on a red carpet, to Pullman now.

When Moos assumes the position of Washington State University’s athletic director sometime later this month, it will be the culmination of a pursuit basically extended back each of his 59 years.

A pursuit that was born near Edwall, grew into adulthood in Olympia and Pullman, made stops in Bellevue, Missoula, Eugene, Valleyford.

There was only one more destination. Washington State University.

It’s where his parents met. Where he was an All-Pac-8 offensive lineman. Where he took his first job in athletic administration. Where he almost lost his life. Where all roads led.

“He’ll do an outstanding job,” says former Oregon basketball coach Ernie Kent. “He’ll be very passionate about the job and he’ll be very passionate about the school up there.”

“We all knew it was probably kind of his dream,” says long-time Montana sports information director Dave Guffey.

“There are probably very few people around who love Washington State as much as Bill does,” says former Washington State athletic director Sam Jankovich.

Jankovich should know, he hired Moos as an assistant athletic director in 1982, Moos’ first stint in athletic administration after spending nearly a decade in restaurant management.

Guffey worked with Moos from 1990 to 1995 at the University of Montana, Moos’ first stint as an athletic director.

Kent was Moos’ choice to become Oregon’s coach, one of the first major decisions Moos made while the Ducks athletic director from 1995 to late 2006.

And they all have the same sentiment.

“I love Bill Moos,” says Kent, fired at the end of last season, his 13th as coach at UO. “He was an outstanding AD and an excellent, excellent person.”

“He expected you to be able to do your own thing and not be (looking) over your shoulder all the time,” says Guffey, now an assistant athletic director at UM. “I really appreciated it. I like bosses like that.”

“He’s the right guy for the job,” says Jankovich, retired after more than 40 years in athletics.

Like Bill, Moos’ father Donald has been honored with WSU’s alumni achievement award for his work as a state legislator and director of the department of agriculture under Governor Dan Evans. A life-long rancher, it was Donald who turned on the crimson pilot light that still burns in Bill today.

Whether the family was on the ranch near Edwall, where Bill spent his formative years, or in Olympia, where Bill spent his high school years, Donald made sure the family hit the road to Pullman in the fall.

“They made sure we had the experience of a Saturday afternoon in Pullman for a football game,” Bill says. “I’m talking from the time I was six, seven years old driving from Edwall. … I remember it like it was yesterday.”

And they hit the road with Bill’s belonging in 1969, when the younger Moos moved to the Palouse to play football and get a degree.

His first two years in Pullman, the Cougars won two games. His junior season, they were 4-7. His senior year, the year he was named to the All-Pac-8 team, they were 7-4 and beat the Huskies 27-10 in Spokane, Moos’ first win over UW.

“I had a fabulous experience,” he says of those days. “Probably the best part of that experience is we weren’t very good and we got to be real good.”

Over the next few years Moos served an internship in Washington, D.C., and found a home in the restaurant industry in the Northwest, brought in by a handful of former Cougar athletes. But he found his true calling when Jankovich brought him back to WSU to raise money.

He stayed after Jankovich left for Miami in 1984, through the four-year tenure of Dick Young and into Jim Livengood’s administration.

It was in October of 1987, Livengood’s first in charge, that Moos’ life changed dramatically.

Moos and long-time hunting partner Bobo Brayton, the WSU baseball coach, had taken a booster out looking for pheasants on a football Saturday morning.

The dog flushed a bird, the booster took a shot and Moos was hit in the face. He lost an eye. And changed his life.

“When you think you’re immortal and all those things,” he says. “I’m not saying I was high on myself, you just don’t think those things can happen to you. And all of a sudden I’ve incurred a pretty major trauma there.

“It was kind of a little bit of a wakeup call. … It was after that occurrence I really got geared up. Life is finite and what are we going to accomplish?”

Three years later, Moos left WSU. His first stop was Missoula where the Grizzlies were successful on and off the field. In fact, Guffey says Moos’ biggest accomplishment was revamping the athletic department’s fund-raising.

“He brought the Grizzly Scholarship Association into the athletic department,” he says. “It essentially was the fund-raising arm for athletics but it was housed in another part of campus. There was not a lot of interaction with the people there. He also created a new position within that organization.

“I think our fund-raising efforts really improved after that. … That was a really sound, smart business-man move and it really helped us a lot.”

In 1994, when Livengood left WSU for the University of Arizona, Moos thought he would get the call. He didn’t.

“I know he was very disappointed in that,” Guffey says.

“We had a pretty good run at Montana,” Moos says, “and I was ready, in my mind, for the Washington State job. As it turned out, I wasn’t a finalist. That crushed me.”

A year later Oregon called and Moos answered.

The Ducks were on the way up, but in his 12-year tenure they really flew. The athletic budget went from $18 million to $41 million and achieved self-sufficiency, something no longer true. New buildings sprouted like mushrooms around the athletic complex. The football team was successful, as was the basketball team. Autzen Stadium and Mac Court were remodeled.

But that still wasn’t enough.

Oregon is beholden to one of the biggest athletic boosters in the nation: Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight. The former Duck runner has given millions to the university and athletic department. And no athletic director can survive without Knight’s support.

A series of events cost Moos just that.

In 2004, he flirted with the University of Washington concerning the Huskies’ open athletic director position. He says now it was all about getting closer to home, but whatever the reason, Knight didn’t like it.

“He knew from our early days when I was cultivating Phil for the involvement that Oregon is enjoying today,” Moos says, “I wanted to put the Huskies in our sights and go right after them. And he liked that. When I showed an interest in (the UW position), it was somewhat of a betrayal.

“I was thinking more along the lines of a personal move.”

Personally and professionally, Knight is invested in the Oregon track team like no other sport. And he reportedly didn’t like the way Moos’ choice, Martin Smith, was running the program. Not that the Ducks weren’t winning. They just weren’t winning the right way.

“This might sound crazy, but the head track coach at Oregon is like the head football coach at Notre Dame,” Moos says. “Being OK wasn’t good enough. Martin won two Pac-10 championships. The problem was he couldn’t attract the distance runners. … Oregon has made its mark in track and field with distance runners.

“This was about the time that things started to get tense at Oregon.”

And it all added up.

In 2006, with Knight reportedly withholding any support of a new basketball facility until a change was made, Moos moved aside. He took a $1.825 million buyout and moved the Valleyford, where he and Kendra had started the Special K Ranch.

The separation agreement included a clause that prohibited Moos from working as an athletic director at a BCS school west of the Mississippi. Most interpreted that to mean Moos couldn’t work in the Pac-10 or the Big 12 without forfeiting the yearly $200,000 payouts.

After more than two years ranching, Moos decided he wanted to get back into the athletic world and applied for the open position at UNLV. The Rebels, a member of the non-BCS Mountain West Conference, seemed to fit within the buyout-approved schools. A finalist with Livengood and current WSU associate athletic director John Johnson, Moos thought the job was his.

Until Oregon said it would void the separation agreement.

UNLV hired Livengood and Moos started working on a settlement in the event future opportunities arose. Then WSU athletic director Jim Sterk announced he was taking the same job at San Diego State.

A whirlwind two weeks followed. The road had reached an end. The job was finally his.

•••

• And the short sidebar that’s running with it …

Now what for Bill Moos?

“This will be a true challenge for him,” Jankovich says of the WSU position.

Moos knows WSU is facing major tests financially – the athletic department operated in the red last fiscal year for the first time in Sterk’s tenure – and athletically – the football team has won three games in the last two seasons. But he feels he has the experience to navigate the potholes.

Though he’s not giving away much in the way of his road map.

He wants to observe the department for a while, he says, and that includes the football program. He says only people who want to move on quickly make quick changes and he’s not going anywhere.

As he stumps the state – Moos, a consummate storyteller, was at a baseball function in Seattle this past week – he has one goal in mind.

“I think it’s really important to be in contact with as many Cougars as I possibly can these first few weeks,” Moos says. “Hopefully, I can really capture their excitement and generate some momentum going on into the spring and summer.”

•••••

• That’s all for today. We wish everyone a nice, quiet Easter Sunday and we’ll be back on Monday with our usual links. Until then …


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