PULLMAN – After a nationwide search, Washington State University found the football coach it wanted 80 miles up U.S. Highway 195.
Eastern Washington head coach Paul Wulff is the school’s choice to replace Bill Doba, The Spokesman-Review has learned.
Washington State has scheduled a press conference for 3 p.m. today to make the official announcement.
“We will announce the new football coach at (today’s) press conference,” said Bill Stevens, WSU’s director of athletic media relations, adding the school would not comment on whether Wulff was its choice.
However, sources close to the process said athletic director Jim Sterk decided upon Wulff after interviews of prospective candidates Thursday and Friday in Salt Lake City. Those candidates included former Idaho, Louisville and Michigan State coach John L. Smith and Oklahoma assistant Kevin Sumlin.
Wulff was invited to Pullman to interview with WSU President Elson S. Floyd and others Sunday and attend the WSU basketball game. Following the campus meetings, Sterk offered the position, according to the sources, and a contract was agreed upon Monday morning. Final approval of Wulff’s hiring came from Floyd the same afternoon.
Though Wulff, 40, did not return calls asking for comment, sources close to the former WSU offensive lineman also confirmed the hiring.
As a player, Wulff labored from 1986 to 1989 under three of WSU’s most prominent coaches: Jim Walden, Dennis Erickson and Mike Price.
After a short professional career, Wulff began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant under Dick Zornes at EWU. He has been in Cheney for 15 years, moving up the coaching ladder from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator under Mike Kramer in 1998 and then replacing Kramer in 2000 when he moved on to Montana State.
“Paul really had an idea of what he wanted to do at the twilight of his playing career, and he was willing to undergo as much hardship as it took to get into the profession,” Kramer said. “For him to have come from (an unpaid coach) to this, you know, a Pac-10 head coaching job is one of the pinnacles of the profession, that’s a long journey.
“When you add into all the things that have happened to him, all the people he’s positively affected, I think we all join in a great chorus of people who say ‘Wow, congratulations.’ “
Wulff’s life has been touched by tragedy, with his mother’s disappearance and presumed murder when he was 12 and the death of his first wife, Tammy, from brain cancer in 2002. He has remarried, and he and his wife, Sherry, have two sons, Max, 4, and Sam, 1, along with her daughter Katie, 12.
In his eight years as head coach, the Eagles are 53-40 and have appeared in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs three of the last four seasons.
After suffering their only losing season in the Wulff era in 2006, when they posted a 3-8 record, the Eagles bounced back this year. They finished 9-4, losing a FCS quarterfinal playoff game 38-35 to two-time defending champion Appalachian State, which will play in the finals Friday.
WSU’s decision to hire Wulff comes just days prior to an NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period for high school students. Such a period means there can be no contact with recruits from Dec. 17 through Jan. 3. Recruits are allowed on campus the first two weekends of January, but all other days are off-limits until Jan. 13.
Wulff will be 31st head coach in the school’s history and the first to lead his alma mater since Phil Sarboe, who coached the Cougars from 1945-49.
He also continues a recent tradition of Big Sky Conference coaches moving on to Washington State, following Erickson, who coached at Idaho before spending a year at the University of Wyoming, and Price, who came to WSU from Weber State.