A dream, a chance, a deal
PULLMAN – Paul Wulff smiled.
He looked around Washington State University’s Camp Room, filled with media members, television cameras and football players.
He smiled. The noise washed over him, the applause from the players and WSU fans and employees filling the room for a half-minute.
He smiled. And his eyes started to glisten.
The job he had dreamt about for 20 years was his.
WSU introduced Wulff on Tuesday as the 31st football coach in school history, and none of the 30 who preceded Wulff could have been any happier.
“There are so many wonderful people who allowed me to get here,” Wulff said after thanking his wife, Sherry, and their kids Katie, Max and Sam, along with a cast of thousands. “I can’t name them all because there are hundreds. But I am proud to represent them, and my goal is to turn this program into the state of Washington’s football team.”
Wulff, 40, has been coaching football in the state of Washington – at Eastern Washington University – for 15 years, the last eight as head coach. But he’s been a Cougar longer than that.
“Twenty-two years ago, in February of 1985, I signed a letter-of-intent to Washington State University,” Wulff said. “I was obligated to that, and I committed to it, and I chose this university over five other Pac-10 schools at that time. I am back 22 years later, and I am committed for another five years.”
Wulff was alluding to the length of the contract he agreed to, though details of the agreement, including the final salary and benefits, are still to be worked out. But he is WSU’s head coach, something he’s been working toward since his playing career ended in 1989.
“This isn’t something I can sit here and say I’ve been trying to prepare my (whole) career for,” said Wulff, the school’s first football letterman to be named head coach since Phil Sarboe was appointed in 1945. “I was always aware that, if the opportunity ever presented itself, that I was going to try to take advantage of it. But it wasn’t a long, thought-out plan to be the head coach of Washington State. It was a far, way-out-there goal and dream, but I didn’t realize it was going to happen until it did.”
Athletic director Jim Sterk introduced Wulff at the press conference and at the gathering of Cougar faithful in Bohler Gym that followed. To the media, he explained how Wulff rose to the top of a list of some 70 candidates, six of whom were interviewed last Thursday and Friday in Salt Lake City.
“Going in he was the dark horse,” Sterk said, noting Wulff had only coached on the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly 1-AA) level, not at the Bowl Championship Subdivision level, to which the Pac-10 Conference belongs.
Sterk said he met Wulff a few years back at a golf outing but “I didn’t know Paul. I knew him as the coach of Eastern, but I didn’t know him as the head coach, and how he ran his program. Once he sat down, I was hoping by the end of our process as it kind of pointed to that, he could possibly bring all those attributes (we were looking for in a coach) together. And he hit a home run.”
The interviewing group included Sterk and the three senior associate athletic directors, Anne McCoy, Pam Bradetich and John Johnson, along with Craig Angelo, a booster and member of the WSU Foundation board of directors.
“I think what happened was, we felt like we had a very good group and Paul kind of brought the best of everyone,” Sterk said. “It was very evident to the folks in that room, unanimous that there was our guy. Everyone agreed that he was far and above the best person, has the experience, the integrity, the organization, the passion, basically all the attributes that the players were looking for and we were looking for in our head coach.”
Wulff was the only candidate brought to Pullman, and he met with WSU president Elson S. Floyd on Sunday. When the job was offered Monday, Wulff said, he didn’t hesitate.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said.
But figuring out his assistant coaching staff beyond three Eastern assistants Wulff said Tuesday were coming with him – offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, defensive coordinator Jody Sears and recruiting coordinator Rich Rasmussen – isn’t as easy. The Spokesman-Review has learned two other EWU assistants, defensive tackles coach Malik Roberson and linebackers coach Travis Niekamp, along with WSU running backs coach Steve Broussard, have also been offered positions on Wulff’s WSU staff of what-will-be nine assistant coaches.
Those assistants will have to get started on recruiting quickly, as former head coach Bill Doba’s departure 15 days ago has brought it to a standstill.
“We go faster,” Wulff said when asked how he can catch up. “We just have to get on the road; (today) I’ll be with the coaches on the road and utilize these next few days before we move into our (recruiting) dead period (that starts Dec. 17).
“We have to address kids who might be committed to other schools right now and at least talk to them, and see where they are at. We just have to hustle and do the best we can in this year.”
Wulff said his team will play aggressively defensively and offensively, running the no-huddle offense Sturdy installed on a full-time basis this year at Eastern.
“I have a vision of what I believe it takes to run a program, and a style that fits me and my coaching staff, and it’s important that we relay that vision and what we want to do,” he said.
He also wants to be aggressive in dealing with the Cougars’ in-state rival.
“I learned (the day he signed his letter-of-intent) that I am not supposed to like purple,” Wulff said of the University of Washington. “And I don’t like purple, and that has not changed. It is 22 years later and, I really don’t like purple.
“One thing I told Mr. Sterk and President Floyd is that dogs bite and bark, but Cougars hunt and kill.”