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Bill Moos seemed destined to end up in Pullman

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 later this month, it will be the culmination of a pursuit extended back each of his 59 years.

A pursuit that was born near Edwall, Wash., grew into adulthood in Olympia and Pullman, and made stops in Bellevue, Wash., Missoula, Eugene, Ore., and 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,” former Oregon basketball coach Ernie Kent said. “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,” longtime Montana sports information director Dave Guffey said.

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

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 1990-95 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 Ducks athletic director from 1995 to late 2006.

They all have the same sentiment.

“I love Bill Moos,” said Kent, fired at the end of last season, his 13th as coach at UO. “He was an outstanding A.D. 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,” said 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,” said 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 lifelong 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 said. “I’m talking from the time I was 6, 7 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 said 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 Cougars 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 1987, Livengood’s first in charge, that Moos’ life changed dramatically.

Moos and longtime 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 said. “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 wake-up 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 said Moos’ biggest accomplishment was revamping the athletic department’s fundraising.

“He brought the Grizzly Scholarship Association into the athletic department,” he said. “It essentially was the fundraising 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 fundraising efforts really improved after that. … That was a really sound, smart businessman 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 said.

“We had a pretty good run at Montana, and I was ready, in my mind, for the Washington State job,” Moos said. “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 Ducks 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 said, “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. He reportedly didn’t like the way Moos’ choice, Martin Smith, was running the program. The Ducks were winning, but 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.”

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 to 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 of 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.