PULLMAN – When Steve Morton was coach of Jim Walden’s offensive line coach at Washington State some 30 years ago, he mentored such offensive linemen as Mike Utley, Dan Lynch, Chris Dyko and, yes, Paul Wulff.
The same Paul Wulff who is now his boss at WSU.
“When I coached him, I knew that he had some things about him, (so it) doesn’t surprise me that he’s in the position he’s in,” Morton said Tuesday after the Cougars’ seventh spring practice.
He might have been able to see Wulff’s future as a college football coach, but Morton would have been hard pressed to see the confluence of events that led to his own return to Pullman this year.
When Wulff took over at his alma mater two years ago, Morton, a former Cougars offensive lineman, was ensconced as Dick Tomey’s line coach and offensive coordinator at San Jose State.
But when Wulff decided this offseason to make a change – the contract of incumbent line coach Harold Etheridge was not renewed – Morton was available, thanks to Tomey’s retirement.
It was a no-brainer, Wulff said. The veteran of 36 years of college coaching is now handling the WSU offensive line – an offensive line featuring some players who are on their third coach in four years.
“They have to translate, to be multilingual,” in the language of football, Morton said of the changeover. “What I’m teaching really isn’t a lot different from anyone else that’s coached them (in the past). They have to translate what they’ve learned in the past.
“Some of these kids are bilingual, or trilingual, or some, guys that are just here for the first year, are just speaking a single language, Morton-ese.”
One of those trilingual guys is Micah Hannam, a fifth-year senior who has started three years at right tackle, the first under then-line coach George Yarno (now with the NFL’s Detroit Lions), the last two under Etheridge.
“I would say he’s kind of a mix of both,” Hannam said of his newest coach. “Etheridge was a little more easy-going, Yarno was very demanding and loud. He’s kind of both.
“He gets on you when you need that discipline, but then he can kid around with you the rest of the time, which is kind of nice. He provides the best of both.”
The Cougars’ offensive line was beset by injuries last season and struggled, part of the reason the offense was last in the Pac-10 and 119th among the 120 FBS schools, averaging 248.6 yards per game. If WSU is to improve this fall, Wulff has said, the offensive line must be better.
As Morton sees it, being successful on the O-line isn’t all that complicated.
“Football is this simple up front,” he said. “If you can count to four, and know which way your center’s going, you can play. That’s it. (We) coaches do a great job of making this a whole lot more complicated.”