Cougars need to show progress in Wulff’s third season
PULLMAN – It’s been described as anywhere from toasty (ESPN.com) to molten lava (Rivals.com).
Using it as a rankings basis, one online service has Washington State football coach Paul Wulff rated third, another 10th.
It’s the coaches’ mythical hot seat, the measuring stick used by media types to decide how uncomfortable someone is in their position.
After a 3-22 start to his WSU tenure, Wulff has been given a chair at the table, joining such well-known college football coaches as Rich Rodriguez of Michigan, Colorado’s Dan Hawkins and Wulff’s coach at WSU, Dennis Erickson, now at Arizona State.
So how does such talk affect the Cougars’ chances in this, Wulff’s third year since taking over following a successful career at Eastern Washington?
“It’s hard to quantify what it does,” Wulff said last week at the Pac-10 media day in Pasadena. “It’s definitely not a positive. It doesn’t help.”
Wulff told his players at the end of spring such talk was coming. They were going to hear his name brought up over the summer as someone who had to win to keep his job. He told them to pay it no heed.
“I’ve told them, whether there are positive things said about you right now based on what the media says about you as a program, or there are negative things about all of us in the media, it’s all a trap,” Wulff said. “It’s a trap to get you to think the wrong way. You need to learn how to view it that way and to ignore it all.”
For the most part, his players have done just that.
“That’s not our business to worry about,” said starting quarterback Jeff Tuel. “That’s not something that should affect us. We’re here to play football, win games.
“We’re not thinking about, ‘I wonder if coach Wulff is going to be here next year,’ or, ‘I hope coach Wulff stays.’ That shouldn’t be on our minds. We don’t need to carry that weight.”
But that doesn’t mean they don’t accept some of the heat – and they know it’s going to take winning to douse the conversation.
“Obviously, our record reflects their coaching,” Tuel said of Wulff and his staff, which he calls the hardest working he’s heard about. “(But) in some ways that’s not fair, because coaches are doing all they can and guys just aren’t getting it and aren’t performing.”
“We know that we play a big part in what’s going on around here,” running back James Montgomery said. “For us putting it all on Coach Wulff, we would just be locker-room lawyers. We know we did our fair share to not compete in those games, too. We know we’ve improved, but we’ve got to take steps.”
“We definitely try to ignore those things, because in the end it’s only going to hinder us and hinder our progress,” safety LeAndre Daniels said. “When it does come up, sometimes it does bother you when you see on ESPN, ‘Coach Wulff on the hot seat,’ because you know it’s your own fault. We haven’t been producing how we should.”
That lack of production shows in statistics from the 2-11 and 1-11 seasons.
The NCAA highlights 17 categories for bowl subdivision teams. In 2008, WSU finished in the bottom 10 in nine, losing its 11 games by an average margin of 40.6 points. Last year, though they finished in the bottom 10 in 12 categories, the losses were by an average of 29.2 points.
And the year ahead, which starts next Sunday when practice opens?
“We want to be able to play tough, hard-nosed football and to be able to play games in the fourth quarter with a chance to win,” Wulff said. “We’re going to do that. We’re going to win some of those games.
“We may lose some, too. That’s the step our program is at. We’re not a mature team, we’re not a mature program. We are headed that way and time is what’s going to get us there.”
Wulff pointed out last week there were 95 players in the WSU program when he arrived three years ago. Sixteen are left, seven listed as starters headed into fall camp.
“We’ve brought in 89 kids,” Wulff said. “That’s roughly 30 kids who have been here two years, entering their third, 30 who have been here one year and 30 just starting.
“You keep replenishing the numbers, now you have a good, solid program that has maturity to it. We’re still a few years out from that.”
It’s the recruiting that has kept Wulff off the only hot seat that really matters, the one in new athletic director Bill Moos’ office.
“We’re going into a season where my football coach needs, and he will have, my full support,” Moos said. “Ideally, any coach needs multiple years when you are rebuilding a program to get your players in place. If I had sensed we are doing a poor job of recruiting, I would be extremely concerned, taking into consideration our record over the past two years.
“But we definitely have a high-quality, Pac-10-caliber athlete that’s going to be hitting the field this fall. I’m hoping that’s going to make a difference.”
Though he acknowledges the Cougars face a tough schedule (starting Sept. 4 at Oklahoma State), Moos believes there are games to be won, as long as WSU isn’t hit with too many injuries, something that has happened the last two seasons.
“It would be great to win one that people don’t think we’re supposed to win,” Moos said. “And, also, that we can be competitive throughout an entire game. Hopefully, we’re at a point where we can go into the fourth quarter without having to scrap the game plan. Sooner or later, you’re going to win those type of games.”
Moos was part of WSU’s interviewing committee and admits he was Wulff’s warmest supporter.
“What I liked about Paul is, in the big picture, he fit our profile well,” Moos said. “His long-term plan was to be at Washington State. When I say profile, not just that he coached at Washington State, but he also coached a team with very few resources and built a program there and has a good recruiting network.
“Also, as I told the group, if he gets hot, he’s not going to bail out and go somewhere else. He really and truly wants to be the head football coach at Washington State.”
And he wants to stay.
“All that matters to me is that I’ve got support from my athletic director and administration, and they understand how to build a program, like Bill does,” said Wulff, working on his original five-year contract that guarantees him at least $600,000 if he is let go before it expires in December 2012.
“This team is going to win some games this year,” he said. “I don’t know how many. If we stay healthy, we get on a roll, we can surprise a lot of football teams.”
And also cool down the talk.