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Commandments delivered

Thu., Feb. 25, 2010

Bill Moos, left, greets his new boss, WSU President Elson S. Floyd.  (Tyler Tjomsland)
Bill Moos, left, greets his new boss, WSU President Elson S. Floyd. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN – Washington State has landed its athletic evangelist, and he came Wednesday with a warning.

“If you like the sermon,” Bill Moos said, “show it when the collection plate is passed around.”

Well, let’s talk about that.

For all the canoodling of the past week, it was not a courtship that brought Moos back to Wazzu as its 12th athletic director. Better to say that the two of them eloped, college sweethearts who had lost track of each other for 20 years and then serendipitously reconnected. That WSU president Elson Floyd recognized there was no need to play footsy with anyone else and diverted any dough that would have been wasted on a headhunter to sweeten the pot for Moos was a bold and laudable stroke.

That it’s 50 percent sweeter – at $455,000 in guaranteed compensation yearly – than what the last A.D. made may require some ’splainin’ around campus, but that’s OK, too. Sometimes the congregation doesn’t need to like the sermon, but simply hear it.

The presumption is that any investment in Moos will be repaid with dividends, that he will be able to shake loose more change from his old Cougar compadres as well as find new revenue rivers – Wazzu needing something with more volume than mere streams.

It’s at this point that the few curmudgeons who might be found out there in Cougistan could ask that for all Moos achieved in his 12-year tenure at the University of Oregon – and he achieved mightily – could he have done it without the hyper-philanthropy of Phil Knight and his apparently bottomless trove of Nike lucre?

It’s worth asking, because such a moneybags will not be turned up here.

If it was Moos who first brought the wealthiest of all shoemakers aboard as a serious donor to Oregon athletics – “I would have been a fool not to have bonded a friendship with Phil Knight,” he said – the later cooling of their relationship accelerated Moos’ departure.

The unfair misconception is that the inflation of Oregon’s athletic budget from $18.5 million to $42 million under Moos was all Nike money. In fact, the Ducks’ donor base virtually tripled during the same time and football revenues skyrocketed, though certainly Knight’s involvement did more than just prime the pump.

“You can talk all you want about Phil Knight,” Moos said. “Phil during my time there wasn’t putting money into our budget as we grew it to those staggering numbers, but he was very helpful with our facilities.”

More than $160 million was invested in facility improvements at Oregon, projects that don’t get done without big hitters. And yet Moos isn’t convinced that Wazzu’s needs must be conquered in the same way.

“You only need to look at Oregon State,” he said. “Oregon State did not have that luxury and they built fabulous facilities, a stadium expansion and renovation. You and I are old enough to remember 28 years of losing football at Oregon State, but all of a sudden up in Portland, it wasn’t embarrassing to be a Beaver when you went to work on Monday.”

Yet for the almost panicked urgency invoked by his predecessor to fund and launch the Phase III expansion of Martin Stadium, Moos will first investigate whether other facility needs more relevant to the athletes should be prioritized.

“Phase III is extremely important and one day it’s going to be supply-and-demand important because there’s not enough seats available,” he said. “That’s not the case right now, but we’re going to move in that direction.”

In the end, what Moos brings to this job unique among Cougar athletic directors of the modern era is a true emotional investment – parents who are alums, a childhood bond, his own sweat and blood spilled on the field here. It pained him to see the program squander the momentum of those two Rose Bowls and three consecutive 10-win football seasons because it was a chance for Wazzu to become something more than an underdog, a designation he disdains.

“Then you get the mindset from coaches of ‘I want to get a couple wins here so I can go someplace else where it’s easier,’ ” Moos reasoned. “To change that mindset brings different challenges. I’m a history student and one of my favorite quotes is Napoleon – ‘the biggest challenge of battle comes with victory.’ Those three 10-win seasons, the Cougars weren’t so much underdogs – people were taking notice. What was disappointing was the Napoleon part – how come you let coaches leave, how come recruiting dropped? You can go from first to worst overnight in this business.”

There’s no overnight delivery from worst to first. That’s the only part of Bill Moos’ sermon the believers probably won’t like.

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