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Blanchette: Moos’ silence ominous for Wulff

Paul Wulff has won five of 36 games as Washington State University’s head football coach.  (Dan Pelle)
Paul Wulff has won five of 36 games as Washington State University’s head football coach. (Dan Pelle)

Since logistically they’re treating this bizarre double bye at Washington State “like a bowl game,” according to coach Paul Wulff, does that mean the school will extort itself into buying 20,000 Apple Cup tickets?

So much for the fun questions. Here’s one that’s not so fun:

Since he has declined to proclaim that Wulff will be back in 2011, is athletic director Bill Moos using this time to shop for a replacement?

Because that’s virtually the only conclusion to be drawn from his silence.

In an AD’s tradition both proud and silly, Moos has repeatedly said that the football program, including Wulff’s status, will – all together now – be evaluated at the end of the season. This is done at every Hot Seat U., purportedly to calm the unrest of the torch-and-tar faction, which of course it does not at all. There is also some flapdoodle about preserving the student-athletes’ best interests, which somehow wasn’t a concern when the bye week scheduled earlier was sold off to pay another administrator.

Anyway, here’s a bulletin for the athletic director: The season is over.

Yes, the Apple Cup remains. But for all purposes, what needed to be seen has been seen.

Has improvement been made? Certainly. Have there been enough victories? Certainly not. Are the Cougars, in the throes of yet another loss-sodden season, still going hard and buying what Wulff and his staff are selling? Other than a recent hiccup, yes. Are the customers restless? Yes, at least those who haven’t been flogged into apathy. Has the talent level increased over the course of his tenure? Absolutely. Is it where it needs to be? Absolutely not. Has the action on the police blotter overwhelmed that on the honor roll? No.

So how is beating the Huskies or losing to them going to change any of that?

It’s not.

Moos will not base his decision on one game – any more than he did after the Cougs wilted against Arizona State or stunned Oregon State. If he does, then he isn’t the messiah he was celebrated as upon his hiring. And since there are several good reasons for Moos to affirm Wulff’s retention now, if that’s to be the call, there is only one not to:

He doesn’t intend to bring Wulff back.

It’s instructive that down at Arizona State, where Dennis Erickson’s performance and future have been vigorously (and properly) debated, athletic director Lisa Love has already found a microphone to announce his return. Now, Erickson isn’t 5-31 in his current job the way Wulff is; there are other differences, too, including the programs’ respective ground zero when each man was hired. Still, Love knew her mind and spoke it, understanding there was no rationale for the evaluate-at-the-end-of-the -year dodge, and that regardless of the merits of Erickson staying, it was best to declare it now.

Wulff’s assistants fanned out earlier this week to recruit. But unless each one was carrying a notarized affidavit with Bill Moos’ name on it saying Wulff’s his man, how were the staffers to finesse the question, “Who’s going to be the coach next year?” And what recruit would possibly commit without an answer?

If his inclination is to retain Wulff, Moos is doing his coach – and school – a disservice with his silence, and he surely he must know this. If it’s the man above his pay grade who wants a new coach and Moos is lobbying to change his mind, that’s something else again – but it’s hard to believe President Elson Floyd is paying Moos all that money to not listen to him.

The debits and credits of Wulff’s stewardship have been parsed to the point of brain freeze. If at Wazzu, of all places, you’re not going give a coach more than two recruiting classes that can assessed legitimately, then you’d better match your expectations with salary and resources. Wulff may have been hired for his affordability, but by doing so his approach was tacitly endorsed by those at the very top, and it’s hypocritical not to let him see it through.

Then again, this can’t be about where the football program was; it has to be about where it is, and whether Wazzu thinks Wulff is the guy who can get it where it needs to go, at least.

But if he’s not, no one’s going to be jazzed about another aspirant from the FCS ranks or a glib young coordinator from a hot program. If Moos can’t make a splash with a significant name – a Dick Bennett hire – then what’s the point?

Apparently, he’s out searching for his Dick Bennett.

But that’s just reading between the awkward silence.

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