PULLMAN – Saying he perceives an apathy in Washington State University’s football fan base, athletic director Bill Moos fired Paul Wulff as the Cougars’ coach Tuesday with a year remaining on Wulff’s five-year contract.
“We’re at a juncture with Cougar football that is critical,” Moos said in an early-afternoon press conference. “So it’s my plan and my hope to bring some energy into that fan base and provide a spark by changing leadership.”
Wulff has led the Cougars for the past four years, saying throughout that he was charged by the committee who hired him – including Moos in an advisory capacity – to rebuild Washington State’s program.
“Every decision I made was in the best interest of growing the football program,” Wulff said in a press conference following Moos’. “They weren’t, quote, business decisions, they weren’t for self gain or self promotion. But they were for building the Cougar football program.”
That rebuilding job led to a 9-40 record in Wulff’s four years at Washington State, 4-32 in Pac-12 Conference play. In the end, that was not good enough.
“You look at the stadium, no butts in the seats,” said Moos, who like Wulff is a Cougar alum. Moos was hired 18 months ago as the athletic director.
In six home dates during this 4-8 season — which includes one home game in Seattle — Washington State averaged 28,791 fans, the fewest in the Pac-12 Conference. In Pullman, the Cougars averaged 24,705, which was an increase over 2010. Martin Stadium holds 35,117.
In 2003, the last of three consecutive 10-win seasons for WSU, the team averaged 33,331 fans in five Pullman games.
“We’ve got to get the program in a position to compete and we’ve got to do it pretty quick or in my opinion we’re going to get left in the dust,” Moos said.
Washington State is in the process of remodeling Martin Stadium, adding premium seating, luxury boxes and a new press box that could cost up to $80 million. Also being drawn up are plans for a football operations building that could cost another $60 million.
Moos and Wulff met Sunday afternoon for about 90 minutes to review the season and share plans for the next one. Afterward, Moos said, he was leaning toward making a change.
“It was weighing heavily on my mind during the last few games of the season,” Moos said. “We had a long talk (Sunday) and I felt another day couldn’t hurt.”
Monday, Moos and Wulff made the rounds in Spokane, with Wulff talking to WSU’s booster luncheon and receiving a standing ovation.
Moos admits he believes 80 percent of WSU’s boosters support Wulff, but “the 80 percent is fine, but we need the 80 percent of a larger fan base.”
The two met again Tuesday morning and Moos told Wulff he was changing directions.
“We have to understand that we are at a juncture where we either have to run with the big dogs or just admit we’re a doormat,” Moos said. “I believe we can be a contender for championships but we can’t wait and embrace mediocrity. That’s not going to work.”
Wulff feels the Cougars, after four years of building a foundation, are ready to take off.
“I truly think this is an eight-win, nine-win team next year,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty good deal to walk into.”
Wulff’s contract had a five-year term, though only the first three years were guaranteed. At the end of that time, he was always guaranteed one-year’s severance if he were let go before the end of the five years.
Under the terms of that agreement, Wulff will be paid about $800,000, Moos said, either in a lump sum or in monthly payments at the school’s discretion.
All of the assistants’ contracts expire March 31, 2012, but Moos said Shawn Deeds, director of football operations, and two assistants who he declined to name would be asked to continue in their present positions, shepherding the transition to the new coach.
Moos hopes to choose Wulff’s successor within three weeks, if possible.
Speculation immediately turned to who might replace Wulff, who came to Pullman four years ago from Eastern Washington University.
Most of the early buzz revolves around former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who Moos termed “intriguing.” He also talked about having interest in Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, who interviewed for the WSU job when Wulff was hired.
Asked if he had a frontrunner for the position, Moos laughed.
“I do, but I’m not going to mention it,” Moos said.