Uncertainty surrounded Paul Wulff in the days following his firing as Washington State’s head football coach in late November.
He was shocked, not only unsure of where he was headed next but not really thinking about it, either.
There were a handful of more important phone calls he had to make before he could focus on himself.
“My No. 1 feeling all along, up until about a month and a half ago, was doing everything I can to make contacts and call coaches for all of our assistants,” Wulff said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Spokesman-Review. “I felt them and their families got a raw deal, and I was in better shape than them, so I did everything I could to help all the coaches move on to jobs. That was very important to me, and it was the least I could do.”
So it figures, then, that Wulff was the last member of WSU’s former coaching staff to secure employment, accepting an offensive assistant position with the San Francisco 49ers last week under coach Jim Harbaugh.
The two had discussed the job “off and on over the last couple months,” Wulff said, then talked with more serious intentions roughly four weeks ago before Harbaugh wound up bringing Wulff on board.
The 49ers held their rookie camp last week and begin organized team activities early next week. Wulff said he spends most of his on-field time with the offensive line, though these first practices are as much about learning as anything else.
“This first week and a half I’ve just been trying to learn the scheme, the terminology. It’s pretty large right now,” Wulff said. “Like anybody, I’m learning the whole playbook so I understand. When you’re not 100 percent confident, you go a little slower and right now I’m spending a lot of my time on the field learning the script, a lot of formations and plays.
“And they do a great job here of having everybody involved, and it’s not about who gets the credit. Everyone’s chipping in everywhere they can. It’s a big part of why I wanted to be a part of Jim’s staff. Great continuity, nobody with egos. It wasn’t about individuals.”
Wulff spent the last few months traveling and learning – he visited several schools, including a few in the SEC – and said “a few things here and there” popped up in terms of job opportunities, but none as intriguing as the chance to work with the 49ers.
He praised the process by which San Francisco rebuilt itself over the past few seasons – by drafting well and targeting high-character players with limited egos – and said it reminds him of what he was trying to build at WSU.
“They’ve got such a great team culture,” Wulff said. “I’ve been around other NFL teams – they’ve got something going here. They’re coachable, team-oriented, not selfish ‘I guys.’ As a coach it’s fun to coach those types of people. I have to admit, the culture that has really evolved at WSU, and now here – there’s a lot of similarities both places.”
The sting of how things ended at WSU is still at least somewhat apparent. Wulff said he didn’t want to comment on his relationship with athletic director Bill Moos, and said he hasn’t spoken with him – and hasn’t had any contact with new coach Mike Leach, either – since his firing.
As evidence of how solid the Cougars’ foundation was, Wulff points to the jobs procured by his former assistants. All except Steve Morton and Dave Ungerer landed elsewhere, and those two hold positions in WSU’s athletic department.
Living in Pullman during the aftermath was difficult at times, Wulff said, and “I’m not an easy person to hide.” But everyone he encountered in the community was “wonderful.”
“I have no complaints at all,” he said.
Wulff still wants to be a head coach “somewhere down the road,” fueled by what he thought was a near-complete rebuild at WSU.
“I think we were on the way to doing some special things,” he said. “I knew it, the players knew it. And we were really, really close. I know we were very capable of having success some day.
“I still talk to a few of the guys. I’m rooting for ’em, big time.”