PULLMAN – Bill Moos no longer straps on a football helmet when he fights for Washington State, his mouth guard and shoulder pads traded in for a starched shirt and tie.
But while the former WSU offensive linemen’s job no longer entails preparing to face Pac-8 defenders he still battles for his alma mater. His playing field is the competitive world of BCS football marketing and finances.
Moos wants to make the WSU brand hip and he wants fans to have “skin in the game” by increasing their annual giving to the Cougar Athletic Fund, enough to fund all athletic scholarships – about $9 million a year.
And first, he wants to win the rivalry with the University of Washington, not just during Friday’s Apple Cup, but for the mantle of premiere football school in the state.
“That’s been the primary objective wherever I’ve been is to be the program in the state that is synonymous with winning,” Moos said.
In a state with just a few hotbeds of college football recruits, pole position on the “cool” scale is critical. Moos acknowledged there is a large contingent of college football fans in the state who aren’t beholden to either school because they or their relatives were alumni.
Those fans are “up for grabs” and Moos wants them wearing WSU merchandise and attending Cougars games.
“My feeling is that you’ve got to build a program from the inside out. The most important accomplishment to do that is to consistently be competitive and take your share or more of winning the state of Washington,” Moos said. “And that’s not just on the field of competition. In marketing, in recruiting, in fundraising, and we’re geared to do that.”
After being hired in 2010, Moos quickly set to work getting WSU’s football facilities up to par with the rest of the Pac-12. A football operations building is under construction next to Martin Stadium and Moos hopes to have a multi-purpose, indoor practice facility built in three years.
But for all that Moos can do in meetings and executive lunches, it’s still up to the team to give him a product to sell. If the Cougars win in Seattle this weekend it will give them a two-game winning streak over their in-state rival.
More importantly, it would give WSU coach Mike Leach a 2-0 record over the Huskies, signaling that the Cougars may have gained the upper hand in the rivalry. That superiority will manifest itself in donations and game attendance, Moos believes, as WSU fans take pride in their bragging rights over friends, family and neighbors that support the UW.
“I think this rivalry is a very unique one in that so many households are split, friendships get put on hold for about three-and-a-half hours, but that’s what college football is all about,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “That’s what these types of rivalries are about and that’s what makes the Apple Cup so special.”
In the short term a win would secure a bowl game for the team and ensure that the Cougars finish the season with a .500 or better record for the first time since 2006. But these days Moos is playing a long game, and an Apple Cup victory is just one piece of his marketing puzzle.
“People will jump on the bandwagon when you’re going to Rose Bowls and you’re a sexy school,” Moos said. “When you’re winning people know that it’s the place to be and the thing to do.”