WSU’s state of change
Bill Moos is meticulous, everything in its proper place. He notices a coaster is missing and adjusts a chair before beginning an interview. Not the chair he will sit in, mind you, simply a chair in his office that isn’t where it needs to be.
The former retiree, who came back to his alma mater after supposedly wrapping up his career at the University of Oregon, is clinically organized, famously so for his lists.
He has lists of coaches, lists of projects and lists of ways to fund those projects. He even has an infamous list of acerbic fans whose venomous correspondence when the Washington State Cougars were losing has blacklisted them from attending postseason competitions when they win.
He’s the same way with coaches. When WSU announces the hire of a new track and field coach in the coming weeks, it will be the eighth coach he has hired in four years as the school’s athletic director.
They come from different backgrounds, but all of them have certain compulsory traits or a characteristic that Moos desires, and probably keeps on a list somewhere.
“All of them have tremendous integrity, which is mandatory,” Moos said. “All of them are hard-working, and I feel very strongly that they see Washington State as a destination, not as a stepping stone to go somewhere else.”
Those coaches have brought along their own assistants and operations personnel, while Moos has done additional hiring and shuffling within the athletic department. The near constant churn means that WSU athletics looks very different today than when Moos left his Spokane-area ranch to lead the Cougars four years ago.
Coaches like Moos because they see him when it is time to negotiate a pay raise, to speak with a recruit about WSU – where Moos was a three-year letter-winner in football in the early 1970s – and not much more often than that.
Coaches from Mike Leach, whose $2.25 million per year salary firmly establishes the football coach at the top of WSU’s coaching pecking order, to Ken Bone, the recently fired men’s basketball coach, all speak glowingly about the athletic director’s ability to keep his distance during the season, save for the occasional encouraging text.
“It’s fantastic,” Leach said. “He’s the best athletic director I’ve ever worked with, not even close.”
While the coaches may not feel micromanaged, they also appreciate Moos’ open-door policy and the ability to get face-time with their boss, and have him listen to and meet their needs.
“I’ve felt in my three years that whatever we need … he will be there for us and find a way to get those things done,” volleyball coach Jen Greeny said. “If we need more money to recruit or we need this or that, he’s going to find a way if it is going to make us better.
“One way he does it is he will meet with our recruits,” Greeny explained. “For a sport that’s not men’s basketball or football, for him to sit down if he’s in town and take time out of his day to sit down with volleyball recruits, I don’t think a lot of athletic directors around the country will do that.”
Moos likes coaches. Not just because they are the conductors of the various sections of his symphony, but because they serve as the faces of the marketing machine he hopes to build at WSU.
Having spent the bulk of his career overseeing the Oregon athletic department, Moos understands money will buy wins, eventually. Through upgrades to facilities, uniforms and academic support, Moos helped the Ducks become nationally relevant in football and basketball.
Five years after reviving their baseball program, the Ducks are perennial contenders for the College World Series.
That pedigree taught Moos that money can buy success, and he came to WSU with a primary goal of building the Cougar Athletic Fund (CAF) and bringing WSU up from the bottom of the Pac-12 fundraising ranks.
In 2011, the CAF raised just $2.6 million. By 2012, that had nearly doubled to $4.7 million, and in 2013 the Cougars set a record by raising $5.7 million in membership gifts.
WSU has seen those dividends pay off not only on the athletic side, but on the academic side as well.
“We have been able to wean ourselves from a considerable amount of university support, which then makes it possible for that to be channeled to other areas of the campus,” Moos said. “I think that’s very important, and it is helpful for the entire university and how we feel about each other.”
And nothing parts fans from their dollars faster than a splashy coaching hire.
The day Leach was hired as the new football coach, WSU received 750 new season-ticket requests, 100 of which were for club seats at $2,000 a pop.
It’s true that a change is expensive. WSU will still be paying Bone’s $850,000 annual salary for two more years.
But Moos hopes the payoff in ticket sales, merchandise and eventually a winning program means that hiring a new coach can be a financially savvy strategy.
“Some hires, again football and men’s basketball, will energize the fan base,” Moos said. “We’ve seen it in football in season-ticket sales and record numbers in our Cougar Athletic Fund and we’re already seeing that in men’s basketball as well. A lot of our fan base – I feel a majority of it – was filled with apathy and now we have a new energy that I think is really critical for us to grow.”
Lindsay Brown arrived in Pullman in 2011 as the first full-time sports dietician in the school’s history. Prior to Brown’s arrival, the school had no volunteer program and the dietary supervision of approximately 450 athletes was the responsibility of one part-time employee.
Now, Brown oversees a dozen volunteers and her staff will soon grown sizably. With a sports nutrition department to supplement the school’s various strength and conditioning staffs, the Cougars have been able to more effectively take advantage of the time they put in the weight room.
“Just based off the two-and-one-half years of data that I have, I see an improvement with developing lean mass,” Brown said. “We really focus on maximizing muscle mass gains and so I have definitely seen an improvement and a change in how they put on muscle mass because they know what to eat; they’re investing more in rest and recovery.”
The effects of proper dietary counseling will be magnified in years to come with the NCAA recently indicating that there will be fewer restrictions placed on what schools can feed athletes, and how often.
The nutrition aspect of the athletic department has gotten leaner itself as the staff has taken steps to streamline a previously inefficient process.
“The supplement program was decentralized,” explained Brown of the problems greeting her arrival at WSU. “So our supplement program was split up between each sport. It didn’t really make sense for the department’s money to be split out between sports that maybe did not have the best knowledge of what to purchase.”
This year the athletic department centralized all purchasing of supplements and approved food items under Brown’s direction as part of a complete nutrition overhaul.
With the additional volunteers, Brown has set up “refueling stations” at all home competitions for every team.
“Refueling stations are basically supplements and food items that are appropriate pre-, during, and post- competition,” Brown said. “So athletes have things if they are hungry and need a quick pick-me-up before competition starts. At halftime, if they need some energy before the second half, they will have stuff available.”
Previously that was a luxury afforded only to the football team.
The Cougars will soon also add a pair of hub stations in the two weight rooms, a so-called Crimson Hub in the general weight room and a Gray Hub in the Football Operations Building.
These hubs – staffed by soon-to-be-hired part-time managers – will replace the glorified closet that currently serves as the supplement distribution area.
“It’s going to be a defined sports nutrition bar,” Brown said. “We’ll have a full smoothie station downstairs where athletes can get fresh smoothies post-workout, pre-workout, during the day if they are going between classes.”
The investments the Cougars are making in sports nutrition – they plan to soon have two full-time chefs for the training table – are part of a plan to put WSU on par with the elite foodie athletic departments.
By revamping the way WSU plans diets for its athletes, Moos hopes to give WSU a competitive edge. But he’s also giving his coaches a competitive edge, providing them with one more recruiting tool.
Prospective student athletes often meet with Brown, who explains how the education they receive extends outside the classroom, and into the kitchen.
“One thing he really emphasized was not just utilizing nutrition here while you’re an athlete but learning how to use it throughout your life,” Brown said. “We’re not just impacting one person, my goal is to impact their families and the people they will be around during their lifetime.”
If there is one list that Moos keeps tucked away in the breast pocket of one of his many suits, treasured above the rest, it is the catalog of structural improvements he hopes to make during his time at WSU.
Moos fancies himself as something of an architect of built environments on WSU’s campus, using capital construction to redefine the landscape and even the skyline.
Eventually, he would like to build a better football indoor practice facility, make some improvements to Beasley Coliseum and address other sports facilities as well.
He has a list of aesthetic upgrades he’d like to see in Martin Stadium, some of which might be addressed in time for this season depending on how current projects pencil out.
The Cougars will operate with a $10million deficit in the athletic department next season but are on track to break even in 2018. That they can continue to build is partially due to favorable bond rates from a time when construction was scarce due to the recession of 2008.
It is also thanks to the Pac-12’s $3 billion television deal – specifically due to the equal revenue sharing arrangement Moos demanded during negotiations with conference athletic directors.
But it would not be possible without a cooperative administration.
“We’re fortunate to have President (Elson) Floyd understand that the investment is necessary to be successful and to be a source of pride for the institution,” Moos said.
The rapid growth has not come without controversy, however. Early in Moos’ time at WSU he had to conduct an internal investigation into allegations of abuse in the football program.
Though the athletic department found no evidence of wrongdoing, the allegations against Leach – Moos’ biggest hire – provided a rocky start to his aspirations for the department.
Fans have also criticized decisions Moos has made that take games out of Pullman in order to fill WSU’s coffers. For the past three years the Cougars have played a Pac-12 rival in Seattle – a practice Moos has said he plans to end – losing all three games by wide margins but picking up bigger gate receipts. WSU plays Rutgers at CenturyLink Field this season.
The basketball team is in the middle of a series with Gonzaga that will give the Bulldogs a pair of home games in exchange for one game at Beasley Coliseum, a concession frowned upon by vocal WSU fans.
Those are tradeoffs the athletic director believes necessary for the Cougars to compete in a conference with some of the country’s richest programs.
The Football Operations Building is nearing completion and the keys will be handed off to the coaches on May 19. The new $61 million centerpiece of the Martin Stadium renovation rises above the football stands and the opposite practice fields as if to announce, “Big-time college football is played here!”
Part weight room, part office building and part recruiting tool, the glass and brick building is the diamond in Moos’ ring, the symbol for the overhauled athletic department.
“Our fans that haven’t been here since the end of last year will just be amazed at how wonderful our football operations building is,” Moos said. “It really – along with our premium seating on the south side and our video board – have really moved Martin Stadium into a realistic, major college football venue.”
The Cougars still rank in the bottom half of their conference in donations. The school has the smallest football stadium in the Pac-12.
But coaches pay is competitive with their peers and the facilities and support staff are catching up. Whether that translates into the athletic success WSU fans hope for remains to be seen.
There are more lists in the future for Bill Moos, more projects, more hires and always more fundraisers. But when the Cougars are filling their new facilities with fans to watch winning teams, maybe he can finally cross them all off.