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Sports >  WSU football

John Blanchette: As Moos runs ‘wholeheartedly’ to Nebraska, who and what does he leave behind?

Bill Moos introduces Mike Leach during a 2011 press conference in Pullman. (File/The Spokesman-Review)
Bill Moos introduces Mike Leach during a 2011 press conference in Pullman. (File/The Spokesman-Review)

Long forgotten in the time between the lovefest when Bill Moos was rushed to head Washington State’s athletic fraternity in 2010 and the more recent football revival he jump-started was a crossroads where he felt burned – and maybe worse – by his alma mater.

This was back in 1994, when athletic director Jim Livengood departed for Arizona and Moos – an assistant to three different Cougar ADs who’d detoured to Montana to apprentice at running his own store – thought he’d be the front-runner to replace him.

And wasn’t even a finalist.

It took another 16 years for Moos to get his mulligan, when Wazzu was suddenly desperate for his skills, vision and passion for the school, which persisted even after that long-ago jilting.

Still, lessons are for learning.

Which may have more than a little to do with why Bill Moos signed on to be athletic director at the University of Nebraska on Sunday – starting in one week – without so much as a head’s up to his current boss.

A big part of looking out for No. 1, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, is being careful not to step in No. 2.

And with Moos’ parting, Wazzu and its athletic constituency is left with a number of questions – some of them invented in a fever dream of paranoia and panic. Not the least of which is wither Mike Leach, since it seems fait accompli in Nebraska that Moos will have to fire football coach Mike Riley come season’s end.

Leach will say what he has to say on Monday, in all likelihood, and you can make bank on it or not – such public statements having varying degrees of worth.

Like this one:

“When someone is looking at another job or another position,” Moos said at his Nebraska introduction, “they’re either running away from something or running to something. Believe me, I have nothing to run away from, but wholeheartedly wanted to run to this job.”

Well, OK.

This is certainly at least half true. Even two decades removed from its last national championship and now just more padding to prop up the bullies of the Big Ten, Nebraska football remains a devotion, a way of life. And there’s a million dollars in salary – and incentives – there for Moos.

But, yeah, he is walking away from something, if not running. Call it the new reality of his old dream job.

There is an unwieldy budget deficit – $50 million or so over the past four fiscal years alone – that needs to be brought square by a 2021 target date. There is a president, Kirk Schulz, who rightly insists increased fund-raising be part of the solution and is said to be disappointed in the AD’s performance in that realm. There’s a list of facility projects waiting that cannot be bonded out like WSU’s football upgrades, so the mandate is cash (or pledges) in hand. Thus, the relationship between Moos and Schulz – who did not hire him – has evolved into something less than an unqualified embrace.

It’s hard to get by on just the old “honor the past, live the present, create the future” mantra anymore.

Moos’ accomplishments at WSU were not inconsiderable. A visit on a football Saturday is evidence enough, the building and the program’s success both points of pride. Yes, the department went into massive debt to construct both – because no one had the foresight, blueprint and will to do it before, or even just keep up in the first place.

This is what Nebraska is buying. Moos is a football hire. That none of Wazzu’s other programs except perhaps volleyball got demonstrably better under his watch is not relevant. Neither is the debt – Nebraska will not be playing facility catch-up and if it has to build, rainmaking is a well-practiced art there.

Mostly, Moos has been hired to fire Riley and make a home-run hire. Like, you know, the one he made here.

Leach is too much of a free spirit to think that Moos playing pied piper is a slam dunk – especially if Schulz can assure Leach how much he’s valued. Leach has also already done the heaviest lifting here, his program on a competitive par – on the scoreboard, anyway – with everyone except Washington to this point. How much he’d be jazzed to start over again and have to claw his way up to the level of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State is unknown, but the man likes a challenge. And, yes, Moos and Leach are a natural match.

But what was it Moos said Sunday about his hires – that they “saw Washington State as a destination and not a stepping stone?” Maybe it really is Mike Leach’s destination.

It was always Bill Moos’ destination, too. But sometimes you have to create a future.

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