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From wheat fields to corn country: Cougs AD Bill Moos heads to Nebraska as WSU launches search for replacement

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 15, 2017

PULLMAN – Bill Moos was responsible for erecting the buildings that were supposed to give Washington State’s athletic programs a competitive edge in the Pac-12 facilities arms race, and hiring the coach who gave WSU’s football team a facelift at a point when the Cougars were hardly a blip on the map.

Moos’ big spending put the school in a $10.6 million hole, but that never did seem to outweigh the contributions he made to the department. And at no point did it ever seem like Moos was itching to leave Pullman.

So it was startling Sunday afternoon when news broke that the 67-year-old had darted from his alma mater to become the athletic director at the University of Nebraska. Moos will officially start his new job on Oct. 23.

“It’s always been my view professionally that when someone is looking at another job, another position, that they’re either running away from something or running to something,” Moos said. “And believe me, I have nothing to run away from, but wholeheartedly wanted to run to this job.”

Nebraska announced the hire just before noon Sunday, then presented Moos in a news conference a few hours later.

Washington State’s Associate Athletic Director for Communications, Bill Stevens, said he hadn’t heard from Moos as of 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Mike Leach said Moos only sent a text message to alert the WSU coach he was leaving.

The WSU community was nothing short of stunned.

In a news release issued by WSU, President Kirk Schulz said the school will begin its hunt for a new AD immediately. WSU intends to fill the void temporarily and will have an interim AD in place “early next week,” according to the release.

On Monday, Schulz will announce the membership of a search committee that WSU will employ to find its new AD. The school also plans to hire an executive search firm to aid in the selection process.

“Cougar fans are among the most passionate and loyal in all of college sports,” Schulz said. “We will begin our search immediately to find an athletics director who will drive our program to even greater success both on the field of play and in the classroom.”

Moos and Nebraska agreed to a five-year contract with a base annual salary of $1 million, plus incentives. That should make him the second-highest-paid coach in the Big Ten Conference. Those incentives could be worth up to $500,000. Moos was earning a base salary of $500,000 at WSU and was on contract through April 2020.

It’s only been three weeks since UN parted ways with former AD Shawn Eichorst, who was fired in the wake of the Cornhuskers’ 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois, which dropped them to 1-2 on the season.

Moos was drawn to the job because it presented an opportunity to flip Nebraska’s football program, much like he did during his seven years at WSU and 12 years at Oregon, where the Ducks grew their athletic budget from $18.5 million to more than $40 million and won 13 Pac-10 championships in six different sports.

Nebraska’s football program is wealthy in tradition, but not in recent success. The Cornhuskers won five national titles between 1970 and 1997, but haven’t contended for college football’s biggest prize this millennium and have been usurped by a multitude of teams in the Big Ten.

The Huskers are 3-4 this season, so Moos will be pressured to revive the “storied” program he followed closely as a child.

“From the time I was a small boy on a wheat-cattle ranch in Eastern Washington, I always tuned in to the Nebraska-Oklahoma game on Thanksgiving,” Moos said. “Weekends, never missed one. Even did it in college when I was a player myself.

“A storied, storied athletic program at a very prestigious institution. When you name the top two, three, four, five positions as an athletic director, Nebraska’s in that same breath.”

In transit to his Sunday news conference, Moos was asked how long Nebraska had been on his radar. “Twenty-five years,” he told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “That’s the kind of school it is.”

Nebraska football coach Mike Riley has gotten mixed reviews three years into his regime with the Cornhuskers. Riley’s teams have amassed a winning record of 18-15, but the Huskers finished with a losing mark in 2015 and face an uphill battle in 2017.

Moos’ and Riley’s paths have intertwined before while both were working in the state of Oregon. Moos was the University of Oregon’s AD from 1995-2007, and Riley was the football coach at Oregon State from 2003-14.

“As we speak right now, he’s my football coach,” Moos said. “And I’m going to support him and hope for some victories here in the latter part of the season.”

Moos spent two full years away from collegiate athletics following his final year at Oregon in 2007. He went into retirement, but was pulled back when the late WSU President Elson S. Floyd convinced him to become the Cougars’ AD in 2010.

“Anyone who actually plays the game, your pilot light never goes out,” Moos said.

Moos’ best act as WSU’s AD was reviving a football program that had won just eight games between 2008-11. Leach was one of the 11 head coaches Moos hired his first five years in charge, and the WSU football coach, now six years into his tenure, has taken the Cougars to three bowl games in four years. That will be four in five years when the current season is over. The Cougars are ranked No. 15 in the country and already bowl-eligible with six wins.

“He has a style and a blueprint that is followed very closely,” Moos said of Leach. “Mike is a very strict disciplinarian. And he’s a brilliant individual. He’s done a remarkable job, and he’s been a great fit there.”

Some are speculating that Moos could try to bring Leach to Nebraska, but the WSU coach has long stated his affinity for Pullman and has never hinted at any kind of departure.

Moos never did either. Multiple reports hint there may have been friction between the AD and Schulz, who was hired from Kansas State to become WSU’s president in 2016. An anonymous source told the Seattle Times that Schulz was blindsided by Moos’ departure and that Moos hadn’t alerted the school president about his departure.

Potential friction between the president and the AD could be the product of a few things.

While enhancing WSU’s facilities, Moos emptied the school’s athletic budget, which made a portion of the fan base leery of his financial strategy. Moos’ biggest project – a lavish football operations building that was constructed in 2014 – cost the school $61 million, and additions to Martin Stadium ran the total cost of upgrades to $130 million.

Moos also spearheaded improvements to the school’s soccer field, and WSU has already sketched out blueprints for a baseball clubhouse.

The big spending may have been necessary to keep the Cougars competitive in recruiting battles with the Pac-12 schools in more urban settings, but it also cost the school a fortune. WSU ran its deficit to $10 million during the last fiscal year.

Moos did knock his football hire out of the park. Leach’s teams have an even 35-35 record through 5 1/2 years, but have gone 20-10 over the last three seasons. But Moos also made coaching hires for a few of the other major sports that have yet to yield much success in the win-loss column. He enlisted Ernie Kent’s help to turn around the men’s basketball program in 2014 and hired Marty Lees to lead the baseball team in 2015.

Kent’s time in Pullman is still very much a work in progress. The former Oregon coach who worked under Moos for a decade in Eugene hasn’t taken the Cougars to the postseason. Kent’s basketball teams have registered 35 wins compared to 58 losses. Lees’ WSU baseball teams have gone 43-64 in two seasons.

Still, Moos was well-liked in Pullman and had an open-door policy that made him accessible to coaches, athletes and members of the media.

In a tweet Sunday afternoon, former WSU offensive lineman Eduardo Middleton wrote: “Smh (shaking my head) … WSU lost a true visionary in college athletics.”

Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne noted on Twitter Sunday that Moos gave him his first full-time job. Byrne was hired by Moos as a regional fundraiser at Oregon in 1995, “Great vision & great guy,” Byrne wrote. “Really good hire by Nebraska.”

Moos was also the dean of Pac-12 athletic directors – “until tomorrow,” he laughed on Sunday during his news conference – and was at the forefront of the conference’s effort to secure a 12-year, $3 billion television contract with providers Fox and ESPN. Moos was also renowned for his fundraising: The Cougar Athletic Fund’s Annual Giving program saw an 81 percent increase in gifts during his tenure in Pullman.

Along with his wife, Kendra, Moos owns and manages a cattle ranch – the Special K Ranch – in Valleyford, Washington, just south of Spokane.

He’s a self-proclaimed “rural boy” who grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch in eastern Washington.

“I’m not one that would take a job in an urban environment,” Moos said Sunday. “I feel like Eastern Washington is so much like the state of Nebraska. Great, wholesome people with a great work ethic. Love athletics, and love football.”

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