Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos, who steered Washington State’s athletic department for eight years and was credited with making the moves that allowed the Cougars to rebuild their long-dormant football program, abruptly announced his retirement Friday, saying he will step down next week.
The Edwall, Washington, native, who played college football at Washington State, headed the WSU athletic department from 2010 until 2017, when he was hired by Nebraska. Before that, he helped oversee the rise in football prominence at Oregon as athletic director there from 1995 to 2007.
The announcement came as a surprise because the 70-year-old Moos has said publicly he wanted to stay in the job until he was comfortable the Cornhuskers football program had been turned around.
Specifically, Moos told numerous media outlets, including the Lincoln Journal Star, he planned to remain in his position until the end of his current contract, which is set to expire Dec. 31, 2022.
“To understand just how special Nebraska is, you need to spend time here, meet our people, visit our cities and towns and sit in Memorial Stadium in a sea of red on a Saturday afternoon in the fall,” Moos said in a statement. “I step away completely content, knowing that our athletic program is reborn and rebuilt and that it has a solid, stable foundation.”
Moos didn’t respond immediately to a text message from The Spokesman-Review. He told the Lincoln Journal Star Friday he’d been contemplating retirement for approximately a year and a half before conversations with campus leadership indicated that “apparently, this was the best time.”
In an interview with the Journal Star last year, Moos said he “couldn’t come back here (to his ranch in Eastern Washington) and sit and leave the department on anything but solid footing and in a winning position. It’d drive me crazy.”
Since the 1990s, Bill and his wife Kendra have owned and managed the Special K Ranch, located approximately 15 miles outside Spokane in Valleyford.
Although Moos didn’t see many of his goals at NU to completion, including bringing the Huskers’ middling football program back to national prominence, he suggested to the Journal Star the COVID-19 pandemic altered his personal timeline and he hoped to avoid chatter about his potential departure during a time when the athletic department needed leadership.
“You’ve got to remember, in December we were right in the middle of that pandemic and morale wise and everything else, my people needed my leadership and needed to know I was here,” Moos told the Journal Star. “I was truthful to you (in December) and I thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to fight and win and enjoy this all the way.’ Everybody can have a little curve in the road sometimes and certainly I did.”
Moos’ eight-year tenure at WSU was productive in many regards, but destructive in others. In what may have been his biggest feat, Moos was responsible for locating and hiring Mike Leach to replace Paul Wulff as the Cougars’ football coach. Leach not only broke the Cougars out of a nine-year postseason drought, earning six bowl bids in eight seasons, but he led WSU to an 11-2 record in 2018, breaking the school’s single-season wins record.
The impact of Moos’ tenure on the WSU football program stretched beyond Leach. In 2013, he green-lighted the construction of a $130 million remodel of WSU’s football facilities, including a new football operations building and additions to Martin Stadium.
While Moos helped WSU secure a lucrative, long-term media rights agreement with IMG College, he also left the school in a massive financial hole from which the Cougars haven’t recovered. WSU’s athletics department has accumulated nearly $100 million in projected losses over the past decade and reported $31.5 million in losses over the most recent fiscal year.
Moos has also been scrutinized for the hire of ex-WSU men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent, who went 58-98 in five seasons with WSU and 22-68 in Pac-12 Conference play. Kent’s contract and rollover extensions were the subject of criticism from Cougar fans. When WSU fired Kent following the 2018-19 basketball season, three years before the end of his contract, it meant the school was on the hook for $4.2 million – an amount that’s still being paid out.
Moos hired 12 head coaches since leaving Washington State for Nebraska in October 2017. The highest-profile hires were Scott Frost in football and Fred Hoiberg in men’s basketball.
Moos also was part of a major fundraising project to improve football facilities, though former university system president Hank Bounds took the lead role in the effort.
Moos said much of what he accomplished was “hard to quantify and even harder for our passionate fans and supporters to see,” but he said the work has “laid the groundwork for success that will soon be evident on the scoreboards.”
The Associated Press and The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson contributed to this report.
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