Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: On the day after the Rangers get their first ring, we say goodbye to a complicated coach and hello to Eastern’s former one

A GRIP ON SPORTS • The rain is falling – hard – in Spokane, so we figured we would do the same. No, not fall, though that’s always a worry on days like this. But we would pour ourselves into the local, and national, sports scene.


• Let’s start nationally, even if baseball’s title series has been labeled the “World Series” since it began.

The Texas Rangers have been trying to win it, seemingly, just as long, though the franchise that began in Washington D.C. before LBJ became President isn’t all that old – in baseball time.

Still, Wednesday night’s 5-0 win – Nathan Eovaldi, who won a Series with Boston and was given a lot of money to do the same with Texas, was exceptional on the mound – was a long time coming. And erased one franchise from the never-has-won-a-title list.

There are five teams left, including the organization that holds the Northwest’s hearts in its miserly hands. Can the Mariners win one in, say, our lifetime? Yours? That little girl down the street’s?

We’ll see. Or not.

• One of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time left us yesterday. Bob Knight, who won three NCAA titles at Indiana and retired with more wins than any coach ever, died at age 83 after suffering from dementia in recent years.

If there was ever a coach with a complicated legacy, it was Knight. He won, yes. Often. He was a larger-than-life figure who had his supporters and, even more so, detractors. He treated everyone, from his players to his friends to his bosses, awfully. And he had moments of kindness that rarely made the headlines.

We have no idea how to eulogize him. We won’t even try. But we will pass along one from someone who did know him well and dealt with the Bobby Knight experience in its totality, John Feinstein.

Oh, and one other thing. Knight’s legacy is such that the observer is forced into the uncomfortable spot of trying to separate accomplishments from personality and behavior. It’s almost impossible to do. And has never stopped. Never will. No one, however, made it harder. There was just so much distance between the good and bad.

• Closer to home, the Eastern Washington Eagles aren’t having their best football season. In fact, Aaron Best’s team is struggling with a 3-5 overall mark and 2-3 in the Big Sky Conference. Those type of records just don’t cut it at a school with its history of success.

Which brings us to Saturday. The Eagles, in what is aptly titled the Hometown Heroes game, host Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, coached by Paul Wulff.

The apt part of the title is simple. For many years Wulff was one of the Eagles’ biggest heroes. In his eight years as Eastern’s head coach, he only had one losing season. Though he didn’t reach the national title heights of his successor, Beau Baldwin, he did help lay the groundwork for the success that was to come.

Besides, his teams won two Big Sky titles and made the FCS playoffs three of his final four season.

Success, however, hasn’t followed Wulff since he left after the 2007 season. His four years at his alma mater, Washington State, were awful. A 9-40 slog that began 5-32 and only included four Pac-12 wins.

After spending years in the wilderness with a variety of assistant coaching stops, Wulff joined Baldwin at Cal Poly. And when Baldwin left for Arizona State after last season, Wulff became head coach.

Wulff’s Mustangs have the same overall record as EWU. They have won one less conference game. This isn’t a precursor of a post-season matchup.

But it is a matchup of pupil and mentor, as Wulff gave Eagle coach Aaron Best his first full-time coaching gig. And it’s a chance for the Eastern fans to stand up and salute Wulff’s contributions – and history – to the school’s success.


WSU: One of the keys for the Cougars early on this season was the pressure put on opposing quarterbacks from the edge. One of the problems for the Cougars recently? That pressure has disappeared. Greg Woods tries to explain what has happened but it’s not easy. … Part of it might be the loss of some depth at the edge position. For Washington State to be successful, it has to avoid injuries. And that hasn’t happened. Greg has this on the recent spate of lost game time. … We thought we would highlight a student-written article on the men’s basketball team today. It’s a preview of Monday’s season opener against Idaho. … Speaking of hoops, former WSU star Klay Thompson has a new role with the Warriors. Last night epitomized that. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, before we delve into the week, we wanted to ask a simple question. The Big Ten, ACC and, Wednesday, the Big 12, have released future football schedules. Our question: Are the departing 10 schools still maintaining they haven’t given official notice? And is Whitman County judge Gary Libey taking notice? John Canzano has this interesting profile of the Colfax judge. … We can pass along stories about the Big 12 schedule for Utah, Colorado, Arizona State and Arizona. … It will be raining in the Northwest this weekend, including in Pullman as Stanford visits. … It’s also not true it never rains in Autzen, no matter what the PA guy says. The Ducks host California this week with more than just a game on the line for Oregon. … Back to some overall conference news, in the Mercury News Jon Wilner looks at how the networks may handle next weekend’s showdowns and he makes his picks. He has Stanford winning. … A couple of Pac-12 games are covered in Stewart Mandel’s picks as well. … Washington has a receiver who had an unforgettable moment last weekend. …  Oregon State will miss the rain as the Beavers play in Boulder. Colorado is looking to run the ball more. Not a good week for that. … Arrogance is a needed trait in a wide receiver. … Can Arizona handle UCLA’s pass rush? … In basketball news, who are the favorites in the women’s race? The men’s? … Colorado’s roster includes one male player who has been everywhere, it seems. … Arizona doesn’t have any secrets. … Utah showcased its transfers in an easy exhibition victory.

Gonzaga: Women’s coach Lisa Fortier enters the season on an awards watch list, just like many of her players. She’s up for coach of the year. … What a week for Filip Petrusev. He’s gone from Philadelphia to L.A. to Sacramento. At least his rent should be cheaper. Theo Lawson has this on the former Bulldog’s second trade in a week. … One of these days we need to write an entire column concerning our time spent coaching Anton Watson as he enters his final season at Gonzaga. It seems as if everyone else has done a profile on the local player. But for now, we’ll just pass along another piece on Watson from the Inlander (and one bemoaning the lack of access to Zag home games).  

EWU: We opined on Wulff’s return above. It was based off, in large degree, Dan Thompson’s Big Sky notebook, in which he delved into the same subject with Best. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Sacramento State heads to Missoula led by a former Montana assistant. … In basketball, the Griz women had an easy time of it in their exhibition. … The Montana State women expects to be tested often in the nonconference. … Among the men, Weber State and EWU have the toughest projected schedules.

Whitworth: Two teammates with double eagles – or albatrosses if you prefer – on the same hole 30 minutes apart. The odds have to be in the billions to one. Jim Meehan has the story of Gabby Martinez’s and Brianna McNelly’s recent accomplishment for the Pirates.

Preps: It’s a busy Thursday, what with playoffs underway and all. Dave Nichols kicks it off with this feature on a trio of Lakeside seniors who have won just about every regular season game of their high school varsity careers. … Greg Lee has a preview of the State cross country meets this weekend in Pasco. … Dave also has a roundup of Wednesday’s action.

Mariners: We weren’t the only older writer with memories of Frank Howard from back when were children. Tom Boswell shared his as well. … Paul Sewald should still be in Seattle. Despite not having the best Series, he’s the type of player that helps you win.

Kraken: How is Seattle doing after its long road trip?

Seahawks: Leonard Williams will wear 99. He will also play this week against the Ravens. At least it seems that way. And he’s a pretty good free throw shooter. … Besides, by getting Williams, the management has made a huge statement to the rest of the players. … We saw Frank Clark cramp up Sunday. It’s why he didn’t play all that much. … The Hawks may need to run the ball some more to help Geno Smith through his issues.


• Whenever we look out the window in November and see it raining, we count our blessings. There will be time enough for the snow to fall in Spokane the next four months. We don’t need it here just yet. The mountains? Fine. Build the pack. But here? Let’s wait until Black Friday or so. And, yes, we know it snowed while we were out of town. That made us smile. Mainly because it was gone by the time we got back. Until later …