By John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — So if Mike Leach isn’t the next football coach at Washington State, where will the collective emotional crash fall on the Jeff-Tuel’s-shoulder/Connor-Halliday’s-liver scale?
We got a taste of it Tuesday, when all the go-to media for preposterous rumor — Twitter, Facebook, iPhone and the backyard fence — had Paul Wulff’s firing augmented by arrival via private jet of Cougar fandom’s most wanted, the charismatic litigant late of Texas Tech.
Yes! Bill Moos is going announce the new coach — Leach — as he dismisses the old one!
Raise the flag! Make those 2013 Rose Bowl reservations now!
And a private plane from points east did indeed land at Pullman-Moscow Regional shortly after noon. Open swung the cabin door. Out came … well, a couple with more ties to the AARP than the NCAA.
Good thing no one made banners and sent out the marching band.
This sort of giddy nonsense can’t help but attach itself to moments like this. But it was also heartening to sense that as Wulff delivered an earnest valedictory, his devotion might finally have penetrated the sensibilities even of the mob that had agitated for this change.
About time. Because you know who the Cougars can thank for whatever sexy new hire they believe will deliver them to their next bowl game?
Though Moos has the raw materials to spin it otherwise, the single most attractive selling point to the job right now is the fact that there are two Pac-12 level — and perhaps better — quarterbacks on the roster, 15 other starters back and a restored talent level with some real want-to.
In other words, the new guy can win now. Wulff paid his dues for him.
Wazzu’s determined athletic director is well aware that only once in its history has the school been able to hire a head coach who’d done the job elsewhere at the major college level — Dennis Erickson, who’d spent all of a year at Wyoming. Yet Moos believes he won’t have to settle for a power program’s coordinator or an FCS comer.
It’s the flip side of why he didn’t make a change a year ago.
“If you fire a coach after three years, especially with the hole we had to dig out of, who in his right mind is going to take the job?” Moos said. “You have no facilities. Your salaries are the worst in the league.
“Now we have facilities going up and the prospect of having competitive salaries.”
Well, sort of. What’s going up are donor suites, not the football building more urgently needed. The TV windfall coming — most of it dedicated to the bonding for the stadium — gives the Cougars some flexibility, but every other Pac-12 rival is getting the same loot and is already one step or more ahead.
Oh, yes. Arizona State is also looking for a coach. And UCLA. And Kansas. And Mississippi.
And Arizona just set a starting point by throwing $2 million a year at Rich Rodriguez, or more than triple Paul Wulff’s wages. Mike Leach was making even more at Texas Tech before the dismissal over which he still has multiple lawsuits in play.
Moos, who was remarkably candid about the names on his short list, noted that what he liked about Leach “is his record — 10 years, 10 bowl games, and with some similarities to here. He’s going to have a ‘wow factor’ offense. That would be somebody you’d hope would be a real good fit.”
He eluded the question of whether not landing Leach would be perceived as a death blow. But he doesn’t mind being Hail Marys R Us, and so Houston’s red-hot Kevin Sumlin will be approached, too.
“We either have to run with the big dogs,” he said, “or admit we’re a doormat.”
So though Moos wouldn’t put it in those terms, Paul Wulff was largely sacrificed — kicked to the curb in order to give Wazzu’s hidebound and underperforming fan and donor base (“they need to start getting it”) an overdue kick in the ass.
“Winning is what it’ll take,” he said.
Mused Wulff, “Winning games generates fans and excitement. There is a process to getting to win.”
More surprising than the firing was the odd 48-hour reprieve Moos gave Wulff to make his case yet again and receive some huzzahs at a Monday lunch in Spokane — a bit like punching an extra air hole in the lid of the mayonnaise jar so the caterpillar you found in the flower bed can survive captivity another day.
On Tuesday, Wulff delivered a bouquet of thank-yous — notably, president Elson Floyd was not included. He also said he left an “eight-, nine-win team” behind and bemoaned, but didn’t belabor, a “loss of innocence” at a place where “we don’t eat our own.”
Moos challenges his staff to cut to What’s Important Now — note the caps — and acknowledged with a sigh, “I think I did today — and it wasn’t easy.”
Yet nowhere near as difficult as his next task.