By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press
SPOKANE — Washington State coach Paul Wulff is not talking with his players much about persistent rumors that he will be fired if the Cougars don’t finish strong this season.
Wulff said Tuesday it is best to ignore such rumors as he prepares his team to play Arizona State (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) on Saturday in Pullman.
“You’ve got to ignore the things that are out there,” Wulff said. “It’s not easy to do.”
For Washington State (3-6, 1-5), it will be the first game in Pullman in nearly a month. The Cougars need to win all three of their remaining games to qualify for a bowl.
Some critics have demanded that Wulff, who is 8-38 in his fourth season at WSU, be replaced. School officials have said they will evaluate the program after the season.
The Cougars are much improved this year, although they are coming off a 30-7 loss at California.
“This was the worst BCS football program in America by a long, long ways when I got here,” Wulff said. But they have recruited good players and are laying a solid foundation for the future, he said.
Progress was delayed this season when starting quarterback Jeff Tuel was injured in the first game, Wulff said.
“It takes time when things are in bad, bad shape,” Wulff said. “I didn’t make it, but I am here to fix it.”
Wulff got an endorsement from his old college coach, Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson.
“Stability is what it’s all about,” Erickson said. “Paul is a great coach and he has a great staff.”
“It takes a long time,” Erickson said. “Where (WSU) was at and where it is at now is unbelievable,” Erickson said, adding that too many fans want a quick fix.
In addition to the loss of Tuel, Washington State was dealt an unusual schedule this year. The Cougars opened with two games at home against overmatched non-conference opponents. Then they spent more than a month on the road before coming home to play No. 3 Stanford. Then they were away from Pullman for another month before returning home to play ASU and then Utah. They finish the season at archrival Washington.
Washington State is on a five-game losing streak and had its worst offensive showing of the season in the loss at Cal. Wulff said backup quarterback Connor Halliday may see some playing time if starter Marshall Lobbestael is slow getting the offense going.
Arizona State has a solid defense and leads the Pac-12 with 13 interceptions.
Washington State, meanwhile, needs to find a way to finish drives.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to have more scoring opportunities in a lot of these games, but we didn’t cash in,” Wulff said. “That’s cost us in some of these games.”