Pac-12: Paul Wulff

Season wrap: Washington State

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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The Cougars reached a bowl game for the first time since 2003 despite the Pac-12 featuring more top-to-bottom depth than at any point in the past decade.

In coach Mike Leach's second season, WSU won as many conference games (four) as it did under his predecessor, Paul Wulff, in four seasons from 2008 to 2011.

That's what should be remembered, not the meltdown at the end of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

Moving forward, WSU has a lot to be excited about. All 10 players who had at least 25 catches this season will return next year. That's a lot of returning weapons for quarterback Connor Halliday in his senior season.

You can read our graded review of WSU here.

Offensive MVP: Halliday set the school single-season record passing record with 4,597 yards. He went to sleep three times as the Pac-12 single-season record holder, too, before Oregon State's Sean Mannion eclipsed his total in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. Halliday's 34 touchdown passes tied Ryan Leaf for the single-season school record.

Defensive MVP: Safety Deone Bucannon led the Pac-12 with 109 tackles during the regular season and was the first WSU player since 2007 to receive first-team All-Pac-12 honors. The hard-hitting safety led WSU with five interceptions, a total that was tied for fourth-best in the conference.

Best moment: The game-winning touchdown pass from Halliday to Isiah Myers against Arizona. It would be easy to pick the victory at then-No. 25 USC, but that was early in the season and Halliday's pass to Myers delivered a victory in what basically amounted to a win-or-no-bowl situation. A week later, Arizona beat Oregon on the same field.

Worst moment: The final 2 minutes, 52 seconds of the New Mexico Bowl. The Cougars had a 45-30 lead before Colorado State scored 18 points in the game's final 172 seconds to pull off a remarkable comeback. For WSU, it will be remembered as a mind-boggling collapse made possible by a pair of fumbles and questionable clock management.
Actually, Peter, I wanted to tell you, I was listening to Sarah's iPod the other day, and amidst the interminable dross that's on that thing, I found one track that I quite liked. So I checked what it was, and it was actually one of yours, and it kind of reminded me of a dark, gothic Neil Diamond. It's great.
Darryl Monroe represents grounds for hope for Washington State, hope that the beleaguered program will trend up in 2013.

It's not only that he played well last fall as a redshirt freshman starting at middle linebacker in the Pac-12, which is pretty rare. It's his makeup. When coach Mike Leach griped about the focus, work habits and mental toughness of his team last year, he wasn't talking about Monroe.

"Definitely an impressive guy," Leach said. "A good individual to build a defense around."

Want to know why Leach calls Monroe "impressive" and why we're pulling out the word "makeup," one of those vague, football scout-type terms, as one of his positive qualities?

[+] EnlargeDarryl Monroe
AP Photo/Rob Holt"The struggle is something you've got to embrace," Darryl Monroe said. "It's what's going to make you better in the long run."
How about this: Monroe was asked about the Cougars' dramatic 18-point fourth-quarter comeback and overtime victory over the archrival Washington Huskies.

"It will be one of the games I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said. "We played that game for Travis Long. He was holding back tears because he couldn't play. We got him an Apple Cup before we were out of here. That's what it meant to me: Getting that win for Travis."

That is a good answer in so many ways. Yet perhaps there's not enough Husky hate from the Orlando, Fla., native, who admits to not knowing much about the rivalry before he arrived in Pullman?

"We bleed crimson and we don't like Washington," he said.

Other than the Apple Cup, the 2012 season was tough on the Cougars. The great hope inspired by Leach's hiring quickly spiraled into the muck of a 3-9 finish and another campaign -- no winning seasons since 2003 -- spent looking up from the bottom of the Pac-12. It became clear there would be no quick fix, and Leach repeatedly promised an escalation in the intensity of his demands.

Monroe described the offseason work as "brutal ... and it's not even over." But that's not the important part of his thinking.

"The struggle is something you've got to embrace," he said. "It's what's going to make you better in the long run."

As we said: Makeup.

Know that Monroe isn't just a smooth talker. The 6-foot-1, 215 pounder earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention, finishing second on the team with 80 tackles. His 8.5 tackles for a loss, including three sacks, ranked third on the team.

Another aspect of his makeup: He didn't bail out on the program.

Monroe picked the Cougars over Cincinnati and South Florida because of his relationship with Chris Ball, the defensive coordinator under Paul Wulff. His true freshman season ended with a torn Achilles, which was a bummer. When Wulff was fired, Monroe seriously considered leaving so he could start over somewhere else.

Pullman, after all, is a long way from home, both literally and figuratively. Orlando doesn't have too many days when the temperature is in the single digits, for one.

"It was a stressful time, period," he said. "It was pretty tough. It was a time of uncertainty for me, whether I would still be a Cougar or not."

But his parents pretty much advised him to suck it up. So he did. By midseason, he became one of the Cougars' best leaders, earning game captain honors three times, including for the Apple Cup.

He's not the conference's biggest or fastest linebacker. He makes up for that, though, with his brain.

Said Leach, "He really plays well from the neck up. He's a really smart guy."

Coaches often talk about "attention to detail," and Monroe uses that phrase three times in a 15 minute interview. When asked about what aspect of his game he's working on, he talks about reading his keys and leadership.

He sounds very "coachy." It's not difficult to imagine Leach nodding with approval after his every answer.

For Cougars fans looking for grounds for hopes, Monroe is a good place to start.
The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison they never even become aware that they are oppressed.
A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.

WSU QB Tuel ends quest for fifth season

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
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Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel is ending his quest for a fifth season of eligibility and will enter the NFL draft this spring, Bud Withers of the Seattle Times reported.

Tuel was trying to get an extra year after an injury-plagued 2011 season, when he broke his collarbone early in game one and was quickly shelved after he tried to come back at midseason. The abortive comeback is why the NCAA required an appeal.

From the Times:
Tuel said continued questions by the NCAA appeared to make the fifth year hinge on whether he felt he had been "mistreated" by the previous staff, or had been forced back into action too early.

"That's basically what they were wanting," he said. "I don't feel comfortable saying I was mistreated. I was never mistreated by them. It's (his decision) a combination of that, that how long this has been drug out. If it goes two, three more weeks and they say no, I'm kind of screwed."

That fits in perfectly with who Tuel is: A standup guy.

It's too bad, but this is typical of the NCAA, which apparently only seeks out interpretive leeway within its rules when it is sanctioning USC.

Tuel is a good quarterback who went through a lot. Few quarterbacks have suffered the pounding he took over the past few seasons, and those who did certainly didn't put up equivalent numbers. Tuel never whined and never blamed his teammates. He stood up for former coach Paul Wulff, and didn't complain when coach Mike Leach benched him this season. In fact, he was frequently an effective spokesman for the hard-nosed changes Leach was adopting.

In the end, however, this might be good for Washington State. The QB carousel between Tuel and Connor Halliday this past season didn't feel very constructive.

With Tuel gone, Halliday, a rising junior, will get most of the spring reps with the first-team, and that means more time to learn the nuances of Leach's offense. Recall that Halliday missed last year's spring practices due to a prolonged recovery from a lacerated liver, so he missed substantial time under Leach's tutelage. If Tuel were still there, those two would have split reps and would have been engaged in another QB competition that might have become a distraction.

Coaches say competition is always good. It is. But Halliday might benefit more from the extra work, as well as having his teammates see him as The Man. That will help him grow as a leader.

Of course, Halliday also may need to be wary of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, who could play his way into the picture. Leach has previously lauded his accuracy, which was something that both Tuel and Halliday lacked at times this season.

Tuel, Leach hope 'musical QBs' is over

October, 24, 2012
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It's clear Mike Leach has made a big impact at Washington State. Just not in terms of wins. At least, not yet.

The Cougars head to Stanford on Saturday looking for their first Pac-12 victory in five tries. And they are unlikely to get it.

But Leach's impact is notable in terms of his demanding nature and tendency to give unfiltered evaluations when things aren't as he wants them to be. Some of his players apparently weren't terribly focused during a bye week practice last Tuesday. So they earned some extra work. A lot of extra work.

A dramatic change from past years? Yep.

From Mike Price to Bill Doba to Paul Wulff, Washington State coaches haven't been known for being terribly harsh and demanding with their players. In fact, the first term that comes to mind with those three is "nice guys." Leach isn't like that troika.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Jake Roth/US PresswireJeff Tuel is hoping he can help get the Cougars back on track.
“It’s been a pretty dramatic transition," quarterback Jeff Tuel said. "It’s much different than what we were before. I think you’ve seen just by the number of guys who aren’t here anymore that started here with this season, there’s a high demand for production and if you’re not going to produce then you’re in the wrong place, basically. So it has been a dramatic change. And it’s for the better."

That change for the better didn't suit 17 players who are no longer with the team, either due to quitting or being given the boot since Leach was hired last December.

Against Stanford, Tuel will make his first start since facing Eastern Washington on Sept. 8. His back-and-forth with Connor Halliday at the position has been one of the reasons the so-called "Air-Raid" offense has yet to find its high-flying rhythm.

"We ended up in a situation where we've played musical quarterbacks," Leach said. "I think if we'd had one guy that was settled in I think we would have been a little better."

Perhaps it's Tuel's time? He admitted this week that he wasn't comfortable with the offense early in the season. He was tentative, and that's something Halliday is not. He also wasn't comfortable making checks at the line of scrimmage, which meant the Cougars were often running plays into a defense that was well-positioned.

A huge problem has been the success of what Tuel called "cover-8" against the Cougs. That means opposing defenses have been dropping eight into coverage against a pass-first offense, feeling confident that the three linemen can stop the Cougars' running game and still get pressure on the QB.

If a defense can do that, well, that's not good for an offense. It means the defense thinks its three linemen are better than the offense's five blockers.

"When we've had success this year, we've been able to run the ball against it," Tuel said. "It's tough to throw it every single down and be successful."

Ah, but here's a problem with that. The Cougars are 119th in the nation -- second to last -- in rushing offense, with a measly 40.6 yards per game. Or about an eighth of Oregon's ground production per game.

It might be a good time to toss this in: Stanford, fresh off holding California to 3 yards rushing in a Big Game victory, is No. 4 in the nation in run defense (77 yards per game). The Bears entered the contest averaging 195 yards on the ground per game.

So, yeah, this one doesn't stack up well for the Cougs.

Still, Tuel has hope. Hope that he holds onto the starting QB job and hope that the Cougs get off the canvas.

"I want to lead this team to some victories," he said. "Like I said last week, a bowl game still isn’t out of reach, believe it or not. People from the outside looking in can say it is, but it’s not with us. With the position I’m in it’s my job to take us there and I’m going to keep believing until it’s out of reach.”

Mailbag: Tedford in Cal's big picture

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
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Happy Friday.

This is the mailbag. If you were looking for a nice fried egg sandwich, you will not find it here.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Ken from Berkeley, Calif., writes: If you look back at the fifty years before Tedford, Cal had about 14 winning seasons. This is through eleven other coaches and who knows how many academic administrations. To what extent are the demands/challenges of coaching at Cal different than other places? At Ohio St., for example, fans kept asking isn't Berkeley just a liberal place full of radicals. Hasn't Coach Tedford uniquely succeeded in providing competitive football at despite the challenges more than any other Cal coach in 50 years? Do some Cal fans have an illusion of what the past 50 years were like and how that a jerk coach like some have would not be acceptable as a role model?

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. It's a point that factors into the thinking of the decision-makers/power brokers at California.

No one denies what Tedford has done for Cal. Even, I'd hope, his fiercest critics. He is, in many ways, a victim of his own success. In 2001, regularly posting winning records and going to bowl games sounded thrilling in Berkeley. By 2006, folks had refocused on Rose Bowls and 10-win seasons.

Tedford won despite facilities that were among the worst in the Pac-12. Heck, worst among AQ conference programs. He's also represented the program with class.

But this is a tough business. And a big business. Tedford's success was the linchpin for the massive facilities upgrades, including the $330 million renovation of Memorial Stadium. Now there is concern about whether the product inside the remodeled stadium is up to the task of paying for it.

Tedford's success changing the perception of Cal football, the new facilities, the changing landscape of college football and the Pac-12's moving into the sport's fast lane has changed the dynamic. This isn't 2001. The judgment on Tedford operates almost entirely over the past two-plus years, which haven't gone well.

Further working against Tedford are the types of losses, many of the blowout variety, as well as a good number of upsets against teams that were viewed as inferior. Meanwhile, Cal has become one of the biggest pipelines to the NFL. That suggests talent isn't the issue.

At 1-4 so far this season, with a 13-17 record -- 7-13 in Pac-12 play -- since going 8-5 in 2009, it is legitimate to question the direction of the program under Tedford. And to ask if he can reverse it.

The parallel thought is: If not Tedford, then who? And how? If the decision is made to go into another direction, then folks making that decision need to have a solid map for what comes next and how they plan to pay for it.

There also is this: The season is not over. The Bears have flashed enough potential this year to maintain hope for a turnaround, even though the schedule ahead remains daunting. A win over UCLA on Saturday could be the touchstone for a rally.

Ken, it's good to hear some measured, big-picture perspective. My feeling is you are not alone in supporting Tedford. I'd suggest that you make your feelings known to athletic director Sandy Barbour, whom I'm guessing is not enjoying this situation in the least.




Engineer Mike from WinterthurSwitzerland writes: We've already talked about how 9 conference games gives the PAC-12 some extra guaranteed losses. However, I'm starting to suspect that the real advantage the SEC has comes from the fact that the easy non-conference schedule is so EARLY. When everybody else is seeing drops after a week of unbeatens matched up against one another, you're actually providing yourself great early access to the polls. Never mind that some of those currently ranked won't be there at the end of the season. They're there now, and used as a stepstool for whoever wins this week. Once established, teams are hard to bring back down. I see a matchup of two 5-0 teams that really should have little more value than the first game of the year for either, and yet they both sit in the top 6. Thought?

Ted Miller: There is no disadvantage to playing eight conference games. None. Other than your fan experience, and SEC teams have no trouble for the most part selling 90,000 tickets even when the opponent is a directional school.

I hear your point about creating a lot of 3-0 and 4-0 teams based on weak opponents. That makes it easier for teams to produce winning records and earn bowl eligibility. It also makes it easier to get ranked.

But, in terms of placement on the schedule, what typically happens with four nonconference games is at least one is scheduled for later in the season. That, too, offers major benefits. It's like adding a glorified bye week or scrimmage at some point in the season when it helps to rest your starters.

For example, on the Nov. 17 weekend Oregon plays host to Stanford and USC and UCLA square off, Alabama takes on Western Carolina and Georgia plays Georgia Southern. The two frontrunners in their respective divisions get a nice weekend to get their legs back under them.

We hear a lot about the grind of the SEC schedule, but a lot of times it pays to go, "Really, let's see that schedule." That's even more true now if the SEC doesn't move to a 9-game schedule, despite growing by two teams to 14. Conference misses will become a HUGE deal in that league. Think back to 2011, when LSU, Alabama and Arkansas were the best teams in the conference. Imagine the good fortune of an East team not playing any of the three. You know: Like SEC East champ Georgia didn't.

The hope, of course, is that going forward in 2014 under our new four-team playoff, a selection committee will essentially disqualify teams that refused to play tough nonconference games and not allow them to hide behind the specious, "Our conference is already tough enough!"




Pep from Stanford, Calif., writes: I'm a little perplexed how my Stanford offense got so terrible, so quickly. Last week, we scored 6 offensive points (both field goals) against the same team we scored 65 against last year.I know we're trying to replace The Best Quarterback Since Peyton Manning, but seriously, do we not have a single guy on the roster who's capable of completing a simple slant route? Or a 5 yard screen pass for crying out loud!Any advice?

Ted Miller: My first thought is that you're forgetting this offense didn't just lose Andrew Luck. If OG David DeCastro and OT Jonathan Martin were still on the line, the Cardinal probably could have won against the Huskies without throwing a pass. And if they'd had to throw every once and a while, TE Coby Fleener probably could have helped.

My second is to wonder how things might have been different if Josh Nunes hadn't suffered at least four drops against Washington. It's tough making your first career start on the road. Tougher when your teammates are letting you down.

My third: Nunes had a bad game. Most QBs have those every once and a while. You might recall a certain USC QB looking terrible in a recent game you might be familiar with as a Stanford fan.

Folks are quick to make broad pronouncements about one game. I mean, I still can't believe how in over his head Chip Kelly is! Didn't you see how Boise State stomped him in 2009!

If Nunes is who his coaches think he is, he'll learn from his mistakes and get better. I suspect he might look pretty good Saturday against a questionable Arizona defense.




David Fertal from Calgary, Alberta, writes: Hey Ted, Now that we're 1/2 way through the season, which team has the highest rated defense in the conference? Being a Duck fan, I'm actually a touch worried about our pesky neighbors in Black & Orange... (They who shall not be named)

Ted Miller: Too early to make a final call. We've just started the conference slate, and not all nonconference schedules were created equal.

Here are the notable numbers from my "Stat Attack!" post this week (number to left is national ranking).

Scoring defense

14. Arizona State, 13.6 points per game

21. Stanford, 15.25 ppg

Total defense

10. Arizona State, 276.2 yards per game

21. Washington, 315.0 ypg

24. Stanord, 316.5

Rushing defense

3. Stanford, 65 yards per game

9. Oregon State, 83 ypg

24. Oregon, 110.6

Pass efficiency defense

7. Arizona State

18. Stanford

20. Washington

23. USC

24. Oregon

Third-down defense (percentage)

2. Oregon State, 20.5 %

4. Stanford, 24.62

5. Oregon, 24.69

13. UCLA, 28.21

Sacks

5. Arizona State, 4.2 per game

6. USC, 4.0

10. UCLA, 3.4

13. Oregon, 3.2

13. Washington State, 3.2

25. Stanford, 2.75

25. Utah, (2.75)

Arizona State, which has played a solid schedule, leads the conference in scoring, total and pass efficiency defense as well as sacks.

So, to this point, I'd rate the Sun Devils No. 1, which no one saw coming.

But Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, USC and UCLA remain in the picture. Heck, even Washington does, based on its early numbers.




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: In your chat yesterday, you mentioned Cal perhaps going with a cheap up-and-coming coach, presumably because of the cost to fire Tedford. Do you think WSU going with coach Wulff for 3 years was a good thing? At 600 grand a year, it allowed them to save up a little for the two mil a year that Coach Leach costs, right? Although, Wulff is an example of not all up-and-comers working out. And the ones that do usually aren't up and comers for long, kinda by definition. Chip Kelly was an OC for what, maybe two years before his first and only head coaching job? How many hot names are out there besides Wilcox and anyone that works at Alabama?

Ted Miller: I don't think you go cheap just to save money. At the time of Wulff's hiring at Washington State, he was a former Cougar player who'd done a good job at Eastern Washington. It seemed like a roll of the dice that either would prove to be a perfect fit or one that fizzled in obscurity. I personally thought it was an inspired decision at the time.

I'm not going to make this specific to Cal, but my theory is the best coaching hires are accomplished, veteran coordinators who have the charisma to front a program or an accomplished coach at a nontraditional power. And, if I'm the guy doing the hiring, I'd ask any candidate to tell me who would be on his staff, which is darn near as important as the head coach. Maybe even more so.

Folks were skeptical about UCLA hiring Jim Mora. Then he hired a great crew of assistants and the scuttlebutt changed.

There are only a handful of programs that can make a splashy hire, such as Ohio State getting Urban Meyer or Alabama getting Nick Saban. The circumstances of Arizona hiring Rich Rodriguez and Washington State getting Mike Leach were fairly unique. It's rare two coaches with their pedigrees are available.

Everyone else is best off doing their homework instead of trying to grab a big name. That means having a meeting with the powers that be and hashing out the qualities everyone wants. Then the decision-making should be handed off to one person, typically the athletic director. The more folks playing a role in the search, the less like it will be successful.

Further, the one thing I can say with absolute certainty: It's a waste of money hiring a coach search firm. They offer little and charge a lot.

Last year, I banged a drum for Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who was hired by Pittsburgh to replace Todd Graham.

This year? Here are some guys worth a look, listed merely in the order in which I thought of them:
  • Head coaches: Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky; Gary Anderson, Utah State; Butch Jones, Cincinnati.
  • Coordinators: Kirby Smart, Alabama; Chad Morris, Clemson; Mark Helfrich, Oregon; Justin Wilcox, Washington; Noel Mazzone, UCLA; Todd Monken, Oklahoma State; Brent Venables, Clemson; Manny Diaz, Texas; Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina; Kalani Sitake, Utah; Pep Hamilton, Stanford; Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State.
And, of course, there's always the NFL. Plenty of great coaches there, many of whom have extensive college experience, such as San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, one of the most creative offensive guys out there.





UODucky Tempe, Ariz., writes: Ted, good fellow, have you or Kevin been reading the discussion boards this week on the UW vs. UO articles [and here] ? If so, have you noticed how civil the discussions have been (notwithstanding 55USC's valiant attempts to stir the pot). Further, does such civility, in light of the apparent attempt by the articles to start a throw-down, frustrate our gallant Pac-12 bloggers?

Ted Miller: Kevin and I both have one, two-pronged purpose: To entertain and inform. If your joy comes from trash talking -- us or other readers -- fine. If you enjoy civility, that's great, too.

The important thing is that you are here, saving lives, making the world safe for democracy and ensuring every puppy finds a loving home.

And, really, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!"
What he'd never understood about men in his position, in all the books he'd read and movies he'd seen about them, was clearer to him now: you couldn't keep expecting wholehearted love without, at some point, requiting it. There was no credit to be earned for simply being good.
 
For the past two seasons, the Pac-10 and then Pac-12 have seen Oregon and Stanford ensconced at the top. Also, USC announced it was back last year, and the Trojans now appear all but certain to go all High Noon with the Ducks -- perhaps twice -- to see who will own the conference in 2012.

Those teams are at the top. There really isn't much argument.

But which programs are rising in the Pac-12?

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireWashington is thinking about being an annual Pac-12 title contender again with Steve Sarkisian in charge.
You could make an argument for a number of teams, including all four with new coaches, as well as Utah, which has made a strong, impressive move up in the world from the Mountain West.

But I'll give you two, both from the state of Washington.

Think back to the not so distant past. In 2008, the Huskies and Cougs met in a game I covered because it was so pathetic -- we termed it the Crapple Cup.

After Washington choked away a win in Martin Stadium, it went on to finish 0-12 and dumped Tyrone Willingham. Washington State finished 2-11, its only other victory coming over Portland State, an FCS team.

It's fair to say those were the two worst AQ conference teams in the nation just four seasons ago.

The Huskies immediately began a climb back with the hiring of Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies beat USC in 2009 and finished 5-7. They won a bowl game after the 2010 season. They are back in the top 25 in recruiting.

Things have gone slower in Pullman, which is why Paul Wulff got fired and Mike Leach hired.

The Ducks own both at present. They last lost to Washington State in 2006 and have beaten the hated Huskies eight consecutive years by an average margin of 25 points. While neither looks like a threat to Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division this fall, fans should expect that to change over the next few years.

Sarkisian has enlisted an outstanding staff, hiring defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from some Bay Area school, I can't recall which. In 2013, the Huskies will play in a renovated Husky Stadium, which might end up as the best venue in the conference. Major across-the-board facilities upgrades -- and a few more wins -- should significantly bolster recruiting.

Will the Huskies ever match the dominant days of the Don James years again? Maybe not. But they certainly can compete for conference titles and again be a factor nationally. In fact, things set up pretty nicely for 2013, when QB Keith Price will be a senior and players such as defensive ends Hau'oli Jamora and Josh Shirley, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, safeties Sean Parker and Shaq Thompson and receiver Kasen Williams should be coming into their own.

As for the Cougs, the reason to project a rise is the seeming perfect fit with Leach in Pullman. As Texas Tech was to the Big 12, so is Washington State in the Pac-12. Only the Cougars have a better track record of winning -- see 30 wins and three consecutive top-10 rankings from 2001-2003. And the talent Wulff left behind is better than many think.

Further, Leach knows how to evaluate talent and recruit for a school like Washington State. Facilities upgrades orchestrated by AD Bill Moos also will help that cause.

Oregon, as long as Chip Kelly is around, is not going to go away. And Stanford also seems established under David Shaw. But the Huskies and Cougars won't make things easy in coming years.

They certainly aren't headed back to the Crapple Cup.

Pac-12 lunch links: Poyer in bar incident

May, 23, 2012
5/23/12
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The Party is not interested in the overt act; the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them.

Pac-12 lunch links: League in the money

May, 21, 2012
5/21/12
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It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here
What better time than now.

WSU's Lintz: From Russia with hope

April, 19, 2012
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Sometimes football players come from unexpected places.

Washington State's Andrei Lintz grew up frolicking outside his mom's office: The Catherine Palace, the Rococo summer residence of the tsars just outside of St. Petersburg -- yes, the Russian one, not the one in Florida.

"I remember walking around there. That was my place to hang out," Lintz said. "It was a cool backyard compared to Pullman, where you've got hills and five minutes out of town and you're in the middle of nowhere."

Lintz moved to the U.S. when he was 6. He grew up playing soccer and didn't play football until his freshman year of high school. But he did enough at Meridian High in Bellingham, Wash., to earn a scholarship to Washington State, where he was part of former coach Paul Wulff's first recruiting class.

The next four years weren't much fun. Though the Cougars steadily, if slowly, improved, Wulff was fired last winter after going 9-40 overall and 4-32 in conference play.

"It was heartbreaking from a personal standpoint -- these were the coaches who believed in you, trusted in you," Lintz said. "It is a business and that's the ultimate reality. If you don't win at the Division I level, you're going to get fired."

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Mike Leach
AP Photo/Dean HareTight ends typically don't excel in Washington State coach Mike Leach's system. That could change in 2012.
Then athletic director Bill Moos tapped former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach as Wulff's replacement, which generated plenty of positive buzz in Pullman.

Unless you played tight end, as Lintz did. His initial thought was he might disappear as a fifth-year senior in a spread offense. Heck, Leach didn't even have a tight ends coach.

"I had no idea what was in store for me," Lintz said. "I was pretty worried. I watched [Texas Tech] highlights and they very rarely had a tight end on the field. It was all four-wides and the receivers were small, quick guys."

Ah, but sometimes football players come from unexpected places. Or 6-foot-5, 252-pound tight ends become inside receivers.

Some might see the move as a gimmick. Clearly talented sophomore tight end Aaron Dunn wasn't impressed with his prospects. He quickly transferred after Leach's hire.

But Lintz was a revelation this spring, arguably the Cougs' most consistent receiver. In the final two scrimmages, he caught 12 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Leach's "Air Raid" offense neglect a guy with a tight end's body? Well, last year as the No. 1 tight end, Lintz made just seven catches for 96 yards and one touchdown -- all season.

If you are looking for a breakout player next fall, a guy who could give opposing defenses fits and make them think they are trying to cover the second-coming of former Stanford tight end -- and potential first-round NFL draft pick -- Coby Fleener, look no further than Lintz. He's not as fast as Fleener -- not nearly so -- but he's plenty athletic. And he's capable of playing a jack-of-all-trades role -- receiver, tight end and H-back.

In other words, he's another guy who can help force a defense to do what Leach wants to force it to do: account for the entire field.

But will that be enough to get the Cougs to the postseason for the first time since 2003? Lintz said what has distinguished Leach's first spring, which ends with Saturday's spring game, was a sense of urgency.

"It's almost cutthroat," he said. "It's all go, go, go, now, now, now. We can't be the welcome mat of the Pac-12 anymore."

Lintz likely meant "doormat," but his point is clear. He might hail from Russia, but he's fully aware that the Cougars head into 2012 with an eight-year bowl drought, longest in the Pac-12.

Leach boosts WSU fundraising

February, 29, 2012
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The firing of Paul Wulff at Washington State didn't make many Cougars feel good. Wulff was a former Coug himself, and there was no doubt he fought hard to rebuild a program that was about as low as an AQ team can be in 2008.

Further, there was no question the program had made progress under Wulff. The Cougars went 4-8 and 2-7 in conference play in 2011 after going 5-32 and 2-25 over the previous three seasons. Attendance went up from a dismal 24,532 in 2010 to 28,791 this past fall.

And Wulff, though a stand-up guy, didn't hide his disappointment and disagreement with the decision.

"I believe the innocence of WSU has been lost today," Wulff said during a news conference after his termination.

But Wulff's firing was about more than wins and losses. It was about malaise. Athletic director Bill Moos saw it and felt it among the fanbase and he didn't feel he could continue to be patient and hope that 2012 proved to be a turnaround season, even if there were plenty of reasons to foresee one. Moos, who finally had money to spend due to the new Pac-12 TV contract, believed that making a change was also about creating buzz and energizing his beleaguered fanbase.

And he knew a guy like Mike Leach wouldn't be available for long.

This puts Moos' thinking into dollars and sense (yes, sense): The Cougar Athletic Fund (CAF), the fundraising arm of the athletic department, added nearly 1,200 new members in 2012 while moving the Cougars up the list of donor rankings among Pac-12 schools.
WSU Athletics ended 2011 with 4,084 CAF members (minimum $50 annual donation to the CAF). That number placed the Cougars 10th among Pac-12 schools in number of donors making an annual scholarship gift. Oregon leads the conference with 8,800 donors at the end of 2011. Following February's highly successful Night With Cougar Football events in Spokane, Tri-Cities and Seattle, the CAF sits with more than 5,200 members, which under last year's totals would pass Utah (5,000) for ninth place and be just behind USC, which ended last year with 5,400 total donors.

Here are some further thoughts on this.

And, of course, you probably remember this: In December, the Cougars received $3 million from a booster -- Greg Rankich ’94 of Kirkland, Wash. -- the largest gift to the program in school history.

It's hard to measure how much credit Leach actually deserves for the fundraising boost, but it's fair to say it's not insubstantial.

Four new coaches highlight Pac-12 spring

February, 23, 2012
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Oregon coach Chip Kelly was baffled in a phone interview before the Rose Bowl. How the heck could little-old-him be important to a reporter?

"The big story," he said conspiratorially,"is all these new coaches."

Well, it's the big story now as the Pac-12 turns its attention away from the 2011 season and toward 2012 spring practices. And, of course, Kelly is part of a reason there are four new coaches in the conference. Mike Stoops, Dennis Erickson, Rick Neuheisel and Paul Wulff -- fired at Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State, respectively -- never beat Kelly and, in fact, came within double digits of his Ducks only once (Arizona, with a 44-41 loss in 2009).

But the story isn't just four new coaches. It's four new coaches whom folks have heard of, each of whom is getting a big-boy salary that would fit in among the SEC or Big Ten. Big salaries are the new normal in the Pac-12 after the conference signed a $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Karl Anderson/Icon SMIWashington State went from paying Paul Wulff a $600,000 salary to paying new coach Mike Leach $2,250,000.
So out goes Stoops and his $1,456,000 salary, and in comes Rich Rodriguez and his $1,910,000 paycheck. Out goes Erickson and his $1,503,000 salary, and in comes Todd Graham and his $2 million tab. Out goes Neuheisel and his $1,285,000 salary, and in comes Jim Mora and his $2.4 million annual take. Out goes Wulff and his $600,000 salary, and in comes Mike Leach and his $2,250,000 price tag.

The chief idea is obvious: Pac-12 schools are paying for an upgrade in coaching talent, and there are high expectations for getting their money's worth. And, by the way, there's an added bonus for each hire: Each new coach has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.

  • In 2010, Rodriguez was ingloriously dispatched at Michigan after three tumultuous and unsuccessful years. Athletic director Greg Byrne is betting that Rodriguez is far closer to the highly successful coach he was at West Virginia than the one who got run out of Ann Arbor, and Rodriguez surely wants that impression to be his legacy. It helps that he got his man, Jeff Casteel, to run the Wildcats' defense, which he failed to do at Michigan.
  • Graham took a lot of heat from a pandering, sanctimonious media and a whiny Pittsburgh fan base for how he left the Panthers. "He didn't even say goodbye," they collectively sobbed. "Waaah." Of course, Graham does have an unfortunate habit of describing every job as his "dream job." All that stuff is mostly hogwash, though. What matters is winning, and if Graham does that, the media will all come down en masse to Tempe pretending they didn't trash Graham's character for taking a better job, in a better conference, in a better place to live while making his family happy in the process.
  • Mora was fired in 2009 after only one season with the Seattle Seahawks, and he's bided his time looking for another head-coaching job. Seeing that he was two or three names down UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero's coaching list -- Chris Petersen! Kevin Sumlin! -- some Bruins fans reacted with disappointed smirks to Mora's hiring. Then Mora hired an outstanding staff. Then he reeled in an outstanding recruiting class. Some of those frowns are turning upside down.
  • Leach was fired at Texas Tech in 2009. He's one of the best offensive minds in the nation, and the almost universal reaction is athletic director Bill Moos hit a home run with this big-name hire. The Pirate Captain looks like the perfect match for Pullman and the Cougs, and he'll be plenty motivated to prove his critics wrong and erase the bad ending in Lubbock.

It's fair to say these four hirings have generated positive momentum for these programs, though, of course, to varying degrees. There's a hope among the fan bases that these four can create quick turnarounds.

And that also leads into another major coaching story entering the spring: The Pac-12's most senior coaches, California's Jeff Tedford and Oregon State's Mike Riley, sit on the hottest seats.

Tedford enters his 11th season in Berkeley having followed up his first losing campaign -- 5-7 in 2010 -- with a middling 7-6 finish in 2011. Riley, the man deserving the most credit for making one of the worst programs in college football respectable, enters his 12th year in Corvallis -- two tenures wrapped around an ill-fated stint with the San Diego Chargers -- burdened by consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-9 finish that felt so 1987.

Spring practices for Tedford and Riley will be about setting up turnaround season that give their frustrated fan bases hope -- and keep their athletic directors from issuing dreaded votes of confidence while checking their coaching Rolodexes.

Meanwhile, Kelly and USC's Lane Kiffin, still relative coaching newbies in the conference, enter spring likely trying to tone down the positive hype. Both will begin the 2012 season ranked in the top 10. USC could be preseason No. 1. Both are overwhelming favorites in the North and South Divisions. And their meeting on Nov. 3 in L.A. could have national title implications.

But that's looking ahead.

The big story this spring in the Pac-12 is newness and rebirth. One-third of the conference's teams hope that newness at the top of their programs will create a rebirth in the Pac-12 standings.

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