If Paul is let go it will be a gross injustice that illustrates just how far today's trend of instant-gratification-no-time-for-sweat-equity has taken hold. It will be a win for knee-jerkism and a loss for doing what's right. It will be a victory for form over substance.
If three-years-or-out was the benchmark at WSU, then Jim Walden would have been sacked on the doorstep of our great Holiday Bowl team of 1981.
If three-and-out was the benchmark, then Mike Price would have been canned at the precipice of his nine-win Copper Bowl team of 1992.
If three-years-and-out was the benchmark, then Dick and Tony Bennett would have been ridin' the rails at the dawn of the greatest run in Cougar basketball history.
Walden and Price didn't win until their fourth seasons at WSU. And both of those guys inherited way more talent than Paul did, as I have chronicled earlier.
Unless there's a dereliction of duty somewhere along the line, not giving a coach his fourth season is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Think about it for a moment. Paul inherited a house full of dry rot (which I detailed a bit HERE in 2008) and had virtually no time to put together his first recruiting class. What that means is that he has only two legitimate recruiting classes under his belt. Those kids are freshmen, second-year freshmen and true sophomores right now. You're really going to a sack a coach for not winning with a bunch of 19-year-olds? Against the type of competition in the Pac-10?
Give me a break.
Sure, you can point to all the losses of the last three years and say it's terrible. But the reality is this: You can't win without the talent. Neither Bear Bryant or Woody Hayes or Lou Holtz could have won with the situation Paul was handed.
When you objectively look at the facts, and break down the six key parts of a head coach's job description, the case for Paul Wulff is not only persuasive but overwhelming. That's especially so when considering just how deep the hole was that he had to start climbing out from.
So let's look at those six categories and grade Paul's performance:
RECRUITING: You can't truly measure success or failure of a class until well down the road, but the consensus of Wulff's recruiting – from Bill Moos' assessment to Scout.com's and everyone in between – is that Wulff and his staff have done a tremendous job. The last two classes were rated among the top 50 in the nation and the 2011 class is following that path. Given the depths to which the program fell, the recruiting efforts over the last three years is especially impressive. GRADE: A.
ACADEMICS: A lot of factors go into this – recruiting the right kids, having a first-rate academic-support team behind you, which WSU has, and generally ensuring that the student part of "student-athlete" doesn't get lost in the quest for glory on the field. There have been and will continue to be bumps in the road, but given the overall GPA of the team and the number of kids named all-academic, there's a mostly positive story to tell here. GRADE: A-.
DISCIPLINE: This is an umbrella category that encompasses everything from weight training to nutrition to the handling of poor behavior off the field. Wulff has revitalized the weight lifting and nutrition program and his handling of conduct issues has been swift and proportional to the offenses in question. GRADE: A.
STAFFING: I think Paul made a mistake from the get-go in not populating his staff with another assistant or two with BCS-conference experience. The most notable miscue was on the offensive line and the repercussions were severe. To his credit, Paul made a change and brought in Steve Morton, who I truly believe is one of the finest o-line coaches in all of America. GRADE: B-.
COMMUNITY: Here we're talking primarily media relations, booster glad-handing and fundraising. Paul is a low-key guy, much more in the Dennis Erickson and Don James mold than the Mike Price or Jim Walden image. Both styles are just fine, though Cougar Nation clearly has an affinity for the more colorful ones. Paul executes his duties here with thoughtful professionalism. He could probably use a little more media training, and a few more public displays of emotion always do a heart good, but on balance he's solid. GRADE: B+.
ON-FIELD COACHING: Here I'm talking about Xs and Os, practice planning, program building, and the coaching up of kids. For starters, I guarantee you that no staff in the Pac-10 works as hard as Wulff's. They are tireless. The strides the offense and Jeff Tuel have made this season are very encouraging. Special teams play has improved greatly, as well, in no small part due to the fact there are more bona fide Pac-10 athletes in the program now. The porous defense remains a scourge, the win against Oregon State notwithstanding. I like the schemes I'm seeing and the week-to-week game-planning is first-rate. Halftime adjustments are sometimes hit, sometimes miss. As for the spirit I see in the players, these guys are fully of piss and vinegar. GRADE: B.
Add it all up and you have two As, one A-, a B+, B and B-.
That's a guy you're going to gas because he had to rebuild the program from the ground up and didn't do it in three years?
I'm not putting loyalty to one man in front of loyalty to WSU. If Paul doesn't win next season, then fine, go ahead and hand him the pink slip. But I firmly believe pulling the plug now would be a folly on par with not hanging onto Mike Price after the 2002 season or failing to re-sign Babe Hollingbery after World War II. I've watched Paul up-close as a head coach for more than a decade. I'm telling you right here and right now that if he's given the time he deserves, he will turn Washington State into a consistent, long-term winner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.