Don't sell WSU short in search, Cougar fans

JIM STERK TELLS a story about meeting earlier this year with Elson Floyd to talk about filling the Cougars' head coaching job in women's basketball. The short version is this. Floyd asked Sterk who the best coach in America was (i.e. Tennessee's Pat Summitt) and suggested the search start there and then work down. The end result – June Daugherty – was impressive.

Cougar fans can perhaps learn something from that tale as they go about forecasting head coaching candidates in football. And based on the short list of names leaked to the Spokesman-Review over the weekend, it sounds like WSU's decision makers might want a refresher course.

Much of the discussion so far has revolved around a couple of familiar older guys – Mike Price and John L. Smith – and a list of offensive and defensive coordinators with WSU connections of one kind or another. Paul Wulff, the head man at Eastern Washington, and Brady Hoke, the head man at Ball State, are the two exceptions.

While Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel may be unlikely places to start the search, the fact is that WSU and its fans seem to be doing the exact opposite of what Floyd suggested when they hired Daugherty. People are selling WSU short right now.


Rather than talk about the offensive coordinator at Missouri, why not talk about the head coach at Missouri? (And yes, I know Gary Pinkel only has eyes for Washington, but you get the point.)

It's all about the mindset.

It's thinking about Rams assistant Greg Olson and then going up a notch to, say, Rutgers head man Greg Schiano.

Here's another way to frame it: Is WSU targeting the same types of candidates that Bill Moos would be if he were back at Oregon and charged with the same task?

I hope so.

Instead of looking at assistant coaches and solid but not necesssarily inspiring older head coaches, grab a map and put a fence along the Mason-Dixon Line (because, as Jim Walden once said, you're not going to find too many coaches on the opposite side who will move anyplace where the word y 'all isn't spoken).

Now start looking at promising head coaches.

Dan Hawkins is fairly new to Colorado, so he's out. Same for Bronco Mendenhall at BYU. Mike Mangino at Kansas is livin' large. But how about Mike Leach at Texas Tech? Are June Jones at Hawaii or Pat Hill at Fresno State ready for a change? Boise State's Chris Petersen?

You don't know unless you ask.

Who'd have thought Dick Bennett would leave a lifetime in the state of Wisconsin to venture West?

You have to ask and go from there.

Once you've identified, or eliminated, potential candidates from Division I-A, start the same process with Division I-AA – the same division, mind you, that produced two successful Cougar coaches in Dennis Erickson and Mike Price.

To that end, Bobby Hauck at Montana and Wulff, the former WSU lineman who has run the show at Eastern Washington for eight seasons, have been mentioned most often since Bill Doba announced his departure. Hauck, though, doesn't appear to be generating attention inside Bohler Gym.

Wulff, however, is. And he's particularly compelling -– and not just because he's an old Cougar. As Walden has pointed out in a number of interviews over the last week, Wulff has built a perennial Big Sky Conference contender -– seven winning seasons in eight -- out of a small school with very limited resources. Hauck has done well at Montana, but Montana, as Walden points out, is the USC of the Big Sky –- a place where you should be piling up wins. Eastern Washington isn't like that.

Wulff is bright, well-spoken and battle tested. He knows virtually every high school coach in the state of Washington and – and! – he's a native Californian. Talk about credibility down south. He could walk into a prospect's living room and truthfully say how leaving California to go to school in Pullman was the best move he could have made.

There's no resume builder like head coaching experience, no matter how good a defensive or offensive coordinator you may find. Whether it's Division I-A or I-AA, the Cougs need to be thinking experienced head coach first.

That's not to say the Cougars' next coach won't be coming from a coordinator's position. But it seems prudent, to use President Floyd's Pat Summitt analogy, that WSU aim high and see where the shot lands.

Washington State is a major research university playing in the country's premier conference. The Cougars have had four 10-win seasons over the last decade. Media stereotypes aside, Pullman is a great place to live and raise a family.

Bottom line: This is a great job, so no one should sell the school short by limiting the hunt.

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