Wulff looks to author familiar success story

THE REACTION TO Paul Wulff being officially hired at Washington State yesterday has been primarily positive. But if there's a complaint being voiced, it's been about hiring a guy from a D-IAA school rather than a bigger name. Yet some success stories from that group, guys who are now the bigger names, were once gutsy hires themselves out of what are now known as Championship Subdivision programs.

Will Wulff follow in their footsteps? The answer to that question will come later but you don't have to look far to find two well established D-IA coaches (now called the Bowl Subdivision) who found success after ascending the ladder in college football.

Mike Price spent eight seasons at Weber State before breaking into the big leagues with Washington State. His winning percentage over that span (46-44) was not as good as is that of Paul Wulff (53-40) and whether you have love or no-love for Price, there are undeniable benefits stability brings to a college football program. Price was at Washington State for 14 years.

Dennis Erickson was not long for Washington State, staying only two seasons before leaving for Miami. More recently, he was the toast of Tempe beat writers this past season for the wins he accumulated at perennially underachieving Arizona State. But Erickson's first big time job was also in Pullman, coming to Washington State from Wyoming.

Outside of the Palouse, there exist other examples of college coaching success and crafted through hiring a name that was heretofore mostly unknown. The most obvious example is Jim Tressel.

Tressel was not a popular hire among the Ohio State faithful before the 2001 season. He had spent the prior 15 years at Youngstown State and Buckeye fans asked, loudly, if he was such a good get, why hadn't some BCS program come along and grabbed him during those 15 seasons.

All Tressel has done in his seven years at OSU is compile a 73-15 record with seven bowl appearances, five BCS games, five 10-or more win seasons, four Big Ten titles and one national championship. Tressel goes after his second OSU national title in next month. And there are others.

Houston Nutt was mostly in the press for all the wrong reasons during the '07 season and when that's the case, memories are short. But over his 10 years in Fayetteville, Arkansas went 75-48. At home, Nutt's Razorbacks were 53-17 in the 10 seasons he coached the team. They will go to their eighth bowl game in 10 years this postseason. In the eight seasons prior to Nutt's arrival, Arkansas went 38-51.

Nutt spent five seasons with Murray State and Boise State (BSU was 1-AA until 1996, Nutt coached one season in Boise in '97) before coming to Arkansas.

Paul Johnson was recently named head coach at Georgia Tech after turning around a Navy team that had gone 1-20 record the previous two years prior to his arrival. Navy has since gone 45–29 and will play in a school-record fifth-straight bowl game this year. Johnson came to Navy after five years at the helm of 1-AA Georgia Southern.

The jury is still ultimately out on Bobby Johnson but he came to downtrodden Vanderbilt from Fuhrman and this season showed signs of finally righting the Commodore ship. Vandy in '07 upset both South Carolina and Ole Miss -- the former ranked No. 6 in the nation at the time -- and came within a point of beating Tennessee and going to their first bowl game since 1982.

The list goes on for head coaches who have made successful moves up the divisional ladder. Wulff says coaching is coaching, no matter how you slice it.

"The bottom line is you're working with 18-23 year old young men and regardless of where you're at, that's the age group. You either have the ability to get up, go to work and out-work your opponent, or you don't. You either have the ability to relay (your) message, or you don't. And it doesn't really matter what level you're at. You either have it in you or you don't," said Wulff on Tuesday in his first press conference as the Washington State head coach.

Head coaching experience matters, said Wulff, and he will draw upon those lessons learned in getting Washington State back to winning seasons and bowl games.

"I will tell you this, if you've ever been a head coach before -- or been the head of anything -- obviously after 2-3 years on the job you're a little bit better than you were when you started, right? I think my eight years as a head coach, and my experiences, will serve me very well," said Wulff.

Cougfan Top Stories