UP CLOSE: 10 questions for Paul Wulff

WITH SEATTLE TRAFFIC and downtown holiday season parking compressing the window for Cougfan.com's one-on-one interview last week with new Washington State football coach Paul Wulff, there was no time to warm up with generic questions. Only the good stuff. And Wulff tackled it all succinctly and confidently -- especially the highly sobering first question.

Wulff did a whirlwind blitz of Seattle media Thursday before heading over to Key Arena where he glad-handed the faithful prior to the Cougar-Citadel basketball game and drew a standing ovation when he addressed them all from center court during halftime.

Face-to-face, the 40-year-old former offensive lineman answers questions with an earnestness and freshness that suggests he could field them all day long. He is precise and thorough, and not inclined toward chit-chat or anecdote-telling.

In a little over 20 minutes, here's what the 31st head football coach in WSU history had to say …

CF.C: In the last 10 years, WSU has had just three winning seasons. Going back 35 years, WSU has had only 12 winning seasons. That's a record that transcends seven head coaches and numerous athletic directors. It suggests the hurdles are systemic. How are you going to build sustained success when no Cougar coach since Babe Hollingbery has?

Wulff: You must have a philosophy and plan that is consistent and doesn't deviate. That serves as the building block, the foundation of the house. We'll focus on the types of kids we bring in -- quality student-athletes. My belief is that we will win with a blue-collar mentality – tough, hard-nosed kids who compete on the field, compete in the classroom, compete in everything they do. We won't get caught up in the star system (of recruiting). The star system doesn't measure heart or competitive fire. High character and values will allow us to build a program that Cougars are proud of, that takes WSU to bowl games consistently.

CF.C: In the press conference where you were introduced, you talked about making a change in the culture of the football program. What, specifically, did you mean?

Wulff: We want to make sure all components of the football program are on the same page. It's about discipline in everything you do, not just on the field but in the weight room, the training room and the academic support center. Our coaches will spend quality time with players in those areas of the program. There needs to be total communication throughout the program, between players and coaches and between the different aspects of the program. That's critical. We want a family atmosphere where parents want their kids to come, where they know their sons will become better people – mature, accountable, responsible. They will leave WSU as better people and better citizens, prepared to go out into society. We really believe that as players grow and mature, our football team will too and that will produce better results (on the field).

CF.C: Another topic you touched on the day you were appointed was walk-on players. You said you wanted WSU to have the best walk-on program in the West. How do you go about making that happen?

Wulff: It's giving an opportunity to young men, whether on scholarship or not, to play. I truly believe there are kids all over the place who can become great Pac-10 players – kids who mature late or just get overlooked. We're going to have an open door policy and reward scholarships quickly if they prove themselves. Our walk ons will be given a fair opportunity to play – they'll be treated no differently that scholarship players. They'll be treated the same, period.

CF.C: How many scholarships do you plan to fill in this recruiting class, and what positions are chief priorities?

Wulff: We have 21 scholarships available and plan to fill them all. The number could vary if some academic issues arise, and then we may over-sign a bit. Defensive line is a priority, we're thin there. We're also thin in the secondary. Running back is an area we'll focus on as well and receiver to a lesser degree depending on Brandon Gibson's decision. And you always want to add offensive linemen and linebackers.

CF.C: How have you been received on the recruiting trail?

Wulff: The reception is good. But with one day for the press conference (announcing his hiring), one day to get organized and then one day to get on the road, we only had three days to talk with kids (before the holiday dead period for recruiting). It's tough to establish a relationship in three days, but I hope they're willing to listen as we move into January.

CF.C: What's your key message to prospects and their parents?

Wulff: We have as quality a group of coaches – who are also quality people -- as there is out there. The message is that you'll be taken care of at Washington State. Time will prove that.

CF.C: Pat Ruel, the one-time WSU assistant who is now at USC, told us during a recent interview that if he were to become a head coach, he'd load up his staff with five excellent recruiters -– rather than the typical two -- and then worry about the Xs and Os. Who all on your staff would you characterize as excellent recruiters?

Wulff: Steve Broussard is top tier in Southern California. And Mike Levenseller in Washington, he has tremendous respect in the state. From my EWU staff, I think they're all outstanding talent evaluators … Being a salesman is important, but not the most important factor. You've got to be an evaluator. Evaluating people, determining who will work for you, and then going to get them – that is what recruiting is about. I feel like all of our guys have that capability.

CF.C: Given depth concerns on the defensive line and what appears to be an abundance of talent at linebacker, will you go with the 4-3 defense you've always run at EWU or stick with the 3-4 defense the Cougars ran this past season?

Wulff: The plan is to have a 4-3 base with the ability to jump into 3-4. That would be the first preference, but with flexibility. We'll get to spring ball and see where we're at -– it's hard now to judge because we haven't been around to see the players on the field.

CF.C: The message boards have had some significant discussion about uniforms and whether you plan to change them?

Wulff: Seriously? Do they want them changed? … I haven't thought about it. But my general philosophy on uniforms is to keep it consistent – have a brand, a trademark. I'm a traditionalist in that way. Stay consistent … I am a fan the old script (on the helmets). I'd like to get us to one logo (script or Cougar head).

CF.C: Some doubters are wondering if your staff is too heavy on Division I-AA coaches and too light on coaches with BCS conference experience. What's your response?

Wulff: The bottom line is people who can lead 18-to-23-year-old men -- coaches who know how to deal with and communicate with players that age. It's about communicating and teaching at that age bracket. We're a diamond-in-the-rough outfit. As players and coaches, we have tremendous upside -- we're going to develop it and let it flourish.

* Wulff said he'd like to fill the final two spots on is coaching staff by Jan. 1 or thereabouts … He said he talked in general terms with Jason Gesser about the former quarterback's coaching future and said there may be an opportunity "somewhere down the road" for him to return to WSU in some capacity … Wulff said he'd like to see offensive lineman Andy Roof back in crimson after being suspended last season for a series of legal and personal woes ... Wulff is the third California native to lead the Cougar football team, joining the legendary Hollingbery (1926-42) and passing guru Jim Sutherland (1956-63) ... Wulff is the first former Cougar player to coach the team since Phil Sarboe (1945-49).

Cougfan Top Stories