EWU is better than the Cougars in both lines and at quarterback. Except for Brandon Gibson out on the flanks, they're fairly well matched elsewhere.
But beyond positional matchups, I think EWU as a whole has tougher players. They're big-time scrappers. Paul Wulff recruited those kids and built that team. What he did there is reason to cheer if you're a Cougar fan.
I know what I'm talking about. I've played for the Cougs, done color commentary for the Cougs, followed the Cougs and written about the Cougs for the better part of 30 years. I'm also in my sixth season as the radio color man for EWU. With a front-row view, I watched Wulff run the program at EWU. The man has a plan. He's like a business executive who happens to be in the football industry. He knows what he's doing and what it's going to take to win.
The year's Cougar team is the worst that WSU has fielded in the last three decades I've been associated with the program. I wasn't around in 1969 or '70, when WSU went 1-9 and 1-10, but friends who were on hand for those disasters tell me Jim Sweeney's worst clubs weren't as bad as this team. That pretty much makes this season's Cougs the worst in the 111 years football has been played on the Palouse. And I can say with conviction that the Cougar secondary is one of the worst I've ever seen in the Pac-10.
So where does that leave us? Hoping and praying we can contain a Pac-10 opponent to less than 60 points? Calling 25-point losses moral victories?
I'm finding that this consternation is causing some fans to throw stones at Wulff. My response to these shortsighted folks is pretty straightforward: Knock it off.
There are three primary reasons why the 2008 Cougars are lousy. And Wulff has nothing to do with any of them.
Reason 1: Bill Doba's staff completely let him down on the recruiting front when he, rightfully, was focused on his wife Judy's battle with cancer. Sure, you can say Doba still could have ridden herd on his assistants, but they were big boys and too few of them were burning the midnight oil on the recruiting front. From my viewpoint, more than half the staff was mailing it in on recruiting.
Reason 2: A Rose Bowl berth and three 10-win seasons in a row had WSU thinking it could have success recruiting top tier blue chip athletes. Lots of time, effort and opportunity cost were wasted going after kids they didn't get and honestly had little chance of getting. When you don't get ‘em, you start backfilling. And if your entire staff hasn't been bustin' tail, your backfilling efforts will be a shot in the dark. Doba has actually alluded to this in published reports.
Reason 3: The NCAA's Proposition 48 has been replaced by a more restrictive rule that effectively prevents certain athletes on the academic borderline from attending big-time schools. WSU had great success with Prop 48 kids over the years in people like Chad Eaton, Leon Bender, Brandon Moore and Nian Taylor. These types of players are now instead playing for the EWUs of the world.
The net of it all is this: WSU doesn't have the horses to compete in the Pac-10 right now. My old coach, Jim Walden, always used to say that recruiting is like shaving. If you don't do it everyday, you look like a bum.
Well, I'll tell ya what: WSU is Hobo Central right now because too few of Coach Doba's assistants were getting the job done and Doba wasn't kickin' their rear ends.
Here's an example of what I mean. I'm an assistant football coach at Spokane's Ferris High School, which features one of the premier athletic programs in the state. From 2005 to 2007, you know how many WSU assistants watched a Ferris game in person?
Jared Karstetter is a Cougar freshman today because the Ferris coaching staff hand-delivered tape to Pullman last fall right about now with the suggestion that it be watched immediately. This was a kid living just 75 miles away and making headlines for his exploits in football and basketball. Why did he have to be hand-fed to the staff?
Rest assured, there won't be that kind of let down with Wulff and his staff. They are tireless recruiters and they do a tremendous job of evaluating talent. What they accomplished at Eastern with little budget and modest facilities is reason alone to be optimistic about the future at WSU.
Moreover, Wulff knows first-hand that the outstanding teams in WSU history have, more often than not, been more about hidden gems than big-time blue chippers. Keith Millard, the Lynch brothers, John Husby, Ron Childs, Erik Coleman, Will Derting. The list goes on. Those kinds of players -- high upside with a willingness to be coached up -- are the ones who make WSU go.
To any fans who are directing their ire about this sorry season at Wulff, I'm here to tell you you're way off base. You're so far off base that you're not even in the right area code.
The fact the Cougars don't seem to have any quit in them after this many beat-downs is quite a statement. They may be bad, but they never stop trying. And that's a huge tribute to Wulff.
The right coach and right staff are in place. They need time to build. Fans need to be loyal. Buy tickets, cheer, donate. Hang in there. Because down the road -- not this season and perhaps not even the next -- you'll be very proud that you did.
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. 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.