Smilin' Irishman gets Tuel smiling

THE ENDURING POWER of crimson was on display last week in Fresno when two players from Clovis West High gathered with friends and family for a joint letter-of-intent signing party. Jeff Tuel is heading to Washington State and Nate Fellner to Washington. Fellner's grandpa, ex-WSU coach Jim Sweeney, was on hand. And, as only the Smilin' Irishman could, he proceeded to fire up a quote for the ages.

This marked the second-straight signing day that Sweeney had a grandson putting his name on the dotted line. A year ago, Clovis West quarterback Beau Sweeney signed with Cal.

Asked who he was going to root for this season, the Huskies or Golden Bears, when his dueling grandsons face off, Sweeney didn't hesitate


"The Cougars!" yelled the sharp-as-ever 79-year-old.

And then the man whose last season in Pullman was in 1975 looked over at Tuel, and with a grin as wide as the Palouse, said, "Once a Coug, always a Coug."

A year ago, Tuel was the backup at Clovis West behind Beau Sweeney, who was one of the most touted prep QBs in the West in the 2008 recruiting cycle.

This past season, getting his turn at center stage, Tuel didn't disappoint. He led Clovis West to the Central Section championship, racking up 2,379 all-purpose yards and earning All-Valley honors.

SWEENEY CAME TO WSU in 1967 in circumstances similar to current Cougar head man Paul Wulff. Both were highly successful coaches in the Big Sky Conference and both inherited a Cougar program running short on big-time talent.

The Cougar teams of 1969 and '70 won just a single game each. But the foundation was being set for a Top 20 team two years later.

Indeed, the signs began to show in '71. That was the year the Cougars knocked off Rose Bowl juggernaut Stanford in a monumental upset. It was the the first time Wazzu fans had real hope since the Cardiac Kids of '65.

The next year, Sweeney's Cougars went 7-4 and finished No. 17 in the nation following a dramatic win over Washington.

The two players Sweeney says were the most instrumental in the crimson turnaround? One was the incomparable running back Bernard Jackson. The other, like Tuel, was a quarterback -- Ty Paine -- known for his legs and his arm.


  • Paine started for three years at WSU (1970-71-72) during the era when freshman weren't eligible to play varsity in their first year. Although overshadowed later, Paine still ranks eighth on WSU's career passing yardage list with 4,136 hashes.

  • After WSU, Sweeney spent 21 seasons at Fresno State, where he piled up 143 wins.

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