Wulff sets the record straight

WASHINGTON STATE football coach Paul Wulff literally hopped off a plane and hopped on the phone late Wednesday night to conduct a teleconference regarding his role in NCAA rules violations that occurred at Eastern Washington when he coached the Eagles.

Paul Wulff accepted responsibility for many of the violations, which resulted in sanctions against the EWU football program that were announced earlier in the day. However, Wulff was adamant in defending the actions of himself and others at Eastern in many instances.

Wulff said the lack of NCAA compliance assistance available at Eastern during the 2003-07 period factored heavily into some of the rules violations. He also said the types of actions that resulted in the violations had been present under of Dick Zornes and Mike Kramer, whom Wulff assisted at Eastern before serving as head coach from 2000-07.

"I just kind of followed what Mike Kramer had done and Dick Zornes had done, kind of the culture of Eastern Washington," Wulff said from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Wulff added, "It is the coach's responsibility (to know the rules) … I can't deny that, and I'm taking responsibility."

Beau Baldwin, who replaced Wulff as Eastern's coach last season after assisting him from 2003-06, said he has "tremendous respect" for Wulff and certainly does not hold Wulff solely accountable for the rules violations.

"I don't sit here and say, ‘Coach Wulff put us in a bad position,'" Baldwin said. "When you look back on those years, everyone -- everyone -- is to blame one way or the other. I think we've all acknowledged that. The NCAA acknowledged that."

Wulff agreed with statements by Baldwin, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions and Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves that a personnel shortage in the EWU athletic department -- which has since been addressed -- severely hindered the football staff's ability to properly adhere to rules.

At one time, Frank Nelson served as Eastern's NCAA compliance director and faculty athletics representative and also taught classes on campus. The infractions committee said it was "simply not feasible for one individual to hold three such diverse and responsible positions and be able to devote the necessary time and attention to oversee an NCAA Division I compliance program."

"I think anyone who's aware of Eastern Washington University and their history as an athletic program, they would kind of know the financial limitations that it's always had to work under," Wulff said.

"The people that have worked there have done a great job over all the years since they've been a Division I sports program. They've done it with the smallest budget in the (Big Sky) conference year in and year out, and they've done it with everyone in the athletic department wearing not one but two, three, four or five hats."

Wulff said "the biggest problem" he had with the NCAA sanctions on Eastern's football program was the ban on postseason play this year. Chaves and Baldwin said Eastern is strongly considering an appeal on that ruling.

"I think that just went a little far," Wulff said. "Eastern Washington's a little easier to kick around, I guess."

Wulff also objected to a statement in an NCAA news release that said Wulff "did not report various violations to the compliance office once he learned of them."

"I totally disagree … (but) I didn't do it in a timely manner," Wulff said.

Wulff added, "The thing people aren't looking at is we did thousands and thousands of things right with limited resources in that area (compliance). I'm pretty proud of that, to be honest.

"We're not talking recruiting violations. We're not talking the types of violations that are truly competitive (advantage) violations.

"But they're still violations. They're secondary violations, all of them, but when you put them in multiple years, it becomes a major infractions case."

Wulff and Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk expressed confidence Wulff and his staff can avoid NCAA rules violations because the Cougars have a superior compliance staff to that of Eastern Washington.

Steve Robertello, WSU's compliance director, said the Cougar football coaching staff committed two secondary violations during the just-completed recruiting period. One of those happened when a WSU student assistant picked up a recruit at Spokane International Airport and bought him a hamburger on the drive to Pullman. The second was an impermissible mailing to a high school prospect whose birth date had been incorrectly entered into the database, thus marking him a senior when he was only a junior.

"Basically, every university incurs secondary violations every year," Baldwin said. "No university is perfect."

"I think I know as much as any coach out there (regarding NCAA rules) … but if you've seen a rule book, there are so many rules in the book you can't help but break them," Wulff said. "There isn't a coach out there who hasn't broken rules."

Later, Wulff stressed, "I obey the rules I know. I'm not the type of person (who doesn't). Never have been and never will be."

Wulff said he did not know Eastern was violating a rule when non-academic qualifiers engaged in "running hills" and other fitness-related activities separate from the team when the Eagles were practicing.

Wulff said he "didn't have a way to monitor" student and graduate assistant coaches who failed to take enough academic credits to qualify for their positions. Wulff stressed that none of those people were directly involved in coaching in a manner that violated NCAA rules.

Speaking in general terms about some of the rules violations that took place under his watch, Wulff said, "You have to understand, at Eastern Washington, this has gone on for two to three decades. You have to understand this is nothing new.

"Things that slipped through the cracks are things that slipped through the cracks for 15- to 20-plus years. That's just the way it was."

Before returning to WSU to coach his alma mater in December 2007, Wulff had spent his entire 15-year coaching career at Eastern Washington. He attended the NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu on Sunday as a guest of one of his former Eastern players, Tennessee Titans star Michael Roos.

"Eastern Washington is a great institution and a great school," Wulff said. "It's done a lot of great things for a lot of people and will continue to do so."

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