COMMENTARY: Wulff, players have had enough

ON TUESDAY, for the sixth time since spring, Paul Wulff effectively booted a player who would have started or played significantly for the Cougars this season. Wulff has had to clean house since he arrived in Pullman, but this latest incident around receiver Kevin Norrell is different.

The team's unity council, which makes recommendations to Wulff on bad actors, didn't waste any time passing judgment. And Wulff spent just hours, not days, deciding ultimately what to do.

Norrell, one of the Cougs' top skill players, has been dismissed from the team for the entire season. His removal comes on the heels of Chris Ivory, Romeo Pellum, Devin Giles, Kevin Frank and Michael Willis -- all guys who could have helped on the field this season -- departing Pullman.


When a coach puts principle above playing time -- especially when wins are hard to come by -- it speaks well to the long-term future of the program. A culture is continuing to be formed at Washington State, a foundation has been poured.

And it's clear from Tuesday's developments that Wulff has had quite enough of those who aren't going to play ball the Cougar Way. Between the end of Tuesday's practice, when Wulff said Norrell was indefinitely suspended following his arrest for criminal trespass and other charges, and the coach's radio show that evening, all of about two hours had passed.

In those two hours, he received the unity council's recommendation and acted. Quick, clean and over with. Period.

Norrell was no longer suspended, he was dismissed. There's a difference. He will not practice with the team this year nor take part in any team related activities for the remainder of the season.

Clearly, this had been bubbling below the surface for a while.

A PRELIMINARY CHECK shows 18 players have departed under Wulff since he arrived nearly two years ago. Some of that was the usual turnover all programs see -- academics, in search of more playing time, etc. But for a number of the departed, it was for violations of team rules. And leaving wasn't their idea, despite some public protestations made to the contrary.

One of the senior Cougar leaders not long ago this offseason voiced a sentiment to the team, shared by many, that he'd had enough. No more foolish mistakes that cast a poor light on yourself, your teammates or the program. Do so, and suffer the consequences.

The player leadership felt the same, so did the vast majority of the Cougar players. It's part of the mindset Wulff and his staff have been shouting from the mountaintop ever since they arrived on campus.

Norrell chose instead, coming off a bout with the flu that precluded him participating in Saturday's game, to head out and put himself in a situation where he could find himself in trouble -- which he did at around 3:16 a.m. on Sunday morning according to the police report.

It doesn't matter if some of what he's charged with doesn't hold up -- word on the street is that he wasn't driving under the influence, as has been charged by the Pullman police.

But he was doing something at 3 a.m. and it was something other than what he should have been doing -- sleeping. And that was unacceptable to the player unity council and coaching staff.

EVEN WITH THE unity council earlier laying down the law, even with the egregious nature of being unable to play against Stanford but able to, about 10 hours later, be out in the wee hours of the morning -- even with all that, if this was the first time Norrell had run askance of proper behavior, there's no way he loses the entire season.

Norrell has been in Pullman more than a year now, and he's his own man. And he has a choice to make now.

He can grow up, stick his nose in the books, earn back the trust of his teammates and coaches and go on to greater heights. Or he can play the victim, put on the martyr's hat and leave, loudly beating a path out of town, as some former Cougars have under Wulff after their actions lost them the privilege of playing for and at Washington State.

If it's the former, no one will root for him harder than me, most everyone needs a second chance at some point in their life and this could be, when he looks back, the major positive turning point in his life. If it's the latter, that's a shame. Not for Wazzu. For Kevin Norrell.

And let's not be foolish here -- high numbers of college student-athlete football players getting into trouble is nothing new. Not in Pullman and not elsewhere. There have been a high number of arrests/incidents at other Pac-10 schools this past decade that have never seen the light of day and oftentimes, they came during a very successful year on the field.

NORRELL HAS BEEN blessed with tremendous athletic gifts -- more so than many of his teammates. He has the potential to be a great, great player in the Pac-10.

But all of that promise, all of that potential, it doesn't mean jack if he acts in a manner detrimental, and if he doesn't work at his student-athlete craft -- on and off the field. It isn't complicated.

"No matter who you are, you're taking a risk when you make poor choices," Wulff said on his radio show.

Here's hoping Norrell now makes the right choice, the first of many.

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