As my old coach, Jim Walden, loves to say, it's more about the Jimmys and Joes than Xs and Os. The simple fact is that this program doesn't have a lot of bodies right now.
For the Oregon State game this Saturday, the Cougars will have only 45 players suited up who can play.
Think about that for a minute. Typically you're going to suit up 65-70 as the home team. A road team suits up 60. The Cougs are down to 45 this week against OSU.
The rest are injured or, in the cases of starters Jason Stripling and Toby Turpin, suspended for violating team rules. If you thought the UCLA game was bad, the Beavs will put a whuppin' on the depleted Cougs like you won't believe.
HERE ARE THE FACTS -- and I don't use that word (FACTS) loosely.
Wulff inherited a program in which recruiting, for all intents and purposes, was put on the back burner after Mike Price left. Don't get me wrong now. I love Bill Doba. But cracking the whip on his staff to get their rear ends out the door and on the recruiting trail was not his strong suit. And as much as I know hard-working Robin Pflugrad and Greg Peterson tried to do that as recruiting coordinators (particularly Pflugrad when Dobes was rightfully away caring for his wife Judy), they couldn't for one basic reason: They were peers to fellow assistants, not the head guy.
So here we are with the facts.
• Of the 25 kids signed in WSU's 2005 recruiting class -- kids that would be fifth-year seniors now -- only four remain and only five exhausted their eligibility. That means 16 players never made it to campus or washed out after arriving.
• Of the 25 kids signed in the 2006 class, only seven remain on the team and only three exhausted their eligibility. That means 14 washed out.
• Of the 27 kids signed in the 2007 class, four exhausted their eligibility and 16 remain in the program. That means 10 washed out.
Add up those three classes -- the classes that should be carrying this team right now -- and you have 40 players who aren't here. I'll say it again: 40 PLAYERS who aren't here.
You want to know why the Cougars can't compete in the Pac-10 right now and why the doors are going to get blown off this Saturday and in all likelihood next? Look at those numbers and you'll have a very big part of the answer. That's what Paul Wulff inherited.
NOW LET'S TAKE A look at some other facts. God bless every Cougar who busts his tail to fight, fight, fight for Washington State, but of the players from the old regime who have remained, precious few were of the caliber to compete week in and week out in the Pac-10.
For a barometer of a school's talent level, you need only look at the number of players that are drafted by, or sign free agent contracts with, NFL teams.
From 1980 through 2007, when the last of Mike Price's recruits finished up in Pullman, WSU sent an average of six players to the NFL each year. That's not even close to what a USC or Ohio State produces but it's solid, and some years we even sent double-digit numbers to the NFL.
Last year, only two Cougs were deemed worthy of an NFL tryout, and from this year's seniors only Kenny Alfred will get a shot.
So in Wulff's first two seasons, he inherited three players good enough to attract a shot at the NFL -- THREE.
For a Pac-10 school, that's nothing less than breathtakingly pathetic. Compare that to Doba's first two seasons at the helm. He inherited 15 guys the NFL had interest in. That's the same number Price had in his first two seasons as head coach of the Cougs. And Dennis Erickson, in his first two years, inherited 14. Erickson's Aloha Bowl team alone, with Walden's recruits, ended up producing 20 all on it's own when it was all said and done.
I'll tell you right here and how that if Wulff inherited 14 or 15 NFL-types of players, and if he had a full boat to suit up this weekend instead of 45, and if he had 85 or close to it on scholarship this year instead of the 75 they have, the Cougars would be competitive. But they don't and they aren't.
ALL THIS HAND-WRINGING needs to stop. You can't win in the Pac-10 when you have a depleted roster that is mostly made up of youngsters. Moreover, it's not just because of the talent drain that people need to stop whining and start donating. It needs to stop because Wulff is rebuilding this program the right way. He's doing it methodically and painstakingly -- and for the long term.
He's not taking shortcuts by overloading on JC kids, a strategy that maybe gets you a good year or two but also certainly guarantees deep valleys. No, he's targeting prep athletes with the frames, feet and heads to compete in the Pac-10. He's redshirting as many kids as he can to bolster their strength and knowledge of the system. He's revamped a weight and nutrition program that, prior to his arrival, was for some inexplicable reason more suited for the Ivy League. And, pardon the pun, he's weeded out a wide-spread issue that was physically destroying bodies.
WHEN I WAS AT PRACTICE last week, I saw a group of redshirt freshmen – kids that aren't playing this season, but will be next season – who grabbed my attention. Nolan Washington, Sekope Kaufusi, Casey Locker, Jamal Atofau, Darren Markle and others – these young guys are going to be knocking heads in a big way for the Cougs next season. As an old DB myself, I can tell you right now that Washington has the potential to turn into someone we'll STILL be talking about 15 years from now.
By all accounts, the recruiting class that Wulff is lining up right now has the same types of talent – kids with the feet, frames and attitude to turn this program around.
We live in a fast food culture. People want everything right now. That's not the way it always works. Sometimes you need to build from the ground up. Find the kids you want, nurture them, strengthen them and then watch 'em make you proud two or three years down the road. Look no farther than Dick Bennett for an example of that. Or Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. Or Mack Brown when he was at North Carolina State or John Ralston way back in the day at Stanford.
You talk to football people and they will tell you Paul Wulff is rebuilding the program the right way. The lopsided losses are enough to drive us to drink, no question, but it's the price we have to pay to get this thing turned around. You can gnash your teeth, wring your hands and swear all you want, but there are no shortcuts. That's the fact of the matter. And the FACTS on this speak much louder than all the ill-reasoned words I've been hearing from far too many people.
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.