ANY TIME THERE'S an unexpected change in leadership the talk around the water cooler heats up. Conspiracy theories blossom and relationships are psycho-analyzed. Rumors fly and truths are twisted. So it is with Jim Sterk's move to San Diego State. Details of how it came about will surface in time, but at this point it looks like a cut-and-dried situation with just a handful of salient facts.
Those facts, which CF.C compiled in recent days with people in position to know large or small parts of the story, are as follows:
Sterk is competence personified. He's not perfect (see elevation of Bill Doba to head coach as Exhibit A), but he works hard, has big-time character, balances budgets, boosted fundraising, and fired up some true magic with the hiring of Dick Bennett. WSU President Elson Floyd loves competence but he also likes boldness. He's a type-A and Sterk is a type-B. Sterk tends to be more cautious than bold. In short, these two gentlemen have different management styles and personalities. Working together isn't a problem, but the collaboration clearly is a recipe for some conflict.
Floyd has said many time since be came to WSU that he likes Sterk, and word in recent days was that he tried to convince Sterk to stay. Perhaps that's window dressing to satiate Sterk's fans in the Cougar Nation, but we don't think so.
Sterk has stated over the years that a good stint for an AD at any one school is about seven years, after which the natives get tired of you in one way or another. He's been at WSU 10 years. That's a heckuva long run in this business.
Sterk is a true family man and his daughter Amy is a senior at Pullman High. She'll finish up at PHS this spring, meaning her dad – in an industry that makes the San Andreas Fault look rock solid – was able to get the family through the formidable years with complete stability.
Washington State fans, notoriously short-armed when it comes to reaching in their pockets, didn't come through with the numbers needed to get Phase III of Martin Stadium completed in time for the 2011 season. That likely weighed on Sterk like an albatross.
Last fall, Floyd made no secret that he was upset with the performance of the Cougar football team. Sterk stood firmly by Paul Wulff and has remained steadfast in his corner, believing that Wulff's ground-up approach to rebuilding -- similar to what Frank Beamer did at Virginia Tech and what Mack Brown did at North Carolina -- is the right way. For Sterk, this probably illustrated very starkly how different he and his boss think.
There's the background. Or at least enough of it to start painting the picture.
When you put it all together, certain pieces of this puzzle become glaringly apparent: Sterk is 53-years-old, his daughter's done with high school, and he's been in one place for 10 years. Moreover, his boss -- who, remember, isn't the guy who hired him -- has very strong opinions that sometimes don't mesh with his own.
As near as we can tell from talking with a number of folks, that's it. The guess here is that Sterk quietly has been looking to make a move for quite awhile.
The timing was right for Jim Sterk to tackle a new challenge. There's no intrigue. There's no serpentine subplot. It was just time.
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. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. 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.