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Wulff's last stand?

by Nicholas K. Geranios
| December 3, 2010 8:00 PM

PULLMAN - Washington State coach Paul Wulff is aware that questions about his future with the struggling Cougars are among the subplots surrounding this year's Apple Cup.

Wulff said he is not consumed by the debate.

"My faith is what leads my life," said Wulff, who has gone 5-31 in three seasons at Washington State, with just two Pac-10 wins. "I am content in who I am and what we are doing."

His supporters say the Cougars (2-9, 1-7 Pac-10) are unquestionably better than when he took over a decimated program from Bill Doba in 2008. Critics contend progress is measured in wins.

Athletic director Bill Moos has declined to discuss whether Wulff will be back next year. Moos has said only that progress will be evaluated and a decision made after the season, which ends Saturday when Washington State hosts a Washington Huskies team (5-6, 4-4) that needs just one more win to become bowl eligible.

Wulff believes his efforts to rebuild the program from the ground up have paid off.

"This team is capable of going on next year and being a bowl contender," Wulff said. "I don't know if a team has improved more than us in the Pac-10."

During his first two seasons, the Cougars ranked at or very near the bottom nationally in many offensive and defensive statistical categories.

Washington State has been more competitive this season. The pass attack led by sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel, junior Jared Karstetter and freshman Marquess Wilson

see WULFF, B2

ranks 48th in the nation. The total offense ranks 96th (323 yards per game) among the 120 major college teams. Total defense (457 ypg) continues to sag at 115th.

Moos, who before he became athletic director was part of a panel that recommended hiring Wulff, continues to discuss the future with the coach.

"We talk about continuing to build the program and recruiting and how well it is going," Wulff said. "There are no hidden agendas. We know we are in a major rebuilding mode. We're about out of that part."

It has taken a lot of work to get to this point. Around the time Wulff was hired, the Cougars were hit with the loss of eight scholarships by the NCAA because of academic performance. That has changed as the team placed more players than any other Pac-10 program on the all-academic first team this season.

At cash-strapped Washington State, the issue of firing a coach is complicated by money. Wulff is a former WSU offensive lineman who was very successful as head coach at nearby Eastern Washington. But his hiring was partially dictated by money, as his $600,000 salary was small by Pac-10 standards.

Firing Wulff early would require paying off the final two years of his contract, plus hiring the sort of big-name coach who could draw fans back.

The upcoming expansion of the Pac-10, and a new deal to share television revenues, will add money to WSU's coffers, but the money is not there yet.

Tuel, who was recruited by Wulff, said players do not dwell on the criticism directed at their coach.

"It's not something we worry about," Tuel said. "We are here to play football."

But Tuel said he is awed by Wulff's ability to withstand criticism. "He's fighting it strong and it's impressive," he said.

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