A Long “Short List” For Washington State
By Paul Myerberg // Nov 30, 2011
Say hello to Bill Moos, pitchman. As Washington State’s one-man search committee, Moos, the school’s athletic director, spent the latter half of yesterday’s press conference announcing Paul Wulff’s dismissal outlining his plan for making the Cougars relevant. It’ll take money, said Moos, and he’s ready to cut the check. There’ll be big names bandied about, including two Moos mentioned specifically. The next coach will be walking into a great situation, both in terms of the team’s current roster and the renovation projects currently taking place surrounding the program. And there’s “a short list,” according to Moos, meaning the program may be one of the first in the F.B.S. to fill an open vacancy.
The money quote from yesterday’s press conference: “We’ve either got to run with the big dogs, or admit that we’re a doormat. We can’t wait and embrace mediocrity.” There’s your coaching search in a nutshell; Moos, in that quote, underlines Washington State’s search for a coach capable of returning the program to the Rose Bowl conversation.
It won’t be easy. But it will be easier than such an endeavor would have been in 2008, when Paul Wulff replaced Bill Doba — and promptly lost 40 of 49 games, it should be added. There’s enough talent on this roster to win in 2012, should the program hire the right coach. And who might that coach be? Here are a few names to consider:
Mike Leach, unaffiliated Leach was one of two coaches mentioned by name at yesterday’s announcement. “I know Mike Leach,” said Moos. “Pretty good record. I read his book.” Bruce Feldman was not mentioned by name, unfortunately. Leach has it all: a hunger to return to the sidelines, the sort of star power that would fill Washington State’s coffers, a “pretty good record” and the sort of offense that would translate wonderfully to the Pac-12. Leach wants to coach. Washington State needs a coach of his caliber. If Moos and W.S.U. can cut the check, there’s little doubt that the program should do whatever it takes to convince Leach to take this job. Washington State becomes relevant nationally the second he signs on the dotted line.
Kevin Sumlin, Houston The second coach Moos referenced in his press conference, Sumlin is currently more worried about Southern Mississippi than any potential B.C.S. conference job offers headed his way in December. Ironically, the Cougars had a shot at Sumlin back in 2008: he was a finalist for the job that eventually went to Wulff. While Leach might be the top option, this program, as it currently stands, could do a whole lot worse than Sumlin. That’s quite the understatement.
Mike Bellotti, unaffiliated A great fit for any Pac-12 program, whether it be with the Cougars, U.C.L.A. or Arizona State. But Moos gave the impression yesterday that Bellotti wasn’t interested in making a return to the sidelines; whether he meant with the Cougars or at all is unclear.
Robb Akey, Idaho He might be too much like Wulff to be taken seriously: Akey has done a fairly good job reversing Idaho’s fortunes, but the program seems intent on hiring a coach with major coaching credentials. Not to disparage Akey or Idaho, but there’s a difference between crashing the party at Texas Tech or Houston and leading the Vandals to bowl play, as impressive as that was. Why Akey should be taken seriously, however, is because of his ties to the program: he was an assistant under Mike Price and Doba from 1999-2006.
Dennis Erickson, unaffiliated I have a feeling that five years ago, Erickson would have been Washington State’s pick — and this despite Erickson’s assertion, back in 1987, that he wanted to end his career in Pullman. So much for that. Now, days after being relieved of his duties at Arizona State, it’s clear that Erickson’s nomadic coaching career has reached its end. But he remains an intriguing candidate, if only for his history of one-year turnarounds.
Rocky Long, San Diego State This would be a clear upgrade for Long, even if his Aztecs beat the Cougars by 18 points in September. After nearly a dozen years as a head coach on the non-B.C.S. conference level, would Long be enticed by the opportunity to try his hand in the Pac-12? And would Washington State reciprocate any interest? I would not put Long among the top tier of potential replacements, but he could be a fine fallback option should the Cougars swing and miss at a home run.
June Jones, S.M.U. If only for this reason, I’m including Jones because I’m still confused as to why Jones wasn’t a more serious candidate back in 2008. A proven winner under extremely adverse circumstances, Jones might actually embrace the chance to inherit a somewhat enviable situation for a change. Things have changed in Pullman since 2008.
Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech Call Dykes the next-best thing to Leach — if you’re in an Air Raid sort of mood, at least. Dykes has led Louisiana Tech to the WAC crown in his second season in Ruston, outplaying soon-to-be Mountain West-bound rivals Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii en route to an 8-4 regular season. While also a bit of a coaching vagabond, Dykes has Pac-12 experience thanks to his time spent as Mike Stoops’ offensive coordinator at Arizona.
Nick Holt, Washington Two factors against Holt: one, some might say he quit on Idaho in 2005 after two unsatisfying seasons as the Vandals’ head coach; and two, he currently is the defensive coordinator at Washington State’s Apple Cup rival. It’ll be hard to overcome those two factors. But Holt is still a relatively interesting candidate. He’s an accomplished assistant, both at U.S.C. and the Huskies. He has strong ties to the Pacific Northwest, the Palouse region in particular. And he’s known as a solid recruiter, which would help the Cougars immensely.
Houston Nutt, unaffiliated This is a joke.
Chris Petersen, Boise State So is this. Petersen isn’t going anywhere: not Washington State, not U.C.L.A., not North Carolina, not anywhere. With all due respect, Washington State doesn’t have enough draw to wrestle Petersen out of Boise. The Cougars should aim their sights just a tad lower. I’d say that 116 programs in college football would trade up for Petersen; the Cougars should get in line.
Dave Christensen, Wyoming An under-the-radar candidate with a very strong background. Christensen played at Washington, began his coaching career in the state and took his first major college job as a graduate assistant under Don James from 1988-89. He then spent two seasons at Idaho State before enlisting with Gary Pinkel at Toledo; after nine years with the Rockets, Christensen spent another eight years as Pinkel’s offensive coordinator at Missouri. Since taking over at Wyoming three years ago, Christensen has led the Cowboys to a bowl win, taken a step back and, in 2011, has the Cowboys back in bowl play. Not a flashy hire, perhaps, but I really like Christensen — I think he could do very well at Washington State.
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Tags: Bill Moos, Chris Petersen, Dave Christensen, Dennis Erickson, Houston Nutt, June Jones, Kevin Sumlin, Mike Bellotti, Mike Leach, Nick Holt, Paul Wulff, Robb Akey, Rocky Long, Sonny Dykes, Washington State
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