STERK: We should be contending for a bowl by 2011

EDITED 2:15 p.m.

Athletics Director Jim Sterk had another one of those Cougar Chats yesterday, and while (as usual for these things) most of the responses were pretty vanilla, he did answer the inevitable question about the status of the football program:

Our staff, coaches, and players are all concerned about the lack of wins over the past two years; however, given the lack of players with longevity in the program, as well as significant injuries, it was not totally unexpected. We set about two years ago building a foundation for future success with the majority of recruits being four to five year players. They young right now, but they are a very talented group. From the looks of the commitments thus far, the February class should be even better.

No shock there; it pretty much repeats what he's said in the past.

This, however, is new:

As far as wins and losses, you could see as early as next year a winning record on the field; however, for sure by the 2011 season. Our expectations are to be in the thick of a bowl run by then.

Finally, some concrete expectations.

I think even the most optimistic Coug fan would have a hard time seeing a winning record next year; for as tough as the Pac-10 has been this season -- and I think one of the big reasons why this team has been so bad is that the top seven teams in this conference are as good as I can remember -- one could make an argument that the Pac-10 will be even better next season. Oregon, Stanford, USC and Arizona are all virtual locks to be as good or better next year than they were this year; Oregon State and Cal will simply reload; UW and UCLA are on the rise. About the only program with enormous question marks, outside of WSU, is Arizona State. This two-year run in football is reminding me of that run in 2006-07 and 2007-08 in Pac-10 basketball; if the Cougs had had better timing, they could have won a Pac-10 championship last year.

However, it makes sense that he would point to 2011. Guys who are freshmen and sophomores now will be juniors and seniors by then, and the conference ought to be cycling down somewhat. There are wins to be had this year in hoops, and there should be in 2011 in football. The cycle is inevitable. To expect that kind of significant improvement by year four seems reasonable to me.

But for those of you who think there's no way Paul Wulff should see 2011? Better wake up to reality.

There's always a risk of reading too much into a chat, but we all know Jim Sterk to be a man of careful words. He's not a blowhard, and he doesn't say anything by accident. So, I think it's reasonable to interpret the underlying subtext of what Sterk is saying as this: Wulff will be around in 2011.

From his words, he's looking at this as a four- or five-year rebuilding job, and the assumption has to be that the only thing that would cause them to change their minds is if they see something next year that leads them to believe that there's no way the team under Wulff will be contending for a bowl in year four. If the youth and injuries made this year's results "somewhat expected," then one has to believe that given the opposite condition next year Sterk will be expecting to see some improvement in terms of wins -- especially when he thinks its plausible that the team could be contending for a winning record as early as next year.

But if you're just totally convinced that Wulff's not the guy and that next year is going to be another disaster, there is still that you'll get your wish:

As with any athletic program, we go through an evaluation of the coach and the program at the end of the season. We do this not only with football but with every sport at WSU. At that time we look at the strengths of the program, as well as the areas where improvement is needed.

Let's hope this year's evaluation includes the CougCenter-endorsed plan of rearranging the assistant coaching staff.

EDIT, 2:15 p.m.: Sterk reiterated his 2011 comment with Howie Stalwick in this piece for Cougfan.com today.

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