In the early winter of 2007 there were few dry eyes among the small gathering of people who would bare witness to the press conference announcing the firing of Bill Doba, the "Grandpa" of Washington State University's Athletic Department. Thirteen years prior in 1994, few American moviegoers also had nary a dry eye when leaving their showings of "Forrest Gump." This was an important moment. Of course, you know the story. A country bumpkin becomes a national hero and celebrity, all the while remaining true to himself and who he was.
One scene in particular, stuck with me even from the first time I saw it as a ten year old boy watching on Laser-disc. Gump serendipitously ends up as a football star for the University of Alabama. His prowess on the field gained him the adoration of fans who held up signs saying "Run, Forrest. Run!" When he reached the end-zone, they turned these signs over to say "Stop, Forrest. Stop!" Naturally gifted, Gump was able to succeed, simply by doing the only thing he knows: run. How VERY Hollywood. How VERY awesome. Growing up in Los Angeles, I didn't really have a pro football team (unless you count the money that USC paid it's players); so this seminal moment in my life planted the college football fandom seed which would sprout years later at WSU. It really showed me what a football fan was and is supposed to be like.
Something else happened in 1994. Paul Wulff earned his first paid coaching position at Eastern Washington University. This began his climb to the upper echelon of FCS coaching. He would eventually become head coach and create a perennial contender in EWU. However, it's extremely fitting that these things would happen at the same time. There are many similarities between the two. Not that Wulff is "simple" or a country bumpkin. No, that he most certainly is not. The similarity lies in the story. Many people know his story, but there are those who are unaware of the harsh realities Paul Wulff has faced in his life. As a boy, his mother was supposedly murdered by his father who would years later drink himself to death. As a man, he lost a wife to cancer. Wulff used football as a means to cope, both as a boy and as a man. He might not be the most quirky man, and he will most certainly never win a Mr. Personality contest. What Wulff is, is a survivor.
There you have it, Wulff and Gump. Both survivors. Both seemingly fell into football. Many might say that upon taking his dream job at WSU, Wulff fell in too deep. This statement could not be further from the truth. Sure, a 9-40 record doesn't bode well. It shouldn't. Hence his recent firing. However, Wulff's purpose at WSU was far more important than wins and losses. I liken Wulff's tenure at WSU to the opening of a tightly closed jar. We've all been a part of, or witnessed the opening of this proverbial jar. Someone who struggles to open this tightly closed jar containing something crucial to them (whatever it may be) will try and try again to open it to no avail. Eventually, they will ask someone who is bigger and stronger to open this jar. We've all seen that big, tough person also struggle and struggle again to no avail. Finally, someone comes along and says "Let me try!" and they open that jar with ease. Wulff just couldn't open that jar no matter how hard he tried and how badly he wanted to open it. Wulff couldn't open that jar no matter how badly we wanted him to open it. It's time to give someone else the chance.
When Forrest Gump met Bubba, he learned everything there is to know about the shrimping business. Bubba was the man behind the shrimping magic. Although it would be nice to compare one of our former head coaches to an iconic character, Wulff is more of a Bubba than a Gump. Even though Bubba wasn't around to see it, Bubba/Gump Shrimp was able to suceed and grow to be immensely prosperous. That prosperity would not be possible if Bubba had never been in the picture. Without Bubba, there would be no shrimp. Similarly, I feel that without Wulff having coached at WSU, future success is not possible.
Wulff has handled this situation better than most would if they had just lost their dream job. He is a man of class, and a man of integrity. He has righted the ship, and now it's time for someone else to steer it on the path to buried treasure (insert your Mike Leach reference here). I know he wants nothing more than to see the program he came from succeed. It's clear. Coach Wulff might not be the guy with right the X's and O's, but he was certainly the guy with the right idea. That idea, that attitude, that Cougar spirit that former coach Jim Walden proudly talked about as being an indescribable and infectious passion, is exactly the kind of thing that Wulff has instilled into our football program. That idea is as rare as a man like him, truly making "The Wulff" an endangered species in football.
I am confident that whoever takes over as Head Coach at WSU, will achieve success for which we will all have Paul Wulff to thank. I am confident that much like Forrest Gump, Paul Wulff will succeed simply by doing the only thing he knows: survive. The only thing left for us Cougar fans to do, is hope that we can find the right person with the skills to open that jar containing successful Cougar football. When that jar is opened, there will not be one dry eye on the Palouse.