With the influx of Tech fans following TSO to the Palouse, I figured it might be nice to give a brief introduction to the recent history of the team.
In the broad view, WSU has never been a bastion of winning football, though we've certainly had our moments. Generally, we worked in cycles. We'd struggle for a couple years, but you could often see something special. Whether it was regarding one or two players in particular, or the team as a whole, you'd see something special forming. Then we'd burst onto the national scene with a nationally ranked defense, a Rose Bowl campaign, or just go to the Holiday Bowl and beat the snot out of Texas and Vince Young. In the last 20 years, there are basically three things that have defined Cougar Football.
1) Doing more with less. Taking cast offs and overlooked players and getting the most out of them as individual players, and making a complete product that's more than the sum of its parts.
2) Prolific, progressive offenses.
3) Attacking defenses.
For over a decade, Mike Price was the coach. He left in 2002, and then we started a slow slide.
Bill Doba was the defensive coordinator that took over after Mike Price left for Alabama. While not a sexy hire, most people were comfortable with him at the helm, because he'd been such a big part of the success we'd had in the decade+ he'd been here. We thought he'd understand that WSU had to make a living off of going for those 3* kids that were the "back up plan" for the big boys (real or perceived) in the conference. The undervalued kid that might not be PAC10 ready, but had the tools to develop into someone special. You created the relationship early, and then they've hopefully made a bond when UCLA and ASU and others came calling after their Plan A fell through.
After 3 consecutive 10 win seasons, Doba and his staff moved away from this template. With the added exposure, including the Flag campaign to get College Gameday to Pullman, they started trying to compete with the big dogs for recruits, and while we often came in second for their commitment, second place in recruiting is the first loser. We were left scrambling for players at the end of the recruiting season, and started taking academic and character risks. Washout levels were VERY high... for YEARS. During that time Doba's wife became terminally ill with cancer, and the assistants, rather than stepping up to fill the leadership void, seemed to slack even more with regard to recruiting. When we realized we could no longer even compete for the 4* and 5* players, they didn't go back to performing their due diligence on underrated kids to find Pac10 quality that was being overlooked.
In 2007, Doba was relieved of his duties following a win vs. Washington in the Apple Cup. It was mid December, and WSU had only 3 commits. A few weeks later, Paul Wulff was hired to fix the problems associated with the program and get it back on track.
In the months that followed, word started leaking out about the problems surrounding the program at the end of Doba's tenure like academic issues (numerous flunk outs), drug use, and run ins with the law (more than 20 arrests in a one year period). In addition, it came out that the players weren't eating at training table (to make sure they were getting enough calories) and no one was keeping track of, or demanding accountability for weight room training. WSU was docked 8 scholarships due to substandard APR scores. Attrition was so bad, though, that it never really affected the number of players we had or could recruit.
Going from a permissive coaching staff to one that was hired to herd the team onto the straight and narrow led to issues between the new staff and the team. Numerous players were forced out or quit in the coming year. Others stuck around, but rebelled in other ways. To compound matters, the new staff had been cobbled together mostly from FCS teams, and their coaching abilities just weren't up to Pac10 standards.
2008 and 2009 brought horrible injuries (we had one qb go down with a broken back, and even had to have open tryouts for a qb at one point), and record lows for the team and for fans. During a game against USC (which we'd eventually lose 69-0), Pete Carroll's Trojans took a knee to end the first half, in the red zone rather than make it a 6 possession game.... In the 2009 Apple Cup, we had 13 scholarship athletes available on defense. A walk on receiver was a starting safety for the game. The only bright spots in this dark time were 1) Winning the 2008 Apple Cup made Washington 0-12 for the season; and 2) QB Jeff Tuel showed he had the physical ability to be something special for us.
It wasn't until 2010 that we even looked remotely competitive, but we were still a horrid team. We almost lost to Montana State at home. A miraculous INT by a freshman linebacker who was actually out of position saved Wulff's job that day. By the end of the season, after an upset win against Oregon State and a shootout with Washington, things were finally looking up.
2011 came in with little bit of hope, and for the first time in a long time, some expectations. The fan base was divided on Wulff because of the results of the previous three years (going 5-31 will do that, even before the level of embarrassment associated with how we lost). It really was a "show me" kind of year. Overwhelmingly, most everyone WANTED him to succeed, as he was a former player, and his love for WSU was apparent, but increasingly, we were demanding results.
In the first game of 2011, Jeff Tuel, QB1, went down with a fractured clavicle. The backup, a 5th year senior, played well for the most part, but had limited tools, and didn't play well enough to make up for a porous defense. (Tuel came back for about a game and half, before re-injuring himself and being out for the remainder of the year.) In our winnable games, too often, both sides of the ball came up short. "Special" teams didn't help much either. Nine games in, we were 3-6 without much hope for bowl contention. It had reached the point where CougCenter allowed this to be their post-game wrap up after a loss to California. Then this game happened. And then this. Unfortunately, we came up short vs. Utah, and it turned out, Halliday suffered a lacerated liver, meaning he was out for the Apple Cup. It was during this time that AD Bill Moos went and met TSO, Mike Leach.
There are some pieces here that Leach should be able to put to good use right away. First off, two quality quarterbacks in Sr. Jeff Tuel and RS So. Connor Halliday. Then WRs, Jr. Marquess Wilson, RS So. Bobby Ratliff, RS So. Kristoff Williams and RB RS So. Ricky Galvin. The Oline came together fairly well last year, until the last couple of games when injuries caught up to the unit. There's a decent group returning, but there isn't much depth. On defense, the linebackers are solid, though replacing Sr. leader Alex Hoffman-Ellis will be interesting, but the D line and secondary are thin. Our safeties do well in run support, but just haven't shown "it" in coverage.
Since this is already very TL; DR, I'll stop there.