Bill Moos, seen here in his natural habitat (hat tip, as always, to Yaaaardsma). Also, for an excellent recap of the Spokane Night with Cougar football, check out cougdude50's post here.
You would think being a fan would be as simple as just rooting for a team. But it isn't. There are different levels of fandom: casual fans, superfans, face-painting fans, high roller fans, fans living in a trailer in Centralia yelling at their AM radios, drunk fans, angry fans, happy fans -- there's a whole variety. We all assign different levels of meaning to the sports we love, depending on just how much we want to be consumed by them. Sports transcend politics, nationality, gender, and so on, because we all get enjoyment out of it for our own reasons. And we all express that joy in different ways.
That's why it's fun to travel across the whole spectrum of fandom. It's fun to sit in the cheap seats sometimes, because hey, they're cheap, and you're at the game. But it's also fun to sit in a luxury box, for completely different reasons: you feel rich, and you have unlimited access to food and soda. It's fun to sit in the front row of the ZZU CRU and jump around, but it's also fun to sit in the middle of the South stands at Martin Stadium and hear old guys with headphones stand up and yell stuff.
That's why I just couldn't resist attending the Night with Cougar Football last Friday at the downtown Seattle Marriott (a shout out to Colin White for making that happen -- thank you). This was my chance to be among the High Rollers in Cougar Football. This would be a gathering of the most passionate - or, failing that - the most wealthy, Coug fans in the Puget Sound area, and a chance to hear Paul Wulff and Bill Moos talk about the future of the program. It was a chance to be wined and dined and treated like a bona fide booster. I could just picture myself starting the slow decline into an overweight SEC-type megabooster, handing an envelope of cash to a recruit's father under a viaduct somewhere (not that that stuff ever happens in college football). But that's getting way ahead of myself. This night was about enjoying the present, and reminding myself that I'll never be wealthy enough to ever be that corrupt.
There were two main things that I took away from the evening.
First, Coug boosters are a rowdier bunch than even I expected. I don't know why I'm shocked... but for some reason I thought standing o's, cheering and revelry were more for the 18-22 year old crowd. I was a little glad to see that it wasn't. The overall mood of the dinner lied somewhere between a black tie dinner and the pregame festivities in the fieldhouse. It was a party atmosphere throughout. There was mild drinking, lots of applause and a good time to be had for everyone.
Paul Wulff spoke first. He ran through highlight reels of some of the marquee players in the recruiting class and lavished superlatives on their performance and their potential. I, for one, didn't mind this. Recruiting has gotten so absurd in some aspects that I think you have to enjoy the finished product: a group of young men playing for your school. From here on out you get to root for them, so you might as well look at the bright side as opposed to wondering what position they will play, or whether they really have the stuff to make it in FBS football. I didn't take notes on account of that notion being completely dorky, but I also don't remember Wulff saying anything too groundbreaking, or at least anything I hadn't heard already on the radio or in his press conference. There's only so many ways you can describe the same players. It was surprising, however, that there was a lot of chatter during his presentation. Paul Wulff had to stop once to quiet down the crowd, which I think is just another indictment of the fact he needs to win this fall to earn the respect of the Cougar nation. Unfortunately, I was at an angle to the stage that made it hard to see the true glory of Paul Wulff Press Conference Face. But I was at Jason Gesser's table, so that made up for it.
As far as my impressions of the class overall... it's hard to put a label on it. It's probably not a national championship class... but it's also probably the best class a coach could possibly reel in after a 2-10 season. My question that remains to be answered is whether or not they will fit Wulff's system. Since you're not getting five star guys to come to Pullman under most circumstances, you have to recruit guys that fit your system of play. That's how Mike Price got WSU to two Rose Bowls, and it's the most logical path to getting back. It will take us a good 2-3 years at least to know if this class is a good fit for what WSU hopes to accomplish.
KJR's Jason Puckett was the MC for the evening (along with Ian Furness he's one of the few likable things about the Husky radio flagship) and did a good job transitioning from the speakers to the auction. The auction was conducted by a man from Seattle U, I believe, who accidentally referred to our school's helmets as "Crimson and Gold" but was otherwise adept at talking fast and auctioneering. Which is fun in and of itself. The auction allowed Cougar fans to bid on some big ticket items - Seahawk tickets, Mariner tickets, sideline passes to next year's games, a "KJR experience" (which hopefully involves the opportunity to trip Softy in the hallway) and autographed stuff, among other things. This is one of the many sources of money for our program, and it's a necessary one if the team is to remain competitive in the future.
Now, the other major thing I took away from the evening: Bill Moos understands Washington State University. This isn't news to most of you, but meeting him and hearing him speak just reinforced it that much more for me. I liked Jim Sterk, and thought he did a good job while he was here... but Moos has the potential to take this athletic department to the next level. Any AD can understand the challenges WSU faces: location, lack of money, stiff competition from UW and the Pac-10, etc, etc. But Moos understands the positives - the pride and sense of community Coug fans have, the fact we're in a true college town (as opposed to downtown Seattle), the fact that our fanbase is among the most passionate in college sports, the fact we all love how unique WSU is... Moos knows what we want to hear, where we want to be, and has a vision of how to get us there.
What remains to be seen is whether he can follow through on that vision... but ask most any Coug fan and I think you'll get the same response: that if anyone can do it, Moos can.