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APPLE CUP 2010: Personal Reflections On The Weekend And Paul Wulff

It's not like I ever really forget how awesome of a place WSU is. But when it takes a couple of years to make the trip back to Pullman, sometimes it sort of smacks you in the face. 

Such was the case for me this weekend, when, as I was tailgating with BigWood before the football game, I turned to my wife and said, "I don't even really care if we lose today! I've had such an awesome time being back in Pullman, nothing could ruin this weekend." Of, course, I was only mostly telling the truth -- I did care if we won, and the handful of beers I had already consumed at that point were talking a bit.

But the sentiment was sincere: Pullman is an amazing place, and it never ceases to amaze me that it still feels like home after all these years. 

Despite the unfortunate outcomes of the two games, I can't even begin to describe what an amazing time I had coming home. I'm not one typically prone to hyperbole, but getting to hang out with so many friends and meet a handful of CougCenter readers while getting to witness two exciting games was more than I could have asked for. BigWood was a gracious host, it turns out B-Lot Tailgater and I have some things in common, Woolybugger is a great guy, and DesMoines is a loud fan! (I think that's everyone I met. If I've forgotten anyone, my apologies.)

Anyway, it was great. I would have liked a win or two, but when I have forgotten the outcomes of the games I will remember the people. So thanks for all that.

If you're interested, here are some brief thoughts from my perspective on the games and the retention of Paul Wulff.


I started off the year proclaiming my belief in Paul Wulff. Then, like many of you, I proceeded to ride an emotional roller coaster for the next three months, ranging from wanting the whole staff fired on the spot after Montana State, to feeling great after Oregon, to wanting them fired again after ASU to feeling great after Oregon State. 

I tried to keep as much of this waffling off the site as possible because I try to project an image of stability and objectivity as much as possible, but deep down I'm a fan just like you. I want to win. I'm not proud of my internal flip-flopping, as I usually pride myself in being levelheaded. But when it feels like there's never going to be any end to the losing, it can be tough.

So there I was, after the game yesterday, wondering if I thought Wulff should get one more year. Of course, there were the ridiculous play calls, as there have been at times this year -- the 4th-and-1 pass with only one viable receiving option, the all-out-blitz with a safety playing corner on UW's best receiver with no safety help, etc. But there was also the resiliency these guys have shown all season, coming back from two-touchdown deficits three different times to tie the game with just 4:20 to go.

After the game, I settled on a sort of cop out, resolving that whatever Bill Moos decided would be fine by me. I could see incredibly compelling arguments for both, and I was mostly glad I wasn't the one in charge.

But then I had a little conversation with my wife this morning. We were talking about Tony Bennett. How he came up isn't important, but I was trying to explain to her why we have such disdain for him -- or, more accurately, his decision to leave. I said that every coach says the sorts of things Bennett said ("I want to build something special here," "Pullman is a great place to live and raise a family," etc.), but that most of the time we assume they're full of crap. We believed Bennett for myriad reasons, and when he left, we felt like he jilted us -- he obviously didn't believe those things.

Wulff says many of the same things. But there's no doubt that he actually believes it. He's a Coug through and through, and if WSU were to offer him a lifetime contract tomorrow, he'd take it without even blinking. This is his dream job, and he wants nothing more than to build and preside over a winner here. All the stuff we love about Pullman? He loves it too.

Which got me thinking: After generations of lamenting about how WSU is a stepping-stone job in all sports, why are we so freaking quick to want to run off a guy who wants to be here?

I understand the results of the last three years have been terrible. But Paul Wulff is a great guy who is one of us, and as such should get every benefit of the doubt. In my mind, the potential payoff from seeing one more year is so much greater than the potential damage that could be done. But even if you think it's a coin flip, Wulff's history with the university should tilt the scales in his favor. 

It's undeniable that the Cougs made huge strides this year. We'll find out next year whether Wulff and his staff truly have the chops to get a talented group of youngsters over the hump, but I think what they've done this year has earned them the right to try.


The Apple Cup

I tend to get a little upset when my teams lose. But I honestly wasn't all that upset about losing to UW -- which was an odd feeling. The Cougs were far from perfect, but in so many ways, they played a hell of a game. To keep getting off the mat time and time again despite the Huskies' best shots shows just how much this team has grown in the last couple of years.

And if there was any question whether Jeff Tuel is a star in the making, those questions should be answered now. Completing better than 70 percent of his passes for nearly 300 yards (which, incidentally, he would have gotten HAD THE STUPID OFFICIAL MADE THE RIGHT CALL ON JARED KARSETTER'S CATCH IN THE FIRST PLACE) and three touchdowns? Simply awesome.

If the Cougs had somehow kicked the game away, I'd feel differently. But I don't feel like that was the case -- I feel like a Washington team that's pretty talented in certain spots and desperate for a bowl appearance made the plays it needed to when it needed to make them. As much as I wish ill will on the Huskies as much as humanly possible, I can't begrudge them that. They basically beat us with three guys. One of them is leaving, thank goodness.

That said, I saw a WSU team that's thisclose to breaking through. The team that was so thoroughly outclassed a year ago battled what was supposed to be a much better UW team down to the wire. It's pretty obvious that WSU has made greater strides this year than UW did, and that's incredibly encouraging.

I think big things are on the horizon for next year. I won't say that it's bowl or bust, because it's really tough to get there -- the Huskies showed that yesterday. But this team is going to make some noise.


Brian and Craig covered the relevant points of this one well, so I'll just leave it at this: There is so much to be encouraged about after that performance.

I understand the frustration with Klay Thompson's seeming disappearance in big games. But I want you to think back to last season's losses to KSU and Gonzaga. In both of those games, the Cougs were simply outmanned. I know they led against the Bulldogs most of the way, but it was pretty clear that the better team took over in the end.

There was no such feeling Friday. Does it suck that they couldn't close the deal? Absolutely. You only get so many chances to make an impression with big wins, and that one was certainly there for the taking.

But rather than lamenting that cling to the fact that we absolutely looked like we belonged on the same floor with the Wildcats. It wasn't a fluke we stayed with them. Heck, it was more of a fluke that we didn't win if you believe that the 39.5 eFG% was more bad luck than KSU defense. We put up an OR% that tied the highest mark of any KSU opponent and the TO% was lower than every KSU opponent not named Duke. 

And the defense! That, without a doubt, is the finest performance of the Ken Bone era. I have a preconceived hatred for zone defenses, but it was effective in every way except defensive rebounding. And when we went man-to-man, we stayed effective. Marcus Capers was amazing on Jacob Pullen, and the pair of Brock Motum and DeAngelo Casto was sort of a fun and mildly effective combination.

I know it's hard to keep perspective, but remember that there are still opportunities to get good wins. The next one comes on Wednesday.