"If you like the sermon, show it when the collection plate is passed around."
WSU athletic director Bill Moos
The culmination yesterday of what has to be the most strange/fascinating athletic director's search in history left me with one distinct impression from one Mr. Bill Moos.
It's time to get down to business.
After last week's love fest (broadcast for the whole world to see), yesterday's "press conference" had a markedly different tone, one that seemed much more serious. There wasn't the laughter and salesmanship that marked the "forum," and I think that's telling.
While this guy clearly knows how to work a room, he's a competitor at heart. And the competitor in him is ready to start kicking everyone else's butts.
So, what's the order of business for the new AD?Some found it interesting that Moos didn't seem to immediately throw all of his eggs into the Phase III basket. Via Grippi:
"I think it is important," he said. "I’ve got to take a look at if that should be the No. 1 facility priority." When he spearheaded the Autzen Stadium expansion, he said, the school had just led the Pac-10 in attendance in regards to percentage of capacity for five consecutive years. That certainly isn’t the case here. "Whether it’s now or down the road, we need to address the Phase III … but certainly when it’s more of a supply-and-demand issue, it’s easier to get it done."
So where does president Floyd stand? "We’ve had discussions, but not in-depth discussions," Moos said. "I know he’s supported … Phase III and I’m certainly not saying there’s a chance we’re going to scrap it at this point. I just want to get educated (about) it, take a good hard look and go from there."
Hardly a ringing endorsement of the project. But why? To gain insight, I went back to last week's forum to see if I could glean any info from any of his responses. In the process, I stumbled across what I think is, by far, the most overlooked thing he said in that hour. It was his longest single response to any question -- covering nearly three and a half minutes -- and it was the last thing he said.
Someone asked a question about how WSU can get elite athletes to come to Pullman. After noting that they weren't exactly beating down the doors to come to Oregon -- at first -- Moos said:
"What they're looking for -- to their credit -- when they're that good to be recruited in the Pac-10, is, 'What have you got for me that in four or five years will allow me to reach my potential and get me to where I want to go?' And you better have that answer. Because if you don't, the guy down the street will.
"And that comes around to facilities. How are you going to get them stronger, faster, more agile? Where are they going to go to train around the entire year? What have you got in regards to video equipment for them to study their performance? What have you got for locker rooms? The locker room is a sanctuary. The locker room is where the fraternity comes to. ...
"USC can't get all of them. ... But we've got to give him what he needs, what she needs, what the student athlete needs to walk away from here saying, 'I met my potential, athletically, academically, and what a great experience. I love this place -- I want to come back.' And when they come back, let's get them in the pyramid, OK? Let's keep 'em involved."
In short, you better play to the athlete's ego and make it all about them and their development, because that's what they're really interested in. It might seem a little crass, but that's really what it comes down to. No football player heads to a Division I football program thinking it's going to be the end of the line in four or five years; they all think they might play in the NFL someday. If they can win stuff in the process, great ... but it's honestly secondary. Moos implied in not-so-many words during the forum that this is why WSU was never really able to capitalize on those three 10-win seasons. If you want the best players to come to your school, you better be able to show them how you can help them develop into a professional athlete.
Luxury boxes for rich alumni don't do that. Facility infrastructure and support staff do.
In light of those comments, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Phase III wouldn't be at the top of his to-do list. In fact, when you look at his philosophy in growing the Oregon program, he didn't start with the Autzen Stadium expansion -- that one of his later acts with the Ducks. Plus, here we are 15 years after he was hired at Oregon, and they're only now going to open the new basketball arena.
Instead, he built the athletic department this way:
- Invest tremendously in the other athletic department facilities, such as the weight rooms, locker rooms, practice facilities, training tables, etc.
- Use those elite facilities to truly entice elite kids to come to your university, since that's where they spend 98 percent of their time.
- Improve the on-field/court product with those elite kids.
- Through that improvement, increase demand for the product, as well as excitement around the program.
- Expand the stadium and watch revenues skyrocket.
This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Sterk plan: Expand the stadium to increase revenues, use those revenues to improve the infrastructure, then hope those infrastructure improvements result in better product, which then feeds the cycle all over again. Sterk likely believed he had to do it this way, because he never was all that successful at prying much money out of the hands of donors.
And this is where Moos and Sterk diverge.
Moos makes no bones about what it's going to take. A great line from The Coug said it's a good thing his approval rating is so high, because "one of the first things he's going to do is raise taxes," a sentiment echoed in the "collection plate" comment. The only way those facilities are going to get built is through donations, and it's going to take every Coug pitching in to some degree to make this happen. Believe me, Moos is going to come calling for it -- soon.
But this is where the skill of a guy like Moos comes in. An artful fundraiser doesn't just beg you for your money; he makes you feel good about handing it over. Moos clearly gets the importance of that, because he's already talking about making sure donors feel taken care of, something I've heard from some donors didn't always happen under Jim Sterk.
Coug fans have shown that under the right circumstances, they'll give generously. I don't buy this whole "as long as the Cougs are good every once in a while, WSU fans will be happy" stuff. I think we want to be great. I think we just needed a guy who will, for the first time, show us the road map to get there. We might not have a sugar daddy like Uncle Phil, but we do have boulder-sized chip on our shoulder that allows to do some pretty special things occasionally.
Moos wants to build a long-term winner at WSU. I firmly believe that of all the things that he's done in his career, he wants that to be his crowning achievement.
"We built (Montana and Oregon) by design on solid footings and a foundation that would be stable and endure whatever might hit it," he said at the forum last week. "Many programs get there quick and are a house of cards. And in this business you can go from first to worst overnight. ...
"It doesn't come easy. And it's not going to happen easy if I have the chance to come here. We can't do it overnight, but we can start to progress overnight."
The only question left, then, is this: When Moos makes the call, will those of you who were so excited to see him hired answer?