By the time Saturday, October 14th rolled around, the worst of the college football weekend was already over for the Washington State Cougars. Fresh off their shellacking at the hands of the Cal Golden Bears in Berkeley, the Cougs and their fans could at least take solace in a stress free Saturday and Sunday for the first time since Labor Day.
Bill Moos’ departure caught everyone off-guard, even his boss, WSU President Kirk Schulz, who said at a press conference a few days later that he had no idea was coming down the pipe. That’s standard operating procedure when you’re looking for another job to be sure but it still sent shivers down the collective spines of the fanbase. After all, Moos had done a lot of good for his alma mater and the prospect of not having your much loved football coach’s favorite boss around anymore is ... scary.
Plenty of fans directed their ire at Schulz in the minutes, hours and days after Moos’ departure. I wasn’t terribly happy at first either, but later came to the conclusion that maybe this is what was best for everyone involved. Brian Floyd’s piece the following day sums it up excellently; Schulz walked into a situation budget-wise where he wasn’t going to make a lot of friends.
Schulz said at his presser they (meaning he and his search committee of coaches, administrators, and boosters) expected to have the new athletic director hired by February 1st. We all knew, from the outset, that this was going to take a while; we even knew we wouldn’t be hearing much, if anything, about it.
What we all worried about though was the aforementioned football coach deciding the grass was greener somewhere else and bolting with no permanent athletic director in place. Asking John Johnson to make a decision on the head coach of your most important program while he serves in the role temporarily is patently unfair. It’s not his job to do that. It’s his job to hold the fort down until a new person gets on the payroll.
Timing wise then, Moos’ departure was, to be sure, about as unideal as it gets. Mike Leach had lost his greatest champion in the athletic department and there were sure to be openings that looked appealing to him in the offseason. One did, in fact, look plenty appealing but thanks to some hilariously incompetent work on the part of John Currie, Leach is still in Pullman.
All this has contributed to what seems to be an awful lot impatience on the part of some Cougar fans that the permanent hire for athletic director hasn’t been made yet. After all, WSU, by the hair on its chinny-chin-chin, stepped off the coaching carousel riding the same horse they started the ride on.
Here’s the thing though: it’s fine that the search is taking this long and it probably should.
I don’t have to tell you that Washington State University is unique in a lot of ways. The one you and I are most familiar with, at least on the surface, is the athletic department. A ton of money going out and a comparative trickle coming in ranks at the top of a long list of challenges for anyone tasked with running the department. To call it a difficult job would be understating it a bit.
But just from a “job responsibility” perspective, an athletic director is probably the second most important hire you can make at a university in a Power Five conference short of the school’s president or chancellor. They’re the administrator for the university’s most visible department and, as such, you want to make sure whoever you find is just right for the job. Swinging and missing on such an important hire isn’t just as simple as stepping back into the batter’s box, especially at Washington State.
As Brian outlined in his piece, the budget issues with the athletic department were probably more serious than the fanbase really knew prior to the death of Dr. Elson Floyd and Bill Moos’ departure. A ton of money was spent without a way to pay off the proverbial credit card. Now, to be sure, Washington State needed to spend the money to attract a coach like Mike Leach and the excellent recruiting class he has lined up. But the piper is calling and, with over $140 million in debt service on the CFP and FOB, it’s a hefty tab.
With a much smaller check coming from Uncle Larry than we expected, the new athletic director will need to be a dynamic fundraiser. WSU and the Cougar Athletic Fund lags way, way behind in athletics giving in the Pac-12, even behind Oregon State. Job one for whoever is hired is getting WSU fans and alums to hand over their credit cards, eyes closed, in a way they’ve never done before.
It’s no small task. Add in the challenges of marketing Washington State athletics, retaining coaches (which seems to be coming around with extensions for Shulenberger, Greeny, and Phipps) and keeping those sports generally competitive and you can see why it would take a while to find that person.
Most importantly though is that you don’t rush the hire just because you think you’re about to lose your football coach. Imagine it: you’ve now jumped into the pool without looking and the person who has been on the job for maybe a few weeks, barely enough time to put pictures of their family on their desk, will now have to make the most important hire any athletic director makes at a school that’s pinched budget-wise everywhere, not just in athletics.
There will come a day when Mike Leach and Washington State part ways. Whether he takes another job, whether he’s fired, whether he retires, whatever the case may be, the day will come. I don’t know if it’s a year from now or more but one day, Leach will no longer be in Pullman. The person Washington State hires to be his new boss needs to be an ideal fit for that time, not now. Is it important for Leach to get along with the athletic director? Sure. But it’s not the end all, be all of your job requirements.
Schulz told the Seattle Times this week they have excellent candidates for the job lined up and I’m inclined to believe him. This search has, clearly, been very deliberate. Schulz himself has only been on the job a little over 18 months and I’m sure he didn’t want to have to make this hire so early in his tenure either.
Following Dr. Floyd’s passing, it took WSU’s Board of Regents nearly nine months to find his replacement. A wait of roughly a third that time for a hire that’s on the podium of importance at your institution, uneasiness on your football coach’s part be damned, is perfectly acceptable.
The search for a new athletic director at Washington State University is, and always was, going to take some time.
I'm not interested in quick, I'm interested in right. You should be too.