In a surprise on a weekend of surprises, Bill Moos has been hired as Nebraska's new athletic director, some three weeks after the Huskers fired Shawn Eichorst. The move comes as a stunner, with nobody at Washington State aware it was coming — fans, administrators and those around the program alike. The move was announced on Sunday morning.
You probably have questions. Let's try and answer those.
What happens now at Washington State?
The assumed succession plan has always involved Mike Marlow, Moos’ right-hand in the operation. I would take a guess that Marlow will be tagged as interim quickly, though that doesn't mean he's the permanent choice. Marlow knows the athletic department, the people, and how it runs. To keep things moving smoothly in the short-term, that's probably your best answer.
But after that?
That's the unknown. It's likely that Washington State president Kirk Schulz will want to undertake a search for a new athletic director, looking internally and externally. Again, pretty standard when having to find a replacement — and it's likely he has his own names to take a look at. It's a pretty safe assumption this plays out like any other coach or AD search.
What about Mike Leach?
And that's the question on everyone's mind, so let's get to it. We know that relationships with administrators are high on Leach's list when working at a school. It was a problem at Texas Tech, and we've seen he still isn't happy about how his relationship with the school and its top-level leadership went down.
Moos was an advocate for Leach, earning his trust when he took a trip to Key West in secret to lure him to Pullman. Both of the people key in his hiring are now gone. His relationship with Moos is no secret, and if you're wondering about where this leaves Leach, this should worry you.
That doesn't mean Moos will take Leach with him to Nebraska either — it's assumed that the Huskers, who have struggled, will be embarking on a coaching search soon. But the hire Washington State makes next, and how it sits with Leach, will have a big impact on the future of the football program.
What kind of teams did Moos leave behind?
He left a football program in way, way better shape, first of all. There's a coach in Leach that has given the team an identity, recruiting talent to the system, and putting together success on the field that hadn't been seen in a decade. The football program also benefitted the most from the financial windfall from the Pac-12 television contracts: The stadium has been greatly expanded, and the football facility is brand new.
The Cougars have found some success in some of the non-football sports (volleyball, soccer, rowing); however, the men’s basketball team has been a struggle, and is burdened with a large coaching contract that could be a problem down the line.
What about marketing?
This is where Washington State has excelled over the last five years. Moos knows the school and the landscape, and the athletic department has done a much better job marketing the program to the public at large.
The Wave the Flag campaign has been great. It took something Washington State fans were already doing and threw gas on it by putting the weight of the athletic department behind it. That gets the logo and brand in front of more eyes in a simple, easy to understand way. A lot more people know what Washington State is as a result. it also didn't hurt that the Cougs started winning.
... and the money side?
Right ... so this is the one we need to talk about in a fairly frank way. Moos was known for what happened at Oregon during his tenure. Phil Knight was lured into the fold and Oregon saw a facilities boom that was a big part of the college facilities arms race. Knight bankrolled a ton of improvements across the board, and Oregon hit the next level because of it.
That type of donor didn't (and likely doesn't) exist at Washington State. So the athletic department went about a pretty standard fundraising practice: The school cast a wide net, trying to hook entry level donors for small-dollar amounts in large quantities. They did this and has a large donor list because of it.
But things have stalled since. Fans' complaints about how they're handled as donors have come en masse. Fundraising efforts have stalled, largely, at that first level — the way it's supposed to work is you hook a large pool, then start stepping that pool up the ladder to higher dollar amounts. Washington State has been stuck in neutral.
But what about the facilities?
Before I moved away from Pullman (about five years ago), there was quite a bit of behind-the-scenes handwringing about the capital improvements and money being spent. Washington State was basically bankrolling off expected future earnings by taking out a bunch of debt in the form of bonds. That's fine and normal, but the amount of debt — between the stadium improvements, new football ops facility and more — was rising to what was felt to be a dangerous level.
In short, the improvements were paid for by debt and television contracts, more so than sustainable fundraising. It was a different way than things were done at Oregon, and a way that could mean short-term happiness as a trade-off for long-term pain. This is more true if the Pac-12 contracts and television network don't hit projections, which ... you see where this is going.
Is Washington State in a better place?
Yes, of course, especially on the football field. Leach has been winning; the facilities upgrades are done; and fans are excited about the football program. Things are better than they were five and 10 years ago. There are issues, but on a whole it's a better program and better place now than it was.
So who gets the job?
No clue at this point. But it's probably a good idea to find someone Leach can get along with if he's your long-term answer as football coach. Otherwise, it wouldn't be shocking to see him seek out open positions and look for comfortable situations. It's likely he'll do this for leverage now, anyway.
Should I be scared?
I mean, maybe? You're a Washington State fan. That's the mode.