“I leave with a heavy heart.” An emotional Paul Wulff used that term twice during his press conference Tuesday afternoon, only four hours after being notified by Athletic Director Bill Moos that he would not be retained as head coach at Washington State University.
“The great thing about Washington State University and being a Coug is that we don’t do it like everyone else,” Wulff said. “We stick together, and we don’t eat our own. I believe the innocence of Wazzu has been lost today. I leave with a heavy heart, but I’m excited to see the fruits of our labor ripen over the next few years.”
Wulff, who finished his fourth season at WSU with a record of 9-40, was rumored to have been dismissed from his position following the 38-21 defeat to the University of Washington in Saturday’s Apple Cup. Earlier on Tuesday during his press conference, Moos said his decision was not made before the Apple Cup, but said that the lack of excitement and game attendance played a major role in his decision.
“I think winning football games generates fans,” Wulff said. “There’s a process leading to winning football games, that’s how I feel about it.”
Following last season’s 2-10 finish, Wulff was under even more scrutiny at the end of this season after going 4-8. The team had hopes of reaching its first bowl game since 2003 this year, but after the 30-27 overtime defeat at home to Utah, those dreams were put to sleep.
Wulff noted that he feels the team’s is moving in the right direction, and had they been able to stay consistently healthy, 2011 could have ended in a different manner for his staff and players.
“We have a heck of a program, and we were an injury or two away from being in a bowl game this year, which to me would have been an incredible feat to me based on how far we’ve come in such a short time,” Wulff said.
Moos and Wulff met Sunday evening for 90 minutes and following their discussions, Wulff said he thought there might have been a chance he would be let go. Monday afternoon, Moos had stated he was in Wulff’s corner, and when the decision was announced this morning, Wulff said he was shocked.
“I got the feeling that there was a chance this was going to happen,” Wulff said. “We just reviewed a lot of things and he asked me a lot of questions about where we were at with recruiting and our talent level at certain positions and what we needed to do to move forward.”
Throughout his press conference, Wulff said he had no regrets during his four-year tenure at WSU.
“I would never not have taken this position,” Wulff said. “There’s no question I came here to rebuild a Cougar football program, and there’s no question I know how it needs to be done. I wish things could have gone differently from the day I got here all the way through in this process. There were some things that were out of my control that could have been different.
“I love this place,” Wulff added. “Every decision I made was for growing the football program, they weren’t business decisions. They weren’t for self gain or self promotion, but they were for building the Cougar football program so we could have something that will last a long time.”
At press time, Wulff said he had not yet met with his players to talk about his firing. Through social media outlets including Facebook and Twitter, several players sent their positive messages toward Wulff in thanking him for his hard work in trying to turn the corner of Cougar football. Wulff said he would tell his players to continue to fight and practice the lessons he taught them as they move forward in the future.
“We’re going to have a discussion on where we’re all at and the importance of them moving forward and keeping the course,” Wulff said. “They need to stay true to their values and the discipline they’ve developed and their work ethic they’ve developed. My message won’t change and they’re close to it.”
The Cougars had only a few senior starters on their roster, and the talent level returning in 2012 has sparked conversation about WSU reaching new heights. The team will return seven of 11 offensive starters from the Apple Cup, and this number does not include potential starting quarterbacks Jeff Tuel or Connor Halliday. Meanwhile on defense, eight of 11 starters are slated to return.
Wulff said he hopes people can recognize the hard work and determination his staff put in place when they reflect on what’s to come from Pullman over the next few years.
“Hopefully when people look back and know the ins and outs of what happened in the four years we were here and what we started with and what we’ve changed, and they look back and see all the wins we’re going to have in the next couple of years, they’re going to say those kids were coached and groomed by the coaching staff that was in place,” Wulff said.