dinner time conversation

…the problem with Paul Wulff…

Consider this an idle musing – a meaningless dinner time conversation about nothing in particular.  I’m hardly a football fan, certainly not one that cares much about coaches, but I’ve had a hard time not getting caught up in the intrigue of this particular sequence of events.

As a graduate and somewhat proud alumni of WSU, I was thoroughly exited about Paul Wulff becoming the head coach there four years ago.  It wasn’t just that he was a ‘Coug’, too – it was that he was a ‘Coug’ at the same time I was there.  He played on the same offensive line (center) as a friend of mine from high school. His hiring rekindled many memories of the great times I had there, along with pride that someone from my own generation was in charge.

It was amazing to see what he’d accomplished in his time out of school – inspiring to think that as I (still) grapple with simple things like basic hygiene, doing laundry on a regular basis and wonder what I should be doing with my life – this guy had it figured out long ago and nailed down his dream job, even when it meant sifting through layers of elephant shit to have some modicum of success.

I was stunned he was fired.  Even though his record was some godawful looking thing on paper, he was improving!  To understand this, means to understand everything it means to be a true Cougar.  I’ve lived in both worlds; having spent the first two years of college at the University of Washington, living in a fraternity, I had full exposure to what it means to be a ‘Husky’.  I can’t say it ever felt like home for me.  WSU, on the other hand, always felt like it in some strange way.  It’s the home of and for the odd and eccentric, the underdogs.  The people who never give up hope, who walk a different path.

Every decade or so a movie comes along; Rocky, Vision Quest, the Karate Kid, Rudy, the Waterboy…  And suddenly the world sees what it means to be a ‘Cougar’.  It is to defy the odds, to toil in adverse conditions and obscure places with little support from anyone.  For years.  But being a ‘Cougar’ means knowing deep down, eventually, someday, somewhere, somehow, something will transpire and you will sit atop the world.  Even though it’s likely a brief moment and people will question how you got there – you did.  And all of the journey leading up to it leaves you humble enough to appreciate it and be awed by it.

I was even more stunned we got Mike Leach for a coach.  In the past week I’ve gone from never having heard of him, to reading his book and becoming totally intrigued with what a perfect fit he is for all the underdogs of the world.  I’m giddy about what it means now to be a ‘Cougar’…

It’s difficult to explain.  Mike Leach is unconventional and creative.  He’s a successful coach, who has bucked every trend and conventional thought about how to get where he’s gotten, and how to run a football team.  He’s been successful because he’s learned to capitalize on being different, coming at life and coaching from a different perspective and looking at things from a totally different mindset.  He marches to his own drum.

I think the problem, looking back on Paul Wulff’s tenure as coach, is that he is a ‘Cougar’.  He’s one of us.  That alone makes me realize the toxic, almost incestuous nature of it all.  ‘Cougars’, for all the great things we do, I’m convinced are not suited to lead or inspire each other.  We are suited, and have been bred to console each other.  We love each other to a fault, wrap arms around shoulders and slap each other on the rear end and say, ‘Nice try…’  But we don’t yell at each other.  We don’t expect the other to astound us, really, or wow us, and when we see them struggle, but improve, we say, “Excellent! I see where you’re going with this… Keep it up!”…

At Paul Wulff’s final press conference he said he thought that, “WSU had lost it’s innocence”.   Maybe he was right, but maybe it’s time we did.  Even though Mike Leach was brought in to win football games, and will win, there’s something bigger he brings to ‘Cougar-nation’.  Frankly, I don’t care much about wins and losses.  What is appealing is the notion that coming from a different place, doing things differently doesn’t make you an underdog or a misfit anymore.  In fact, maybe it makes you something sort of special, something worthy of great things…



5 thoughts on “…the problem with Paul Wulff…

  1. WSU and TT appear to have identical history’s, feelings, mores. Even in West Texas is seems like we were last at the trough and the bottom of the barrel. However, two coaches make it change. Our legendary Spike Dykes who taught us we could win and then Mike Leach who taught us we can and will win.

    Neither coach fit the norm. Both had a strong sense of right, wrong, and how to play the game. They were coaches, but first they were real people who had the two things the rest of the country could use now…ethics…and honor.


    Posted by JustOldPocketChange | December 10, 2011, 1:40 pm
  2. Hi, I am a Coug as well. C/O 2006. I am also a die hard Coug football fan. I just randomlly stumbled upon your piece today. There’s a lot I like about this. Something I think all Cougs (football fan or not) can appreciate. I also love the painting you did for this. Coug or not I was definitely a fan calling for his firing long before it (finally) came. This painting represents an era in Coug football. It would be a shame if it isn’t being displayed for more to see in person. If you aren’t displaying it I would love for it to adorn my wall! I left my email. Go Cougs!

    Posted by Kenneth | October 3, 2014, 9:20 pm

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