Back-Row Banter

Paul Wulff is, by all accounts, a very loyal guy.

The oft-criticized WSU head football coach, through three seasons, is working on turning around a program that has sunk to new lows under his watch.

Was it his fault? Not entirely. But on the other hand, he didn’t do enough to help his own cause early on in his tenure.  Click the button to continue reading.

Replacing former OL coach George Yarno (who now works for the Baltimore Ravens) with the dim-witted assistant Harold Etheridge from Eastern was an underrated misstep. So was former DL coach Malik Roberson’s hiring. Players I’ve spoken to weren’t crazy about him. Former graduate assistant and NFL defensive linemen Chad Eaton tried to knock him out in a coaches’ meeting. I can’t imagine he could take Roberson’s read and react-style of playing the defensive line any longer.

Wulff’s allegiance to his former assistants at Eastern Washington might end up costing him. Offensive Coordinator Todd Sturdy is a prime example.

While he deserves credit for handing the keys to the offense to Tuel beginning with USC, Sturdy was nonetheless responsible for two or three losses during the 2010 season. In the world of college athletics, players win games and coaches lose them.

Sturdy’s inability to realize the offense wasn’t suited for a run-first pass-second playcalling scheme cost the team in a 35-21 loss to SMU and it nearly galvanized a riot on the Palouse when the Cougars barely squeaked by Montana State early in the season.

I can remember sitting a few rows back on the 40-yard line begging him (very audibly) to stop running the stretch play to James Montgomery for a 1-yard gain against the Bobcats.

Against UCLA, a lack of creativity from the UCLA 1-yard line with the score tied at 28 late in the game led to a WSU four-and-out which shifted the momentum of a game that appeared very winnable.

I don’t even want to talk about the James Montgomery backwards pass that was intercepted late in the Arizona game as we were driving to cut their lead to a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

How about in the Apple Cup when on fourth and a foot and the score tied at 28, (once again late in the game) Sturdy chose to drop Tuel seven steps back and throw a bomb down the left sideline to Marques Wilson? Never mind that Mitz and Montgomery were averaging five yards a pop against a shellshocked UW defensive line. Is anyone else sensing a pattern here?

To put it nicely, Sturdy has a lot to prove. His progression this year as a playcaller late in games might ultimately decide whether CPW keeps his job.

And Wulff, not necessarily to his discredit, has acted more like a GM then a head coach while in Pullman. During practice, he stands stoically in the middle of Rogers Field watching plays unfold. During half the season, he didn’t wear a headset on the sideline. He recruits vigorously, but clearly, he puts an unbelievable, almost puzzling amount of trust in his assistant coaches. Players I’ve spoken with anonymously have said Chris Ball, Sturdy and Morton are among the most popular, vocal coaches at practice.

If CPW can motivate players before games in the locker room and his assistants are competent, then his coaching style isn’t problematic. The addition of Todd Howard as a defensive line coach will certainly help his cause.

The talent to compete for a bowl berth in 2011 is finally here. However, CPW’s level of success will ultimately be determined by his still unproven coaching staff.