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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

October 10, 2011 at 8:34 PM

Does Stoops firing crank the heat up on Paul Wulff?

Mike Stoops, the Arizona football coach, just got the dreaded pink slip Monday afternoon, fired in the middle of his eighth season with the Wildcats. While it was a miserable skid for Arizona — losses to 10 straight Bowl Championship Series teams dating to last November — the quick trigger by athletic director Greg Byrne comes as a shock.

Stoops did, after all, get his team to three straight bowl games.

It’s not the earliest in-season firing in league history. The conference doesn’t compile such sordid minutiae, but I believe the only one to top Arizona’s move is . . . Arizona. The Wildcats, in 2003, canned John Mackovic (who was a candidate when Washington hired Rick Neuheisel in 1999) after just five games and replaced him with defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who held it together until Arizona named Stoops.

Last year at Colorado, Dan Hawkins was cashiered with three games left and replaced by assistant Brian Cabral. And of course, the last two Washington firings, of Keith Gilbertson (in 2004) and Tyrone Willingham (in 2008) came with three and five games left in their seasons, respectively, but both served out the seasons.

There’s always considerable criticism nationally when coaches get fired mid-season, and this will be no different. But, off the top of my head, I’d say the timing of this one may make it the most provocative in-season dismissal in Pac-12/10/8 history.

The firing of Mackovic was inevitable and preceded by some losses by ghoulish scores. He never made it out of September. The difference was, he had built up no equity at Arizona, whereas Stoops had at least revived the program, won a bowl game solidly over BYU in 2008 and taken the Wildcats to two more (where they performed badly).

So, to the question that brought you to this treatise: Does the example of Arizona make it tougher for Paul Wulff to keep his job at WSU? Surely, Wulff’s detractors will point to Arizona and say, “There’s a school that means business. And we’re keeping a coach who’s 8-34 in four years?”

I would hope that’s not the case. However the Wulff saga plays out, it deserves to play out on its own evidence, unaffected by what happens at another school with different dynamics.

After the Cougars (3-2) lost to UCLA 28-25 Saturday night, I was surprised to see, on a message board, a handful of fans essentially blaming the loss on him, reciting his record at WSU, etc., etc. (Why I’d be surprised at anything on a message board might be a good question to ask right here.) You know how it goes: We lost, ergo, we need to fire the coach. Yeah, you lost, in the third of three straight road games, against a team whose roster is dotted with 4- and 5-star recruits, while you’re playing a backup quarterback. So: Fire the coach.

It’s no doubt judgment year on Wulff, but it’s far too early for rendering decisions. The Cougars are still in the first half of their season, with a lot of testimony still to be given before the verdict can be handed down. Whatever that is, it ought to be made with WSU’s needs in mind, independent of anybody else’s.

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