Jeff Tuel’s name may never resonate like a lot of his decorated predecessors at Washington State — Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, Jason Gesser. He didn’t have the wins of any of those guys, nor the arm of a couple of them.
But integrity, there was something he didn’t take a back seat on.
Tuel announced Tuesday he’s going to explore the NFL draft, after the process of petitioning the NCAA for a possible fifth year was taking so long, he didn’t want to risk being left with nothing if the governing body came back and belatedly said no.
Tuel told me that the give-and-take with the NCAA led him to this conclusion: That it might have granted the fifth year (for his truncated junior season in 2011) if he could prove, or at least argue, that he had been rushed back to action by the school, or as he put it, “mistreated” by Paul Wulff’s staff in dealing with the injury.
He said he was unwilling to do that. You can argue that this gives him an “out” if his inclination was to call it a career anyway, given the team’s rocky transition to the Mike Leach regime at WSU, but however you parse it, WSU fans should be grateful for the courage and commitment Tuel showed them in four years.
Go back to the 2008 season, the awful first year of the Wulff regime, when WSU went 2-11 and allowed 60 points or more six times. That team is very likely among the five worst of all-time at the major-college level.
Just before that season, Tuel, as a high school senior, had committed to WSU. He was going to be the foundation of Wulff’s offense. He had to be horrified at the scores he was seeing. Remember, he was under no obligation to follow through with that commitment. All it was, was his word, but his word was good.
Thus he came to WSU, and every year, the offensive line was wretched, which put his body in harm’s way. There was a late-season knee injury as a freshman that kept him out a few games, and when he was a sophomore, a season in which he was sacked 48 times. That’s one every quarter, every game. But he stayed healthy.
Last year could have been the year of fruition, but it wasn’t to be. In a 12-game season, he ended up playing about six quarters, plus one series — but the fact two quarters came past the halfway point of the season cost him a redshirt year. And as a senior in 2012, he played maybe 60-65 percent of the time, sharing the load with Connor Halliday. So over his last two years, he actually saw less than a full season’s time.
How different it all might have been had Tuel not gotten hurt as a junior. The Cougars went 4-8, and Marshall Lobbestael did a really commendable job filling in. I contend with Tuel at quarterback, WSU might have squeezed out two more wins — and if it had, Wulff wouldn’t have been fired.
If nothing else, Tuel fought the good fight. During an August interview, we figured he had done 200-300 interviews while at WSU, so a season later, that number is probably at 300. He had to rally the troops for summer workouts, had to lead a team burdened by the cumulative losses, and he did.
This year, Leach went back and forth between him and Halliday before Halliday’s interceptions ultimately returned the job to Tuel. Of course, it became an increasingly fractious first season for the team under Leach, and I know for a fact Tuel had occasional misgivings about the way some things were handled, but he wisely kept it inside.
It’s probably right that he moves on. The best-case scenario would have been that he wins the job and, with the expected better production by the offense in the second year under Leach, he has a big season going out. But if the competition with Halliday had been close, the staff might have been inclined to go with the younger player, so that wouldn’t have served Tuel. There were no guarantees.
So he makes a stab at the NFL. Here’s what Rob Rang, CBS Sports draft analyst, told me Tuesday night, as he indicated Tuel would be a late-round choice or free agent:
“One thing in his favor is that he does obviously have mobility and he has size, and the NFL is morphing towards quarterbacks who have the dual-threat capability. At the same time, he doesn’t have a monster arm, and there have been some questions about his poise down the stretch of ball games. Those are going to be some things working against him.
“One can’t blame Washington State’s lack of success in the win column because of him, but at the same time, there weren’t a lot of ball games they won strictly because of Jeff Tuel, either. The general concern about him is, if he wasn’t successful in an offense that kind of catered to quarterbacks, both in the current regime and the one before it, how is he going to be successful in the NFL?”
What’s unknown is how much Tuel was affected by the transition to the Leach offense. Was that switch an understandable hiccup that caused the offense to sputter, or was it a recognition problem on Tuel’s part that represents a greater flaw?
But what we do know is this: Tuel didn’t have a lot of help at WSU, ever. The statement he sent out Tuesday included this factoid uncalculated everywhere else: He was sacked 119 times as a Cougar.
To which I immediately thought: Nobody would know better than he.