The firing of Paul Wulff at Washington State didn't make many Cougars feel good. Wulff was a former Coug himself, and there was no doubt he fought hard to rebuild a program that was about as low as an AQ team can be in 2008.
Further, there was no question the program had made progress under Wulff. The Cougars went 4-8 and 2-7 in conference play in 2011 after going 5-32 and 2-25 over the previous three seasons. Attendance went up from a dismal 24,532 in 2010 to 28,791 this past fall.
And Wulff, though a stand-up guy, didn't hide his disappointment and disagreement with the decision.
"I believe the innocence of WSU has been lost today," Wulff said during a news conference after his termination.
But Wulff's firing was about more than wins and losses. It was about malaise. Athletic director Bill Moos saw it and felt it among the fanbase and he didn't feel he could continue to be patient and hope that 2012 proved to be a turnaround season, even if there were plenty of reasons to foresee one. Moos, who finally had money to spend due to the new Pac-12 TV contract, believed that making a change was also about creating buzz and energizing his beleaguered fanbase.
And he knew a guy like Mike Leach wouldn't be available for long.
This puts Moos' thinking into dollars and sense (yes, sense): The Cougar Athletic Fund (CAF), the fundraising arm of the athletic department, added nearly 1,200 new members in 2012 while moving the Cougars up the list of donor rankings among Pac-12 schools.
WSU Athletics ended 2011 with 4,084 CAF members (minimum $50 annual donation to the CAF). That number placed the Cougars 10th among Pac-12 schools in number of donors making an annual scholarship gift. Oregon leads the conference with 8,800 donors at the end of 2011. Following February's highly successful Night With Cougar Football events in Spokane, Tri-Cities and Seattle, the CAF sits with more than 5,200 members, which under last year's totals would pass Utah (5,000) for ninth place and be just behind USC, which ended last year with 5,400 total donors.
Here are some further thoughts on this.
And, of course, you probably remember this: In December, the Cougars received $3 million from a booster -- Greg Rankich ’94 of Kirkland, Wash. -- the largest gift to the program in school history.
It's hard to measure how much credit Leach actually deserves for the fundraising boost, but it's fair to say it's not insubstantial.