By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Paul Wulff's teams showed progress in his four seasons at Washington State, but it wasn’t enough to keep his job. Athletic director Bill Moos decided to fire Wulff on Tuesday, after recording a 9-40 record in his tenure in Pullman. Although the final tally was not impressive, the Cougars made significant strides this season and there is plenty of returning talent for the next head coach.
Who will replace Paul Wulff at Washington State in 2012?
Gary Andersen, head coach, Utah State – Don’t let the 14-21 record at Utah State deceive you: Andersen is a good coach and deserves a chance at a BCS job. The Aggies have slowly improved under Andersen’s watch and nearly upset Auburn in Week 1 this season. He also coached as an assistant under Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham at Utah from 2004-08. Andersen is a defensive-minded coach, which doesn’t fit what Moos and Washington State would like to hire. However, he is a rising star in the coaching ranks and someone to keep a close eye on over the next couple of weeks.
Mike Bellotti, former Oregon head coach – After Rich Brooks left for the NFL, Moos promoted Bellotti to head coach in 1995 at Oregon. Could that happen again? It’s certainly a possibility. Bellotti has been out of coaching since leaving the Ducks in 2008 and has been mentioned as a candidate at Arizona State and UCLA. However, Moos indicated this week he is uncertain if Bellotti wants to get back into coaching. It’s a longshot, but the familiarity between these two makes Bellotti worth a mention.
Dave Christensen, head coach, Wyoming – Could Washington State hire a Washington alum as its head coach? Don’t rule it out. Christensen played from 1980-82 at Washington under Don James. He has stops as an assistant with the Huskies (1988), Toledo (1990-96) and Missouri (1997-08). Christensen has worked as Wyoming’s head coach for the last three seasons, recording a 17-19 record and a bowl appearance in 2009. Moos would like to hire a coach with an offensive background, which certainly makes Christensen an attractive target. He has done a good job of developing quarterbacks at each stop of the way, including two freshmen starters at Wyoming. Christensen probably isn’t the favorite, but if the Cougars strike out with some of their A-list candidates, he is one to watch.
Paul Chyrst, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Chryst’s stock has been on the rise the last few seasons. The Badgers have led the Big Ten in scoring offense over the last three seasons and rank 12th nationally in total offense this year. Chryst has experience coaching in the Pacific Northwest, serving as Oregon State’s offensive coordinator from 2003-04. He graduated from Wisconsin in 1999, so leaving Madison could be difficult. Chryst does not have any head coaching experience.
Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin’s first year at Texas wasn’t an overwhelming success, but there was progress after an offensive disaster in 2010. The Longhorns finished 21st nationally in rushing offense and averaged 29.1 points a game. The 2011 numbers did not equal the totals he helped to coordinate while at Boise State, but Harsin is regarded as one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. He has never been a head coach, but has plenty of experience on the West Coast, coaching at Eastern Oregon (2000) and Boise State (2001-10).
Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator, Oregon – Helfrich is considered a rising star among the assistant ranks, helping Chip Kelly craft the Ducks' high-powered offense. In addition to Oregon, he has spent time as an assistant at Arizona State, Boise State and Colorado. Helfrich is also familiar with the Pacific Northwest, graduating from Southern Oregon in 1996. Not having head coaching experience certainly hurts his chances, but has the offensive background Moos is looking for.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – If Moos is going to target coaches with an offensive background, Jones has to be near the top of the list. He has resurrected programs at Hawaii and SMU, compiling a 99-69 record over the last 13 seasons. Jones is paid very well for a non-BCS head coaching gig ($1.7 million), so he’s not going to come cheap. He is also familiar with the Pacific Northwest, spending time in his college career at Oregon and Portland State.
Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach – Leach is a hot name in coaching searches, and appears likely to return to the sidelines for 2012. He is expected to gather interest from Illinois, Kansas, Arizona State and UCLA. While there is some baggage from the end of his tenure at Texas Tech, there is no doubt Leach is a proven winner and his offenses will generate excitement. Moos already mentioned he likes offense, which will help the Cougars’ improve their attendance and overall excitement regarding the program. Leach seems to be a great fit at Washington State, especially with solid personnel returning in 2012 – quarterback Jeff Tuel, receiver Marquess Wilson and running back Rickey Galvin. However, there will be no shortage of interest in Leach’s services, so Washington State will have to move fast if it wants to make him the next head coach.
Robin Pflugrad, head coach Montana – The last three coaches at Montana (Mick Dennehy, Joe Glenn and Bobby Hauck) have moved on to take a job in the FBS ranks. Will Pflugrad make it four? In two years as the Grizzlies’ head coach, he has recorded a 16-6 record and a trip to the FCS playoffs this season. Pflugrad is familiar with Moos, working at Oregon from 2006-08. He also has stops as an assistant at Arizona State and Washington State. Pflugrad does not appear to be a leading candidate in Pullman, but has a solid resume and could be on the radar for future hires on the West Coast.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – Sumlin has plenty of suitors – Illinois, Arizona State, Kansas, UCLA and North Carolina – and it’s no surprise that the Cougars are interested. He has Houston the doorstep of making a BCS bowl this season, while leading it to a 35-16 record through four seasons. Sumlin’s offenses at Houston have been among the nation’s best, and he has worked as an assistant to Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. Sumlin’s resume is solid, and he will be in high demand by several schools. Although Washington State can be a good landing spot, he may want to aim for a higher-profile job.
DeWayne Walker, head coach, New Mexico State – Walker does not fit Moos’ plan to hire an offensive coach. However, he has built a solid resume in his coaching career, making stops at Utah State, Oklahoma State, California, USC and UCLA. Walker also has NFL experience, coaching with the Patriots, Giants and Redskins. He has worked as New Mexico State’s head coach for the last three years. While a 9-29 record with the Aggies may not be impressive on the surface, they have improved considerably since his arrival and has a 4-8 record entering the final week of the regular season.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Tennessee – While Moos is targeting offensive-minded coaches, Wilcox would be an interesting fit in Pullman. He is a highly regarded coordinator, and has done a good job in two seasons at Tennessee, despite not having a full cupboard to work with. Wilcox coached at Boise State from 2006-09 and at California from 2003-05, so he's certainly familiar with the Pac-12.