YAKIMA, Wash. -- Bill Moos has shepherded the transformation of a major university’s most bankable sport — its football program — once before. Now he’s hoping to achieve the same kind of lasting success as athletics director at Washington State University, his alma mater, as he did in his 12 years as athletics director at Oregon.
He’s certainly got a jump-start on it.
Since taking over as WSU’s AD in 2010, he has already launched WSU’s athletics program into $130 million in facility improvements, first upgrading the pressbox and premium seating at Pullman’s Martin Stadium — taking it, he said, “from the outhouse to the penthouse,” and then moving into the $61 million construction of a football operations building.
That facility will be both the program’s “sanctuary” and a drawing card for the kind of talent the Cougars need to improve their brand in the Pacific-12 Conference, Moos told regional media convened Monday at the Yakima Herald-Republic for the Associated Press Sports Editors Northwest regional conference.
“If I’d had my druthers, we’d have built the football operations building first, because my philosophy is to attract the talent,” Moos said. “When you think about it, we’re in Martin Stadium six times a year and we’re in that football operations building six days a week. That’s the sanctuary — that’s what’s going to attract the talent.
“The philosophy is, you get the athletes because of those kinds of facilities, you light up the scoreboard, the fans all come, you don’t have enough seats, then you have to expand the stadium. That’s exactly what we did at Oregon, and we’re using that same blueprint at Washington State.”
Moos initiated more than $160 million in facility improvements during his 1995-2007 tenure at Oregon, where the athletics program had a willing benefactor in Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight.
At WSU, he had no Knight to turn to and significant challenges facing its chief money-making sport. WSU has the Pac-12’s smallest football capacity (less than 33,000 after the 2011-2012 Martin Stadium overhaul) and, correspondingly, the conference’s lowest attendance (30,252 average in 2012, up from 24,532 in 2010 and 28,791 in 2011).
So what Moos went about changing, he said, was a culture of what he described Monday as “tremendous apathy.”
He made five head-coaching changes in his first 18 months in Pullman. One of his new hires was that of outspoken football coach Mike Leach, whose departure from Texas Tech — a once-moribund program Leach built into a perennial Big 12 Conference contender — was steeped in controversy.
“We needed some energy, and certainly hiring Mike Leach (following the 2011 season) did that,” Moos said. “This instantly became a national story.”
It wasn’t always a good-news story, as was the case when standout wide receiver Marquess Wilson left the team, accusing Leach of “abuse.” Leach said Wilson simply wouldn’t put in the effort, and on Monday, Moos backed Leach’s version of the story.
“I believe (Wilson) had been pampered by the previous staff,” he said, noting that Wilson leaving the team — while his teammates stuck to Leach’s demanding drills — “brought us together.”
Moos said the football program still has a ways to go to reach the level of consistency he expects, and added that while Leach is “a great football coach, he’s not the Wizard of Oz.” But since Moos took over and brought in Leach, the football team has witnessed a dramatic decline in off-the-field player behavioral issues such as DUIs, fights, academic fraud and arrests.
The athletics program, meanwhile, has attracted what Moos called “the largest donor base we’ve ever had, the most money we’ve ever raised.”
Still, Moos said, “It’s not enough.”
Such are the standards one sets when, as Moos said, one sets about “to change our culture so (WSU) can be a destination, and not a stepping stone.”