An interesting comment from a reader came in the other day to dispute my argument Paul Wulff could be in trouble at Washington State with another incredibly bad year.
To review: The Cougars, decimated by a talent drain and APR penalties, are 3-22 in Wulff's two seasons. That includes a 1-17 Pac-10 mark. Just one of the league losses (a 27-14 setback against Arizona State last fall) came by less than 21 points.
The nutshell version is Wulff hasn't had a competitive team, but he never really had a prayer. You could splice the genes of Bryant, Lombardi, Rockne, Halas and a host of others to create a supercoach, and it wouldn't have made a difference.
At the same time, 3-22 is 3-22, and Washington State recently hired a new athletic director. So the rationale for including Wulff makes some sense, even if no one should expect him to win more than a few games this year. There's just too far to go.
That said, it seemed like an interesting mind game to figure out who (if anyone) has survived an especially rough start to a stint at a major conference school. No names immediately jumped to mind as guys who managed six wins in three years, which is probably a realistic target for a team pegged nearly everywhere to remain ensconced in the Pac-10 basement.
So, the criteria is:
* Coached a major conference school when it was in an eventual BCS conference or was a member of a forerunner of a current power conference (i.e. Big Eight or Southwest conferences). So Cincinnati and Louisville in the 1980s and Temple post-2004 don't count, but Houston, Rice and SMU up until 1995 do count.
* Began the coaching stint since 1980
* Won six games or less in their first three years --- and lasted at least three full seasons on the job.
So who fits the bill? Let's see the 14 coaches who do, with coach/school, three-year record, the three seasons that record was recorded, the coach's eventual overall record (with total seasons in parentheses) and bowl trips included:TOUGH STARTS, MAJOR CONFERENCE COACHES 1980-2009
||Years||Overall W-L-T (Yrs)
|Joe Avezzano, Oregon State
|Dennis Green, Northwestern
|Jerry Berndt, Rice
|Stan Parrish, Kansas State
|Don Morton, Wisconsin
|Jerry Pettibone, Oregon State
|Ron Dickerson, Temple
|Kim Helton, Houston
|Jim Caldwell, Wake Forest
|Don McCarney, Iowa State
|Kevin Steele, Baylor
|Carl Franks, Duke
|Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt
|Ted Roof, Duke
*-Roof served as interim coach for last five games in 2003, so that plus three full seasons included
So, in the last decade, four guys have had particularly dismal records at power conference schools after three years and managed to hold on a while longer. They coached at Baylor, Vanderbilt and (in the case of two) Duke. Only one ever reached a bowl game.
In fact, just four guys on this list ever made a bowl game. Beyond McCarney, who was 51-58 after his tough start, and Johnson (23-37 his last five years at Vanderbilt despite playing in the notoriously stacked SEC), it's difficult to argue any of these coaches were successful at these particular stops. Maybe Helton, who inherited a gutted Houston program and enjoyed some modest success in Conference USA, counts, too.
Nonetheless, the stark stat that can be culled from this chart is a state school in a power conference hasn't even been in the spot where it won just six games in a coach's first three years since Iowa State and McCarney reached that crossroads in 1997. That provides a decent idea where Washington State is relative to the rest of the teams in leagues with an automatic BCS tie-in.
Still, hope can't be lost entirely. Bill McCartney was 7-25-1 in his first three years at Colorado (1982-84), and things turned out fine. Mack Brown did pretty well after an 8-24-1 mark in his first three seasons at North Carolina (1988-90). And while they didn't win at the stops listed above, Green and Caldwell have done OK for themselves in the NFL.
So maybe Wulff can do a good job if given time and resources. It's not impossible, and it's probably fair to give him at least four years to get the job done.
But if the losses keep piling up at such a prolific rate and in such an unsightly manner this fall, it doesn't seem all that impossible a change could be made. At the very least, it's fair to wonder how much (if any) progress needs to be made in Pullman for this to become a complete non-issue even to someone who isn't paying particularly close attention to the situation.