PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State football coach Paul Wulff was fired Tuesday after four years during which his teams won only nine games.
"I appreciate all that Paul has done for Washington State football," athletic director Bill Moos said in a statement announcing the firing. "He was hired with the objective of rebuilding this program and establishing a solid foundation. For that I thank him."
Moos said he hoped to hire Wulff's successor in two or three weeks.
He said he had a list with a half-dozen names, including former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. He declined to reveal the other names.
Wulff was 9-40 in his four seasons at Washington State, the worst winning percentage of any coach in the program's history. The Cougars went 4-8 this season, doubling their win total from 2010. They were just 4-32 in conference play under Wulff.
Wulff said he was leaving with a heavy heart.
"The great thing about Washington State University and being a Cougar is we don't do it like everybody else," Wulff said, his voice thick with emotion. "We stick together and don't eat our own.
"I believe the innocence of WSU has been lost today," Wulff said.
He said he believes that the task of turning around a struggling program was not possible in the time he was given, especially after injuries hurt his team. "We were an injury or two from being in a bowl game this year," Wulff said.
Wulff had one year remaining on his contract and was guaranteed a year's severance pay of $600,000 if he was let go before the end of the five years.
Rumors that Wulff would be fired cropped up immediately after Saturday's loss to archrival Washington. Moos and Wulff met at least twice over the following days to discuss the future of the program.
Wulff, who played at Washington State in the 1980s, was hired prior to the 2008 season from nearby Eastern Washington University. He replaced Bill Doba, inheriting a program that was gutted by poor recruiting, off-field problems and academic sanctions that led to scholarship reductions. The program is only now returning to a full slate of scholarship players.
The Cougars were hurt this year by quarterback injuries, in particular a broken clavicle suffered by starter Jeff Tuel in the first game that sidelined him for much of the season. They finished last in the Pac-12 North with a 2-7 league mark, beating Colorado and Arizona State.
Under Wulff, WSU posted records of 2-11, 1-11, 2-10 and 4-8.
Washington State needs to energize its fan base to help pay for extensive renovations to Martin Stadium.
Construction has started on an $80 million project to add premium seating, luxury boxes and a new press box. Also on the drawing board is a $60 million football operations building.
Moos said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that WSU was at a "critical" juncture during which the program needed to either move forward or be content with being a league doormat.
"We have the lowest annual giving numbers by far in the Pac-12 Conference and I feel we have apathy in our fan base," Moos said. "That is primarily the reason for the change I made."
He expected to double the $600,000 paid to Wulff to land a big-name coach.
Moos, who as a consultant helped hire Wulff, said the fast-moving landscape of major college athletics made revival of the football program important.
"We've got to get the program in a position to compete and we've got to do it pretty quick, or we will be left in the dust," Moos said.
Winning games will draw more fans and bigger donations from boosters, Moos said. Currently, donations do not even cover the costs of player scholarships at WSU, he said.
"I believe we can be a contender for championships," Moos said. "But we can't wait and embrace mediocrity."