Bill Moos would have loved to complicate his life by having Washington State play in a bowl game for the second year in a row. But the Cougars athletic director is staying plenty busy with a lawsuit, a record deficit and a struggling football program on his plate.
Moos addressed all three issues, plus his decision to activate the annual rollover clause in football coach Mike Leach’s contract, encouraging developments in the men’s and women’s basketball programs and plenty of other topics in a wide-ranging interview Friday afternoon.
Domenic Rockey, a walk-on freshman quarterback at WSU in 2013, has filed suit against the university. Rockey claims he suffered a fractured jaw when he was “sucker punched” and knocked unconscious by teammate Emmitt Su’a-Kalio after a morning workout. Neither player remains with the Cougars.
The lawsuit maintains that Rockey’s “dream of playing college football for WSU was shattered” when he became depressed and lost weight after his jaw was wired shut. Rockey seeks unspecified damages, claiming that WSU failed to “properly supervise” Su’a-Kalio.
The lawsuit claims Su’a-Kalio was reacting to football coaches’ constant demand of players to “keep each other accountable” when he punched Rockey (a former Auburn Mountainview High School standout) after the latter left the Oct. 1, 2013 workout early due to a sprained ankle.
The lawsuit notes that Leach and others wrote letters of support for Su’a-Kalio, a freshman from American Samoa who redshirted in 2013. He pled guilty to fourth-degree assault, then was expelled from the university in June 2014 after alcohol and marijuana issues were coupled with the assault. His football scholarship had already been revoked.
In his letter to the University Conduct Board, Leach wrote that Su’a-Kalio was “remorseful of his actions” about punching Rockey and “is a good kid and a hard worker with a bright future at Washington State.” Leach said Su’a-Kalio had an “obvious communication barrier,” since English is his “second language,” and when coaches “consistently preach to ‘keep each other accountable,’ Emmitt took this literally.”
Moos declined comment on the lawsuit, other than to say, “We want to see how it works through the legal process.” Moos called the incident “unfortunate, but it’s not unique to Washington State. Locker-room fights happen. I’m not a proponent of it.”
Moos revealed Friday the WSU Athletic Department lost a record $12,406,145 in fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, 2014. Moos said he did not see the final financial report until this week.
Moos said a year ago that losses likely would exceed $10 million. He cited the cost of recent facility improvements and increases in coaches’ salaries as primary reasons. The Cougars’ previous biggest deficits were $6,624,951 in 2012 and $4,474,009 in 2013. Due to rising costs, Moos said he can’t foresee the Cougars turning a profit until 2018 or ’19.
Moos has stressed the need to keep up with other Pac-12 Conference schools in terms of facilities and pay. He said the Cougars are “moving toward operating in the black” with the help of increasing money from ESPN and FOX television contracts ($16.5 million in the past fiscal year) and the Pac-12 Networks ($1.5 million), plus a third consecutive record year for Cougar Athletic Foundation donors (approximately 6,500) and CAF donations ($5.6 million).
Moos said the new Football Bowl Subdivision playoffs figure to pump an additional $2.5 million into the Cougars’ coffers for the current fiscal year. Also, increased attendance at WSU football games resulted in three sellouts and 93 percent capacity at Martin Stadium this past season.
Leach, the highest-paid employee ($2.75 million annually) in WSU history, drew fire from many fans when the Cougars won only three games for the second time in his three years on the job. The 2013 Cougars finished 6-7 and played in WSU’s first bowl game in 10 years.
Moos said he remains supportive of Leach after a 3-9 season because recruiting and discipline have improved under Leach and “there’s a very good argument our conference is the toughest in the nation.” Moos said the 2014 Cougars paid a price for playing and often starting a large number of promising but inexperienced players.
“I think our fans got a little frustrated because we teased them by going to a bowl game in year two,” Moos said.
Moos said the Cougars have yet to replace three fired assistant coaches because “we’re being very studious and careful about their replacements.” Moos said the Cougars have not offered the defensive coordinator job to anyone.
Moos said he has not ruled out paying $500,000 or more to the new coordinator due to skyrocketing salaries paid to coordinators in power conferences. Mike Breske, fired as the WSU defensive coordinator at the end of the season, was the highest-paid assistant coach in school history at $376,500.
Moos said the new defensive coordinator will have a strong voice in selecting the other new defensive coach. Moos said he’s not certain if interim special teams coach Eric Mele will be replaced. Moos said “there’s been a lot of interest” in the defensive coordinator job, partly because Leach provides his assistant coaches with considerable freedom.
Turning to basketball, Moos said he’s delighted with the work of new men’s coach Ernie Kent and longtime women’s coach June Daugherty. Kent’s rebuilding club has surprised many observers by starting out 7-7 (1-1 Pac-12).
“He’s got great energy,” Moos said. “He’s got players who believe in him and are really having fun playing Cougar basketball, and I think all our players are playing up to their utmost potential.
“Where was (much-improved senior center) Jordan Railey a year ago? Where was (much-improved sophomore forward) Josh Hawkinson a year ago?”
Daugherty’s veteran squad is off to one of the best starts (10-3, 1-1) in program history.
“She did not inherit a very good talent pool,” Moos said. “She had to build it from the ground up. She’s recruited better players.”
Moos has waffled back and forth over the years on whether he would ever sell the naming rights to Martin Stadium. Moos now says he would consider selling naming rights to Martin Stadium and plenty of other athletic facilities on campus, but he wants the baseball stadium to remain named for ex-WSU baseball coaches Bobo Brayton and Buck Bailey. The same goes for the basketball floor at Beasley Coliseum, which is named for legendary WSU basketball coach Jack Friel.
“They are icons in Cougar history,” Moos said.