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October 27, 2012When the coaching carousel in the Pac-12 started moving after last season, there was only one move that Stanford coach David Shaw would discuss -- the firing of Washington State coach Paul Wulff.
"Those kids played really hard for him," Shaw said on Nov. 29. "I wish him the best."
Observing from a distance was 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached against Wulff on three occasions as the head coach at Stanford. The two got to talking late in the winter and the discussions eventually led to Harbaugh bringing Wulff aboard with the 49ers as an offensive assistant.
"He wanted to bring me on and I was very happy for the opportunity," Wulff said Friday. "I wanted to work with Jim, I'd always identified with who he is and the style of football he wanted to play."
Wulff works with the offensive linemen, but also plays somewhat of utility position on the offensive staff. He helps offensive coordinator Greg Roman and breaks down film of opponents further down the schedule.
"Been outstanding. Tremendous work ethic, very team oriented guy, very creative. Good guy," Harbaugh said. "Something needs to be done, he does it and he's got the capability to do it. We're really fortunate, happy with all of our coaches, and Paul has been a great addition."
Wulff briefly considered stepping away from coaching for a year, but ultimately decided against it.
"I think I'm too young to just take a year off in my personal opinion," Wulff said. "I've been a head coach for 12 straight years and sometimes your head is in the forest. (Coaching in the NFL) has been very good for me to open up my eyes in a different light."
Following a 4-8 season that brought Wulff's record to 9-40 in his four-year tenure at his alma mater, a dismissal might have seemed justified. The fan base had checked out and the winning was scarce, but Wulff felt there was light at the end of the tunnel.
"We had a good young team. We were really competitive in a lot of games, but when you lose you're quarterback, it's tough to win games," he said. "If Jeff Tuel could haveb stayed healthy I am confident we could have won seven games."
According to the Spokesman-Review, in the press conference following his firing, Wulff said: "I truly think this is an eight win, nine-win team next year. I think that's a pretty good deal to walk into."
It was days later when WSU athletic director Bill Moos announced former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach as Wulff's successor. It was a splashy hire that was universally lauded by the WSU community. Leach, who brought the Red Raiders to 10 bowls in 10 years with the Air Raid offense, was seen as the program's savior.
Nearly 11 months and one loss to Colorado later, WSU is looking nothing like the eight or nine win team Wulff envisioned. In fact, the team has regressed across the board.
Heading into Saturday's game with No. 17 Stanford (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12), the Cougars (2-5) only own close wins against FCS Eastern Washington (24-20) and one-win UNLV (35-27).
Statistically they're worse in every major offensive and defensive category than a year ago.
Wulff didn't offer an opinion on "what might have been."
"I've paid attention and there have been some games on TV that I've been able to see," Wulff said. "Really, I'm just rooting for the players."
As an offensive lineman at WSU in the 80s, Wulff played for three head coaches -- Jim Walden, Dennis Erickson and Mike Price. Looking back on it, Wulff said, personally, he gained from the transitions because he was exposed to different coaching styles, but thought it was tough on the teams.
From the outside, it appears Leach's arrival in Pullman has been tough as well.
Comments Leach made earlier this month certainly don't indicate otherwise.
"Some of (the seniors) have been great, and some of them have been very poor," Leach said. "Some of them have had kind of this zombielike, go through the motions, everything is like how it's always been, that's how it'll always be.
"Some of them quite honestly have an empty corpse quality. That's not pleasant to say or pleasant to think about, but that's a fact."
If given the opportunity, Wulff said he would like to be a head coach again some day.
"By no means is that something I'm looking at right now," he said. "I think if right situation comes along -- and I'm not sure if that'll ever come again in our lives -- I'd love to be a head coach again. I feel like I could be a head coach and be very successful."
Follow @KyleBonagura on Twitter.