The Daily Evergreen

Top-20 WSU Athletics’ influential figures: No. 1 to 5

Two of top-five picks played at WSU in the past

Head+coach+Mike+Leach+at+the+WSU+vs.+Stanford+game+Sept.+4+at+Martin+Stadium.
Head coach Mike Leach at the WSU vs. Stanford game Sept. 4 at Martin Stadium.

Head coach Mike Leach at the WSU vs. Stanford game Sept. 4 at Martin Stadium.

RYAN PUGH | Daily Evergreen File

RYAN PUGH | Daily Evergreen File

Head coach Mike Leach at the WSU vs. Stanford game Sept. 4 at Martin Stadium.

BRADEN JOHNSON, Evergreen reporter

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  1. Jason Gesser

Two anonymous members of the 1972 WSU football team told me in June that Gesser has the look of a future athletic director. Word on the street is the former WSU quarterback, while new to the WSU Athletic Department, is the figure who alumni believe can bridge the gap between older and younger generations of Cougs. Gesser currently serves as an Assistant Director of Athletics for the Cougar Athletic Fund and strongly resembles former Athletic Director Bill Moos. Both Gesser and Moos played their college ball at WSU, apprenticed with the university’s Athletic Department, took on other gigs and eventually made their way back to Pullman. WSU’s search for a new Athletic Director remains ongoing and Gesser, 38, likely does not possess the experience or resume to emerge as a serious candidate in the search. Give it ten years, however, and that may change.

  1. Bill Moos

Had the former WSU Athletic Director not bolted for the University of Nebraska in October, he is the unquestioned top finisher on this list. Moos’ physical presence is long gone, but his fingerprints are all over the Athletic Department, both positively and negatively. In his tenure, Moos’ oversaw the construction of the $61 million Cougar Football Complex, signed a 10-year marketing agreement with Nike, spearheaded the inception of the Cougar Soccer Complex and renovations of Bailey-Brayton Field and delivered a big-time coaching hire in Mike Leach. With that, Moos’ projects and spend money to make money approach saddled the Athletic Department with a $13 million deficit to climb out of by 2021-2022. One can also argue he placed too much of an emphasis on the football program and not enough on other revenue-generating sports teams like men’s basketball and baseball. Moos made WSU Athletics more viable of a brand than it ever has been, but his influence prompted individuals higher on this list to answer the biggest questions the Athletic Department currently faces.

  1. John Johnson

The Interim Athletic Director will not be considered for the full-time position, though that does not take away from his body of the work over the last seven weeks. Johnson has seen more than one million dollars in donations pour into the Athletic Department since Moos’ resignation, including a pair of $500,000 donations, and remains committed to addressing WSU’s fiscal deficit. He indicated on Oct. 17 that he plans to remain involved with the Athletic Department after the new Athletic Director is hired and stressed the importance of using the recent influx of donations as momentum-builders heading into 2018. Johnson also holds influence on what the seven-man search committee is looking for in its full-time Athletic Director. He can work, as somewhat of a liaison, between the new hire and the rest of the Athletic Department going forward.

  1. Mike Leach

Leach sits at the No. 2 despite recent rumors of his potential departure. Leach reportedly having lunch on Nov. 30 with former University of Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie indicates he may want out of Pullman. Is his willingness to listen to other job offers a byproduct of former Athletic Director Bill Moos being gone? Or did his latest Apple Cup drubbing at the hands of University of Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen finally convince him to look into a primetime job? Regardless, Leach’s credentials and gradual rebuild of Cougar football stands alone. Should he stay in Pullman, he has the strongest say in who the next Athletic Director will be outside of President Kirk Schulz. That being said, the rumors of his departure put a tremendous amount of strain on an Athletic Department already saddled with other issues. One way or another, his decision to either stay put or bolt, this year or in coming years, will dictate the trajectory of the football program for the foreseeable future.

  1. Kirk Schulz

No other way around it. Schulz’s role mandates that he steer the ship that is the set of questions WSU Athletics needs to answer over the coming weeks. That starts with having a frank discussion with Leach and gauging his future intentions. Schulz is also at the forefront of efforts to remove the Athletic Department from the red and took it upon himself to lead the search for WSU’s next Athletic Director. By virtue of being president, Schulz was going to place near the top of this list. But because the Athletic Department has a pressing budget crisis to resolve, Schulz’s decision-making and leadership has been put to the test. He gets the top spot on this list because the direction WSU Athletics is headed, both in the short and long-term, are in his hands.

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Top-20 WSU Athletics’ influential figures: No. 1 to 5