When former Washington State football coach Paul Wulff was fired Nov. 29, athletic director Bill Moos spoke of reinvigorating an apathetic Cougar fanbase that left many seats empty during the football season last fall.
"We've got to understand here, that we're at a juncture where we've either got to run with the big dogs or admit that we're a doormat," Moos said at the press conference.
Aided by ticket sales, donations and, most notably, the Pac-12's 12-year, $3 billion TV contract with FOX and ESPN that brings in more than $20 million annually to Washington State, Moos has begun to do just that.
"That's critical for us, in regards to investing in our program through facilities and coaching salaries and those types of things," Moos said. "It will enable us, in my opinion, to be in a position to be competitive in a very, very tough conference."
Washington State jumped right in with the big boys of the conference when it hired Mike Leach, who agreed in principle to a five-year rollover contract at $2.25 million a year plus incentives - nearly quadrupling the $600,000 Wulff made each year - in a decision that seemed to indicated Moos was all-in when it came to upgrading the school's profile.
"We couldn't have been able to offer something to that extent without the newly realized television revenue," Moos said. "Secondly, we have a football coach that in 10 years in major college coaching had 10 winning seasons, went to 10 bowl games, was the national coach of the year just a few years back and I really felt was what we needed to energize our fan base. And he has done that."
The increased donations and ticket sales support that claim in staggering fashion. Since Leach was hired, Washington State has made 3,800 new season ticket sales and has a renewal rate of nearly 100 percent from previous season ticket holders. Donations to the school have increased in that same time frame by almost 50 percent.
"We're seeing some very, very good results in a number of areas that are going to be important as we grow the program," Moos said.
That was all part of Moos' plan when he first flew down to Key West in mid-November to meet with Leach, something of a celebrity coach, about interest in his coaching job.
"I, for one, feel that one of things in changing our culture is that we need to approach hires like that," Moos said. "Washington State should be a destination, not a stepping stone, as it has been in so many previous cases."
With a new head of the football program in place, the Cougars have also given a facelift to their facilities.
Washington State improved Martin Stadium with a privately-funded $80 million renovation over the past 18 months that added a three-story structure consisting of luxury suites and a press box. The structure will be introduced to the media this afternoon in a walk-through with Moos, marking the completion of a renovation that should dramatically enhance the football program's profile.
While the Martin Stadium completion is obviously the crowning jewel of a busy summer for the football program, Moos said he was equally pleased that the 18-month project, which didn't begin major reconstruction until the end of the football season nine months ago, was a smooth process.
"We're very pleased. Of course, we are on schedule and on budget. Both of those things are extremely important to an athletic director," he said. "It's especially amazing how this enormous project could be accomplished in that small window of really nine months. I'm very pleased with it. It looks gorgeous."
One of the important architectural characteristics of the addition is that it doesn't outshine the rest of campus, blending in seamlessly while dramatically changing the profile of the 35,000-seat bowl stadium.
"Tastefully address Martin Stadium and renovate it and still have it compliment the campus," Moos set as a goal. "But give the image that we are, indeed, a major college football program. I think it's really beneficial in a number of ways."
The renovation's completion, which is expected to generate $3 million a year, is just one step in a multi-layered plan that seeks to make Washington State one of the premier programs in the conference.
The next step, other than wins on the field, will be the presentation to the Board of Regents of Washington State to approve the construction of an 89-000-square ft. football operations building that is designed to be built near the west endzone of Martin Stadium and be completed in the late spring-early summer of 2014.
"That'll be a tremendous statement if we can get that started," Moos said. "And our plan is to hopefully break ground after this (football) season. That's the next one that will really put our football facilities in a position to compete with any in our conference."
That almost feels like icing on the cake to some Cougar fans, who are already beginning to beam with pride at the improvements to the football program in the last 10 months.
"Some of the visible things that our fans are seeing, the facility upgrades, the new coaching hires ... people are genuinely feeling a sense of pride again in being a Cougar," Moos said.
For the university as a whole, pride in being a Cougar is perhaps the main goal - above all else - as Leach and Co. appeared to show when three potential starters on defense were dismissed this offseason following arrests.
"When you're going to be successful, the party Saturday night can't be more important than the game on Saturday afternoon, and we needed to make some emphasis there. I was in the room when he warned them that these were the team rules and that's how it would be."
But still, the improvements - and potential financial gains - go hand-in-hand with the promise of becoming a winning brand. Recruits may choose Washington State over another they are considering because of the improved facilities and a better education, but getting the "big fish" interested in the first place comes from being a winner.
"We can recruit here," Moos said. "As our facilities continue to improve, we'll be able to attract some top talent. We're already starting to see that."
But the start of a recruiting uptick isn't enough if you're running with the "big dogs." That's just one of the many reasons why Moos said the football program's upgrade, as well as that of other sports, is far from over.
"We've got a lot of work still to do. We've only been at it here for a little over two years, but I think we are starting to change the culture," Moos said. "We're starting to believe in ourselves, but we're going to have to start seeing some results on the fields of competition."
Moos hopes he can give that to fans sooner rather than later.
"(The fans) have responded very well. They've answered the call," he said. "We're getting more and more of our fans to have some skin in the game by investing in it. We need to continue to grow those numbers and certainly our blueprint has a plan for that. I would have to say that I'm extremely pleased with the response from our fanbase ... and I don't think they are going to be disappointed."
Washington State will have its first chance at immediate results when it takes on BYU on Aug. 30. The Cougars will showcase the new-look Martin Stadium for the first time when the football team hosts Eastern Washington on Sept. 8 at noon.
Andrew Nemec can be reached at (208) 882-5561 ext. 231, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @AndrewNemec.