Moos, a WSU alumnus, has taken the athletic director job at Nebraska vacated in September when the school fired Shawn Eichorst.

Share story

In a move that caught Washington State officials by surprise, athletic director Bill Moos left to become Nebraska’s athletic director Sunday.

“It’s always been my view professionally that when someone is looking at another job, they’re either running away from something or running to something. Believe me, I have nothing to run away from but wholeheartedly wanted to run to this job,” Moos said at his introductory news conference in Lincoln, Neb.

He called Nebraska a “storied, storied program at a very prestigious institution.” He will begin his new job Oct. 23.

Moos, 66, agreed to a five-year contract with Nebraska that pays an annual base salary of $1 million plus incentives.

He leaves behind a WSU football program that’s in much better shape than it was when he took over in 2010. But Moos also leaves an athletic department that is projected to close the most recent fiscal year with a deficit of $8.5 million.

WSU President Kirk Schulz announced Sunday that WSU will begin a national search for an athletic director. He expects to name a search committee Monday.

“We will begin our search immediately to find an athletics director who will drive our program to even greater success both on the field of play and in the classroom,” Schulz said in a statement. “I want to thank Bill Moos for his years of service to Washington State University. He has accomplished much and helped bring our program the national prominence it deserves.”

According to a source close to the WSU athletic department, WSU officials, including Schulz, were blindsided by Moos’ departure. Schulz apparently found out about it on Twitter on Sunday morning. Moos confirmed to the Omaha World Herald Sunday that he told no one at WSU he was leaving.

Moos was lured out of retirement in 2010 by then-WSU President Elson S. Floyd. Known as a visionary and big thinker, Moos had rebuilt the Oregon athletic program as its athletic director from 1995-2007 before retiring.

Moos is a WSU alumnus who was a star lineman on the football team from 1970-72. He took the WSU job with the goal of resurrecting the football program, and he leaves with that mission accomplished.

Moos was generally liked by coaches and  prominent WSU donors, and several well-known alums thanked him Sunday on Twitter for his service to WSU.

“Thank you Bill Moos for all you did for WSU and bringing back the unique culture of being a Coug. Best of luck in the Big Ten,” former WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf tweeted.

“WSU lost a visionary in college athletics,” former WSU offensive lineman Eduardo Middleton tweeted.

However, sources close to the situation told The Seattle Times that friction had grown between Moos and WSU President Kirk Schulz that stemmed in part from the athletic department’s significant budget deficit and Schulz’s sentiment that Moos was not active enough in fundraising.

Moos was responsible for the hires of football coach Mike Leach, men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent and baseball coach Marty Lees.

The football program was coming off a 1-11 season when Moos took the job in April 2010, and the Cougars were 5-32 record from 2008-10.

Moos hired Leach, who in six seasons has revived the program, leading the Cougars to three bowl games in the past four years. The Cougars rose to No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll last week after their first 6-0 start since 2001. But Friday’s 37-3 loss at unranked California on Friday night dropped WSU to No. 15 in the poll released Sunday.

Moos spearheaded the $130 million remodel of WSU’s football facilities that included the construction of a football-operations building and an addition to Martin Stadium. He also secured a 10-year, $35 million marketing-rights agreement with IMG College and was an influential voice in the Pac-12’s negotiations that resulted in a 12-year, $3 billion television contract with FOX and ESPN.

However, all that success came with a big price tag. Moos leaves with the athletic department in debt. WSU’s athletic department will close out the 2017 fiscal year with roughly an $8.5 million deficit. The number has decreased since projections in the spring of $10.6 million. Prior to this year, WSU had closed the last three fiscal years more than $10 million in the red.

Schulz, who began his tenure as WSU president in June 2016, came to Pullman from Kansas State. In his first year at WSU, one of his goals has been to get the school’s finances in line, and he worked with the athletic department to devise a plan to reduce the budget deficit.

The athletic department’s fundraising numbers improved every year under Moos, with total contributions to the athletic department increasing from $6.75 million in fiscal year 2010, to $13.1 million in fiscal year 2017.

But sources say Schulz thought the athletic department needed to be more active in fundraising and cultivating big donors.

Moos was under contract at WSU until April 15, 2020, at $500,000 annually. Sources said he had not asked Schulz for a contract extension, nor had Schulz offered one. But another source said Moos had asked for an extension twice. WSU’s senior administrators were under the impression that Moos had planned to finish out his contract and then retire. Moos had sold his house in Pullman last year and was renting a condo there.

But in his introductory news conference at Nebraska on Sunday, Moos indicated that he wasn’t planning to retire any time soon.

“I tried the retirement stuff. … We did, and we plan to be at this for a long, long time still,” Moos said, adding that his wife Kendra also urged him to go back to work after his because they both realized he missed being around college athletics.

Now, the questions foremost on the minds of many Cougars fans and alums: Who will the Cougars hire to replace Moos? And will Moos try to lure Leach to Nebraska to replace Mike Riley? The Cornhuskers are 3-4 this season, and Riley’s status at Nebraska became tenuous last month when athletic director Shawn Eichorst was fired.

Moos indicated Sunday that he would wait to see how the football team performs through the rest of the season before making a decision on Riley.

“As we speak now, he’s my football coach and I’m going to support him,” Moos said when asked what he wants to see from Riley. “I certainly hope for some victories here toward the latter part of the season. And I’m eager to sit down and visit with him.”

Moos also spoke about Leach on Sunday, ending his remarks with, “He’s done a remarkable job, and I know he’s been very happy there. He’s a good fit. … Pullman was a good fit for him.”

Sources close to the situation said say it’s still too early to determine whether Moos will try to lure Leach to Nebraska. If he does, the general sentiment is that he would wait until the end of the season.

However, one source said Schulz has a good relationship with Leach and understands what he means to WSU.

“He’s going to do everything he can to try and keep him here,” the source said. “And whoever the new athletic director will be is going to be hired under the direction, ‘You need to take care of Coach.’ ”

Schulz is expected to meet with Leach on Monday.

Meanwhile, the search for WSU’s athletic director has begun. Sources say Schulz is looking for an experienced athletic director with a strong fundraising background.

“Bill’s done a helluva job. Bill’s the guy who came in, helped get the TV contract and the facilities and Coach Leach. Bill was phase one of rejuvenating Cougar athletics,” one source close to the situation said. “Phase two, in my opinion, is that we have to continue to do that, but now it’s all private money. For WSU, as much as I love Bill Moos, I think it’s the right move.”

Clarification: This story has been amended to clarify the difference in amount of money WSU fundraised under Bill Moos from 2010 to 2017. A previous version of the story used numbers from the “contributions” line item of WSU’s annual reports to the NCAA, which do not always reflect total fundraised dollars.