Bill Moos recently found himself looking at a 45-year-old college football scrapbook from his days as a tackle at Washington State.
The new Nebraska athletic director, hired Oct. 13 and on the job officially since Monday, said a page with 1972 national rankings caught his eye.
“(The Huskers) were in the top-20, they didn’t go 25 then,” he said. “There was AP and UPI and I looked at the top 10 or 12 and they’re the same ones that are there now, except for Nebraska. They’re the same ones. Read between the lines.”
That observation came at the tail end of a 30-minute interview with Moos and Journal Star reporters in his Memorial Stadium office on Wednesday afternoon. The question posed to Moos was to ballpark how many football programs in the country are capable of winning a national championship on a year-in, year-out basis.
“No more than 10, I would say,” he offered. “I’ll get myself in trouble if I name them.”
Currently, Nebraska is not in that group. Three days into the job, the eastern Washington native thinks the school should be. He thought it for years before University of Nebraska system President Hank Bounds and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green reached out to him about this job.
That’s why the 66-year-old left the Pacific Northwest, where he was born and raised, where he cut his teeth as an athletics administrator and director, and where he’s spent his entire career. It’s why he left a ranch in Valleyford, Washington, where he could go every Monday after his weekly Spokane radio show for a couple of hours of "tractor time" to clear his head. It’s why he and his wife, Kendra, are trading 210 acres and a roaming cattle herd for a downtown Lincoln condominium and a walking-distance commute.
“At any given time, you should be able to give up what you are to become what you can be. I did that. I’m going to see just what I can be,” he said. “What drew me here is a chance, with my skills and my experience, to get the big prize. Realistically. That’s conference (titles) and, more of a prize, a national championship. It’s not a fluke if you win a national championship at Nebraska. It’s not a 'Hoosiers' story.
“I’m not going to say it’s expected, but it’s happened before, it’s happened more than once, and it can happen again.”
Below is the rest of the Journal Star’s interview with Moos, lightly edited and ordered for clarity, conducted around a conference table in an expansive office featuring a pile of still-folded Adidas gear on a coffee table, documents strewn about and a less-than-lived-in feeling. All of that is fine by Moos. He’s got better things to do than sit behind the biggest desk in the department.
You’re just settling in, but there’s only a month of the regular football season left. Is there anything you can do to make Mike Riley’s job easier and to give them the best chance to succeed?
Moos: "I’ve said this before, he’s my coach and I want him to succeed. He certainly has the resources and everything. There’s nothing here that a coach in any sport can really want, as I start to observe it.
"He and I will have some visits. I had a few minutes with him on two different occasions, but primarily just catching up with him on things regarding family and mutual friends. I did tell him that we’ll carve out a little bit of time because I want to get a feel for his philosophy in recruiting and maybe get an assessment of the Big Ten. Get to know a little more about his staff. I know a couple of those guys, but not all of them."
When you talk about evaluating a coach, especially walking into a situation like this, how do you strike a balance between input (from others) and your own observations? Which do you give more weight?
Moos: "I’m known when I take over jobs to observe and assess, and I’ll be doing that with this whole department. Some things have more of a degree of urgency than others, and I’ll be able to sift through that, I think. But with Mike and his staff, I haven’t seen them play a game yet. I saw a little bit of the game against Oregon and then I got just a little bit of the Ohio State game, but I’m really looking forward to Purdue and watching what he’s doing. I don’t even know what his offense is. I know what it was at Oregon State and I’d imagine it’s pretty much the same thing."
Former Oregon coach Mike Belotti said he appreciated the straightforward way in which you and he communicated job expectations, and you’ve said you like to leave coaches alone in-season, so how do you balance those approaches given you arrived midseason?
Moos: "As we speak, everybody’s fine. I haven’t had enough time to take a good, hard look at it, and the last thing Mike Riley or any other coach needs is that I’m looking over their shoulder and there’s that much more stress on them. The profession has enough stress itself. The best thing I can do for Mike and his staff is be supportive at this point."
Do you consider yourself a football AD?
Moss: "I’ve been called a football AD. A lot of the analogies that I’ll use with the staff center around football. I’m a fan of all sports. Ideally, I’d have been a college basketball player. My jump shot was good, but I didn’t have the lift that a lot of the guys do. I had the hops that were probably going to be a little better at left tackle than at small forward.
"Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve been successful at football. Some of it we approached in different ways, had to make a coaching change. Belotti and I actually started at the same time even though he’d been hired right before I was. What I told him was, ‘Hey, Mike, your record is my record. We’re arm and arm in this thing.’ That’s how I feel. I do know enough about football that I can assess it probably better than any other sport and I keep up with the trends. I played with the veer option. I just left a coach that runs the Air Raid. I think I know both of those and everything in between and what might or might not work with Nebraska."
Do you have a personal preference for style of football play?
Moos: "My feeling with Mike Leach, there’s a lot of reasons why we hired him. We had such a rebuilding challenge at Washington State. One of the things I liked about his offense was we could entertain the fans without winning the game while we were building and recruiting and getting facilities in. Instead of running trap and iso and things, we could at least have the ball in the air, and then that attracted talent. You look at that roster at Washington State and there’s receivers from Florida and Texas and South Carolina. They want to come catch footballs and hopefully get to the next level.
"My preference … every offense, sooner or later, is going to get defended. When Oregon had a dual-threat quarterback and they were doing some things with the up-tempo, running option 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, it’s impossible to defend. The Chip Kelly era and then (Mark) Helfrich carried it on and for whatever reason it went a little sour. That’s entertaining, you have to have the right athletes, you still need that tight end.
"There hasn’t been a tight end at Washington State in six years — that’s why my son (Ben, a freshman tight end at Cal) isn’t there. It’s not that they didn’t want him, but he wasn’t going to catch many balls.
"That (Oregon) offense was tough to defend. Marcus Mariota could have played anywhere, but that system is pretty tough. When (Kelly) first started it, he was Belotti’s offensive coordinator and then Mike stepped away from it. Up-tempo, fast. But I’ve got to get a feel for the Big Ten, too. The first brush of the Big Ten is shorten the splits, put your hand on the ground and take the handoff, but it’s opened up quite a bit through the years. I think Joe Tiller helped do that with Drew Brees back in the days at Purdue."
Editor’s note: Moos played left tackle at WSU in 1972 when Tiller was the offensive line coach.
Penn State head coach James Franklin said this week that coaches used to get five years to build a program but now it’s significantly shorter than that. Generally speaking, is there an appropriate amount of time that it takes to correctly say, "This is where this coaching staff and this program is?"
Moos: "I think that depends on what condition the program was in when that coach took the job. With Mike Leach, Washington State was perhaps the worst Power Five program in the country, so that did take four or five years. For example, when he took it over in 2012, there were six offensive linemen on scholarship and only three probably should have been. That first year, the Air Raid was going straight in the air because the quarterback was flat on his back and people were shaking their heads going, 'What is this foolishness?’ Today I think he has 21 offensive linemen on scholarship and they’re all the 6-foot-6, 325 (pound) type. One of them (Cody O’Connell) was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and a unanimous All-American. You need to win the game up front. We’ve all heard that, but it’s true.
"That one was going to take more time than probably others. Mike Belotti took over a conference championship program that, what he really needed was the fan base and the players to change their culture that they could do it every year and not just every 38 years. By the time we were done, that was the mindset.
"This is Nebraska. Nebraska needs to get back to being Nebraska. We’ve all heard the 18 years without a conference championship and what was it? Forty-six (conference titles) before that? What needs to happen is when you have a program with great tradition and legacy — My son played on one in high school that never lost a conference game in like 12 years, and then those guys feel an obligation to hand that off to the next generation and then that next generation, ‘We’ve got to hit the bar and not let those guys down.' Then the next one and the next one. I don’t know if that’s happening here, but it did at one time. You look at Ohio State, you look at Oklahoma, that’s in their minds there.
"But yet, every one of those storied programs has had a dip. Texas is trying to get out of one now. Mack Brown’s last team — I think this is accurate — didn’t have an NFL Draft pick. It’s one thing to get there, another thing to stay there, and that’s hard, especially today with parity. With scholarship limits, the equal television revenue, anybody can beat anybody else if you’re not watching it."
You’ve talked about your coaching shortlist that you keep. When you take a new job, does the list get thrown out and redrawn or altered at all?
Moos: "I actually had a list of jobs I would ever consider leaving Washington State for in the top drawer and this one was at the top of the list. So I do depend on the list. It’s always been important for me, primarily in football and men’s basketball. You may lose a coach because you have to let him go, or you may lose one going to another program or the pros, and you’ve got to be ready. For example, when I hired Mike Leach, there were four openings just in the Pac-12 and also there was Illinois and Kansas and Ole Miss, and they’re all going to center on some of the same guys. It’s wise, in my opinion, to have a little advance plan."
How does the early signing period for football recruiting, which begins Dec. 20, affect that now? Have you considered that?
Moos: "It affects it. If you’re contemplating that you might need to make a change, you’d better have your playbook together. I’ve seen places that put together 22-person search committees and go get the head-hunters and, in the meantime, all the good talent’s committed to somewhere else and signed.
So can we see the list? (Laughs)
Moos: "I couldn’t find a drawer! We’ve got to get that addressed. There’s no drawer in my desk. I reached for a drawer to get a pencil and there was no drawer there."
You’ve spent your whole life in the Pacific Northwest and could do things like (be on your tractor in the afternoon). You've said, "This is Nebraska," but personally, what was it that drew you out from up there to this specific challenge?
Moos: "The bonus is how great the people are. This really, as I’m getting a feel for it — and I’ve only been here three days — but it’s a great big Eastern Washington. And notice I said Eastern Washington, OK, and I’ll leave that at that. The people, passion, trust and all of that. That’s the bonus.
"What drew me here is a chance, with my skills and my experience, to get the big prize. Realistically. That’s conference (titles) and, more of a prize, a national championship. It’s not a fluke if you win a national championship at Nebraska. It’s not a 'Hoosiers' story. I’m not going to say it’s expected, but it’s happened before, it’s happened more than once, and it can happen again.
"We talked about parity and all of that. I’m finally at a place where — it doesn’t mean you go to sleep at the wheel on cost containment and watching the budget — but it isn’t like having to go cut programs and cut positions. I cut $1.5 million out of Washington State’s budget just four months ago. That’s two senior associate ADs, two associate ADs and an assistant that had to be absorbed from the rest because of a budget deficit that had to be addressed. I’m finally at a place where I can focus on other things, not that it isn’t important. That’s a tribute to our fans and then the Adidas contract, IMG, it’s as good as it gets. Not very many people get to do that, and I feel very fortunate."
Have you thought about the challenge of keeping the sellout streak going?
Moos: "I don’t want it to end on my watch. We’ve got things to do. The stadium, as I’m learning, has some areas that need to be addressed. The product and such. These are such great fans and I think they’re starving to get in that national picture again. Once you’ve tasted that, it’s pretty good."
Is there any challenge right off the bat to not feel overwhelmed with all the information coming at you in a new place?
Moos: "No. You know, I’m already impressed with the staff, 358 full-time employees, so that’s going to take a little while. I’ve got a little book here with pictures.
"The reason this office is messy is because it’s not a priority. I want to be with the people and I want to establish a blueprint here. Some things might get changed, some things will be fine, and that takes a while. Sometimes you’ve got to take that wide receiver and make him a corner. Or that linebacker might have to be a left guard. Where do they fit best to help us be successful? All through my career I’ve done that, but I’ve never walked in and broke up the furniture, because there’s a lot of things happening here that are very, very good.
"It is the largest (department) I’ve ever overseen, so a lot of delegation. The important thing, when it’s all said and done and we get my approach to leading this, is that everybody’s bought in and we understand what everybody needs to do so that I can step away from it.
"I like to use this phrase: The sign of a good restaurant is when the customer doesn’t know if the chef’s in the kitchen. I need to be out with the people. I need to be with my student-athletes. I need to be around town. I need to get in the car and be in Omaha. I need to be out around and also have the media have access to me. That’s important and I’m doing it now, but I’ve got to make sure that, once we’ve got the game plan together, that it’s being followed and I don’t have to worry. And that people can get answers. You need answers quickly and I need to be comfortable that they’re the answers that I would give if I was here."
Generally speaking, are you open to or in favor of alcohol sales in campus athletics venues, or was that conversation at Washington State specific to that situation?
Moos: "Every place is different. It is trending up and you’re seeing a lot more of it. Primarily, and I mentioned this on the radio, that’s for a couple of reasons. The fan has a lot of different options now. Especially the fan that has to travel quite a ways. That was the case at Washington State, where the fan base is at least an hour and a half away and, in many cases, more. I know that’s the case in some instances here. A lot of night games because of television, so when they’re contemplating, ‘Honey, do you want to go to the game?’ ‘Nah, let’s just sit here, have dinner and a beverage or two and watch it on television.’ They have that option now. That entered into it.
"At Washington State, the fans would leave at halftime and go across the street to the RV lots where their trailers and stuff were and have a cocktail party and sometimes forget to come back. (Laughs) Sometimes conveniently and other times it was too much fun to just stay out there. That was one thing we were shooting for there, plus the fact that we could monitor alcohol consumption. If it had been approved, we weren’t going to allow pass-out, leaving the stadium at halftime and coming back.
"It was going to be, in a seven-game home schedule, nearly $1 million in revenue. (What’s the capacity of the stadium?) Oh, you’d be pushing it to get to 34,000 and 8-10,000 are students. And of course you have to make sure they’re not served and all those things, but there’s ways of doing that.
"Again, I haven’t even seen a game here. It’s been sold out since 1962, so I think Husker fans are fine without it, but we’ll have to take a look."
At Washington State, you lived on a ranch outside of town and had wheat, cattle and lots of land. What are your living plans for Lincoln?
Moos: "We made the decision that we’re going to live in town and probably get a condo downtown. That’s so we can be in the various restaurants, be with people, walk the sidewalks and walk to work. At this stage in our lives, with the children all out of the nest, we don’t need a big yard or any of those things. That’s the route we’re going to go.
"We still have that 210-acre big yard up in Washington if we need some space, we’ll run up there for a day or two.
"Just under a quarter section of our ground is in wheat land and it’s away from the ranch that my wife and I built. That’s all wheat and my cousin custom farms that for me and we’ll lease that to him. The rest of our land that was primarily alfalfa and grazing land up at the Special K Ranch, we’re turning that over to our neighbors. They’ll farm that and keep it real nice. The grounds where the house is and of course the barn and all that, that’s there waiting when we’re finished here. We’ll probably run up there in the summer for a week or something.
"You’ve got all the elbow room and you have a bunch of people over and you can tell them you do all the work."
You’ve talked about being accessible to fans. What were you doing at Washington State that showed that?
Moos: "The first thing I did was I established my own radio show in Spokane every Monday. This last year we moved it to Tuesday, but it was typically Monday at 10 a.m. That’s where the majority of the fans were and it served really a couple of purposes. One was I could get the word out to fans up there — we had it in a restaurant/sports bar and they’d pack the thing. I’d get the message to them about how important they were and that you’ve got to get down there (to Pullman, about a 75-mile drive), you’ve got to be there and you’ll make a difference. This season, there’s a game will win because of you.
"We’d have a call-in deal — ‘Why don’t you move the band over to the end zone, we can’t hear?’ But I’ve never had one like the popcorn question (earlier this week), but there were some far-out ones.
"The other purpose it served was those people knew I was there. That I cared enough. Because I’m asking them to come down on Saturday, by gosh, I’m driving that same road on Monday. I could use that and did and that proved to be very valuable.
"Usually in the afternoon, I’d go out and have my tractor time. My staff would go, ‘Hey Bill, next Monday at tractor time, will you think about that volleyball foreign tour?’ That’s when I’d clear my head. So I’ve got to get a tractor. You’ll see me driving around in town here on a John Deere tractor, waving."