IN 25 SEASONS AS A COLLEGE coach, nothing was as difficult for Robin Pflugrad as the conversation he had Thursday with Bill Doba to break the news that he would be joining Mike Bellotti’s staff at Oregon. The move will bring Pflugrad and his wife Marlene back to their hometown, where all four of their parents still live. Doba, WSU and Pullman hold a special place in his heart, Pflugrad told Cougfan.com today, but the family draw was too powerful an opportunity to pass up.
“Our parents aren’t getting any younger and that really was the driving consideration,” said Pflugrad, who graduated from North Eugene High in 1976 and Portland State in 1980.
“It was hard to break the news to Coach Doba – extremely difficult, because of the type of man he is, the integrity he has, and the respect I hold for him,” Pflugrad said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in coaching. I really can’t say enough about Coach Doba and my appreciation for the faith he placed in me.
“Because of Bill Doba and the entire Cougar Nation, it’s hard to leave,” he said, noting that he reports to work in Eugene on Thursday. “The opportunity to work for Mike Price and Bill Doba has been priceless. Mike gave me a chance and Bill kept me on.”
PFLUGRAD WORE THREE hats at WSU: assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. He came to WSU in July 2001 and proceeded to help the Cougars craft three consecutive 10-win seasons.
He promised Doba he’d do everything he could to help find a replacement “as good or better than I am.”
The tight end and assistant head coaching portions of his job might be easier to fill than the recruiting piece. That’s because the coordinator’s role requires a huge amount of time away from Xs and Os.
Regardless who fills that role, though, Pflugrad believes the Cougars won’t skip a proverbial beat in recruiting because a defined system and philosophy is in place.
At Oregon he’ll be the receivers coach and also play a major role in recruiting. “I’ve always been passionate about coaching receivers – I played receiver and coached receivers my entire career prior to coming to WSU, so I’m excited about that as well.”
Oregon will be Pflugrad’s fifth career coaching stop and third in the Pac-10. He was at Arizona State before coming to WSU. Before ASU he was at Montana and Portland State.
Pflugrad is best known among Cougar fans for his work in recruiting. During his time in Pullman -- and before that at ASU -- he developed a reputation as a high priest of the talent crusades.
In fact, recruiting is more a lifestyle for him than an avocation. "I'm a bad golfer and I don't fly fish," he said in an interview two years ago. "My hobby is recruiting. I think about it constantly."
The way Doba describes it, national letter-of-intent signing day is to Pflugrad what the final round of the Master's is to Tiger Woods: Laser-focused intensity. "If all the letters aren't in by 10 a.m., Pflu starts getting wound up," Doba once quipped about the man he dubbed "The Bulldog."
Ironically, Pflugrad broke his news to Doba the day after this year’s letters of intent were signed.
Asked to name some of the recruiting highlights over the last five seasons, Pflugrad beamed.
Beating out various of the Cougars’ Pac-10 brethren for the likes of Sammy Moore, Cody Boyd, Scott Davis, Andy Roof and brand new signee Andy Mattingly stand out. So does seeing the talent in guys who didn’t get a lot of attention, such as Jason Hill, Steve Dildine, Don Jackson and Alex Brink, among others.
He said running backs Jerome Harrison and Jonathan Smith, both of whom were landed out of Pasadena City College by assistant coach Mike Walker, might rank as the greatest recruiting success stories.
ONE OF THE MOST unique things about Doba, he said, was the head coach’s efforts to make sure the coaching staff had family time in a profession that doesn’t naturally lend itself to it. Pflugrad noted that this past year he was absent for the first recruiting weekend of his career because he was on the road – with Doba’s blessing – watching son Aaron’s Pullman Greyhounds win the state Class 2A football championship.
Aaron, a star wide receiver, is only a junior. Plans for his senior season aren’t yet determined, Pflugrad said, leaving open the possibility he could return to PHS for a final fling with standout quarterback J.T. Levenseller.
THE COUGAR-DUCK GAME this season will be played in Pullman. “I’m sure I’ll get a few remarks coming through the tunnel,” he said. Pflugrad called WSU fans “amazing - the most loyal in the entire nation.”
“What a statement that so many people drive over the mountains every weekend,” he said. “Seeing that stadium fill up will be a lasting memory for me.”
PFLUGRAD SAID THE WINS will flow in Pullman in 2006. “I think WSU will be excellent this year. Alex Brink will be a tremendous quarterback the next two years. Heck, if you just get rid of a handful of plays from this last season he’s already there. He’s mature and the guys are going to really rally around him this year.”
He said senior tight end Cody Boyd is in line for a break out season and that Jerome Harrison’s 2005 understudy, DeMaundray Woolridge, is a real talent.
And the new recruiting class will provide the team a serious boost. “I love what we did with the receiving corps. The depth will push guys to be better. And we have a lot of new people who will make our special teams better.”
AS FOR FONDEST MEMORY, Pflugrad said there are too many to choose from, but all the Apple Cups games stand out and his time working with the tight ends was very rewarding.
Note: Over the years, Cougfan.com has published several articles on Robin Pflugrad. Two of our favorites - one subscription and one that is free content: The Inexact Science, and The Bulldog: Coach Robin Pflugrad