Last year, Brackenridge was sidelined with academic issues and Pflugrad was on the sidelines for the Cougs, as assistant head coach, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
In February he moved back to his hometown, Eugene, to join Mike Bellotti's staff Oregon. It was a change driven by family. His aging parents and his wife's parents all live there.
At the time, he said breaking the news to Cougar head man Bill Doba was "the hardest thing I've ever done in coaching."
| Cougars (4-3) vs. Oregon (5-1)|
AT A GLANCE
2 pm Pacific Time
In fact, Pflugrad has talked with every member of the WSU staff at least once in the last six or seven weeks. One of those conversations was late on a Friday, when the Cougars were in Corvallis to play the Beavers and Oregon was on the road at Cal. "We're in Berkeley and Robb Akey calls out of the blue -- he was watching the local news and wanted to tell me there was a highlight clip from a high school game showing some kid named Pflugrad making a great catch."
Pflugrad's son Aaron, a star at Pullman High last season, is lighting things up this year for Eugene's Sheldon High and has received scholarship offers from Boise State, Idaho, Eastern Washington and others.
PFLUGRAD SAYS HE'S excited to return to Pullman and have a chance to shake hands with former colleagues and an entire team of players he coached and helped recruit.
"Every single memory I have of Pullman and WSU is positive," he says. "I loved the place and the people, and those kids on the team are very special to me."
Pflugrad is unequivocal in his assessment of the Cougars.
"I like that team -- they are definitely going to a bowl game," he says. "Talent wise and work ethic wise, they have the ability to put together a very strong second half of the season – I just want to delay the start by one week."
As an offensive assistant, he's spending all his time this week looking at the Cougar defense. What he's found so far is formidable.
"Look at the Cougars' scores this year vs. last and it's night and day – the defense is playing very well. They trust each other and are playing together. As a result, they're shutting people down," he says. "It looked for awhile there like Cal was going to score about 100 on us, and the Cougs held them down – and Cal is an outstanding football team."
The Bears beat Oregon 45-24 and the Cougars 21-3.
"Mkristo Bruce has taken things to another level – and I'm hoping he goes no higher this week. Scott Davis – I think the world of him. And Steve Dildine is running all over the field," he says. "They found a nice place for Lance Broadus and Ropati Pitoitua is knocking down all kinds of passes.
"Brackenridge is playing so well and I like both safeties – Eric Frampton seems like he's been there as long as Bill Doba and is doing well, and Husain Abdullah is playing well."
ASKED WHAT KIND OF reception he thinks he'll get when he steps onto the field Saturday, Pflugrad laughs. "I think our old neighbors and the folks I worked with in Bohler will be great. I have no idea how anyone else will react – I'm planning to get through the tunnel really fast. If I get called a few names I'll understand. It's a good thing I have thick skin."
He said the fierce loyalty of the Cougar Nation makes Martin Stadium one of the most inhospitable places around for opposing teams. "That's a great environment to play in – when you're the home team," he says, scoffing at the fact oddsmakers have installed the Ducks as four-point favorites this weekend.
Moreover, he adds, "I think there's a great passion among Cougar fans to beat the Ducks. Next to the Huskies, I think Oregon is the next school on the list (of enemies)."