Bill Doba's first day on the job
IT HAS BEEN a while since I last said “so long” to a WSU football coach. With that goodbye—in December of 2002, to be precise—I maniacally wielded pen to paper in a fit of indignation and a senses-numbing feeling of betrayal, with visions of Bear Bryant, clandestine meetings and private jets dancing in my head.
As knee-jerk as my commentary on Mike Price’s ill-timed (and, as destiny would have it, ill-fated) resignation as Washington State’s head honcho was, I still feel justified—if not quite as self-righteous—as I did on the day I said goodbye to the man we’d dubbed “Saint Mike.”
Turns out the real saint has been here with us the whole time.
And while my “Dear John,” letter to Price was one part sadness, one part venom, I placed (and still place) the blame squarely on his shoulders. It was he who failed our relationship, not I.
This time around? Well, let’s just put it this way: It’s not you, Bill. It’s me.
Sure, I’d like to blame Bill Doba’s departure on the changing face of college football, in general, and Cougar football, specifically, where words like “business” and “product” now seem as apropos as “blitz” and “pass.” I would like to point my finger and shake my head in disgust over the skewed sense of entitlement the younger generation of Coug fans seem to have; a generation that cut their teeth on consecutive top ten rankings and late December bowl trips.
Truth is, though, whether your age is 45 or 25, whether you grew up with Jim Sutherland or Jim Walden, we’ve all come to wear the “what have you done for me lately” jersey of modern Cougar football.
Regrettably, I must look in the mirror and see that I’ve changed along with the game and Washington State football. It has slipped my mind that not so long ago you’d learn of a Cougar recruit if his family lived in your neighborhood or was a friend’s cousin. Now we have press conferences. Internet traffic is typically highest when a 17-year olds collegiate destination is announced.
I’ve all but forgotten cutting my own cougar teeth on WSU football during the Jim Sweeney era, watching the Smilin’ Irishman lead my Cougs to a 26-59-1 record from 1968 to ’75…and loving every minute of it.
I cringed and recoiled over the redundant vitriol spewed by fans on the Cougfan.com message board regarding Coach Doba and the “demise” of Wazzu football this past season. Those cringes often turned to shame with the knowledge that his daughter Beth—one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever met—was reading these same posts.
Yet I too quietly wondered when I would again be able to travel to Southern California over the holidays, felt my BP soar over another three-and-out, questionable (in my novice opinion) play calling, and yeah, the recruiting dry spell had me more than a little freaked out. Mostly I just pined for those 10 win seasons. Can’t expect a fan to live the good life of Top 10 football for three years running then just go cold turkey for four years, can you?
JEROME HARRISON AND BILL DOBA l
But with the reality of Monday’s press conference slapping me awake, I’ve had a few days to truly reflect on Bill Doba , his place in the annals of WSU and my role as alum and lifelong fan.
There’s only one good guy here, and it isn’t me.
High hopes were supplanted by high demands. Love of the game was bested by lust for the glory. Childlike excitement was shot down by corporate-like expectations. Unbridled élan became unreasoning enthusiasm. We didn’t name it Cougfanatic.com. Yet, that is what I’d become. A fanatic.
I do find amusement in the realization that Doba had been coaching at my alma mater far longer than many of his detractors have been following Cougar football. And many more that were barely walking when he first stepped foot on the Pullman campus.
I won’t forget the architect of the Palouse Posse and his overall defensive acumen, his unprecedented success over the Huskies or how his transition to head coach made the 2003 season possible. Programs do not handle sudden coach resignations very well, WSU probably more so than others. The near seamlessness of Doba’s hire was the godsend and salvation of that magical season.
Argue if you must, but without Bill Doba there is no Holiday Bowl championship. A defense with names like Acholonu, Coleman, David, and Derting had his signature all over it. The name “Doba” might as well been stitched on the back of their jerseys. (Oh, and he accomplished that with a first year starter at QB who’d languished for three years behind a Heisman candidate.)
BILL DOBA AND MACK BROWNl
A Holiday Bowl victory, by the way, over a No. 5 Texas that—next to the 1916 Rose Bowl championship—ranks as the second greatest win in school history.
I find some solace in the belief that, sooner than later, history will hold Bill Doba in a shining crimson and gray hued light. One still certain thing about WSU is that—aside from Bert Clark—we love our old coaches (I’ll put a remains-to-be-seen asterisk by Price for now). Look at Sweeney. He’s a holy Cougar icon on the Palouse. Or take Walden. The legend of his tenure at Pullman grows in Paternoesque bounds with each passing year.
I’m thrilled that Doba went out with an Apple Cup win in very dramatic fashion, reminding us all that the rivalry is a big deal and pretending its not is a slight on our—and the Huskies—football heritage.
And please take note that I’ve purposely refrained from the use of the word “class” and the phrase “class act” that we see or hear frequently attached to Doba, even more so since Monday. Referring to him in that manner is redundant. The word is synonymous with the man.
I’ll let others delve into the schematics of the “mutual decision” verbiage. I’m just pleased and proud that my university has Doba involved in the search for his successor. I’m happy he looked every bit the Cougar on Monday that he did at any time in the past 19 years.
But these are just things I left unsaid. I should’ve written an article like this months ago, Coach Doba, when it mattered. But I didn’t. So I guess I’m asking you to forgive me. Forgive us.
But most importantly, I just want to say “thank you.”
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For a great insiders look at Bill Doba, check out a piece we published last summer, COPING BILL DOBA
BILL DOBA, 2003 HOLIDAY BOWL