After 14 years at Washington State, Mike Price could have remained in Pullman as a revered figure until he retired. But calling Alabama the "premier coaching job in the nation," the 56-year-old was presented with an opportunity he simply could not turn down. Price becomes the 25th head coach of the Crimson Tide--the sixth man to hold the job since Coach Paul W. Bryant retired.
Price carries the reputation of something of an offensive guru, specializing in developing big-time quarterbacks. Drew Bledsoe (New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills) and Ryan Leaf (formerly of the San Diego Chargers) earned big money in the NFL, after playing for Price. And current Cougar QB Jason Gesser is projected to make it to "the League" as well.
Located in the Southeast corner of the state--just miles from the Idaho line--Washington State is easily the toughest job in the PAC-10 conference. Far removed from the Pacific coastline, Pullman's winters are both brutal and long. State's athletic facilities lag behind other conference schools, and in fact they still share some resources with the University of Idaho located nearby. The WSU campus is two hours from the nearest Interstate and almost 300 miles from the state's population centers to the West.
Washington State's stadium holds less than 40,000 fans, and despite Price's recent success the Cougars struggle to sell it out on a regular basis. WSU's athletic budget is the lowest in the PAC-10, and their coaching salaries also suffer. With incentives, Price earned $900,000 this season, but his base salary was $500k. There was no buyout clause in his contract.
Because of location and past history, recruiting to Washington State is extremely tough. Most seasons the Cougars have no more than 75 initially-scholarshipped athletes on their team, though Price has made a habit of finding walk-ons that can contribute. Price has a well-deserved reputation for evaluating high school talent and developing the athlete once he gets to campus.
Price has taken his Cougar teams to five bowl games, including two Rose Bowls--unheard of success at Washington State. Including this season, Price and WSU have gone to more Rose Bowls in the past six years than Washington, UCLA and Southern Cal combined.
The job that Price has done in the PAC-10 at Washington State can be compared to Bill Snyder at Kansas State in the Big 12. Both schools were perennial doormats before Price/Snyder took over. But with talent and hard work the two men have turned the tables on their more prominent and far more wealthy conference rivals.
Like Snyder, Price has a reputation for out-coaching his opponent.
Friendly and plain-spoken in person, Price is well-liked by his players. But he also carries a reputation as a disciplinarian, willing to stick to his principals even when it can hurt his team's on-the-field chances. This season two of his athletes, a cornerback and safety, got into a fight in the Cougar locker room. One player came away with a broken jaw. Price suspended the other man, a starter and defensive co-captain, and held him out of action until the injured man could return.
Over the past six seasons, Washington State is 40-30, including 10-2 in 2001 and (so far) 10-2 this season. Price's overall record with the Cougars is 83-77. Before taking over at WSU, Price was 46-44 at Weber State.
Currently ranked 7th by the Associated Press, Price's Washington State teams have finished in the Top 25 four other times. The Cougars finished 1997 ranked 9th and were ranked 10th in 2001.