Tormey talks Cougs & his long path to Pullman

FOR THE YOUNG Chris Tormey growing up in Spokane, Tom Poe and Gary Larsen weren't just star Washington State linebackers he read about in the Spokesman-Review and Daily Chronicle. Nope, they were guys he put on a pedestal. In fact, he thought so much of those early 70s standouts that he dreamed of following in their footsteps on the Cougar defense.

"I idolized some of the great players here," Tormey told CF.C this week. "I definitely saw myself as a Cougar."

That's some vision, because it took almost four decades for Tormey to realize that dream. At age 55, Tormey is a Cougar, after agreeing to become the school's linebackers coach last week.


It was one hell of a road to Pullman for Tormey, who starred at Gonzaga Prep but blew a knee as a senior and then saw his scholarship offer to WSU disappear. Consequently, the two most prominent stops of Tormey's career are two of Washington State's biggest rivals, Washington and Idaho.

Tormey has been a head coach at Idaho and Nevada, and comes to Pullman after a two-year stint as an assistant coach at Hawaii.

You know a guy really wants to become a Cougar when, at 55, he's willing to leave the paradise of Honolulu.

"It was a great place to wake up every morning. I enjoyed coaching the kids. I was happy there," Tormey said. "But you don't get many chances to come back home. And to get back in the Pac-10. I really believe in the direction of the program."

It meant something to Tormey that he'll be able to coach near his 82-year-old mother Margaret, who lives in Spokane. Three siblings – Mary, Julie and Bill – are Washington State graduates. Plus, it was time.

"You always visualize where you'd like to be at the end of the day. My wife Kellie and I saw ourselves in Washington state at some point," Tormey said.

Better still, Washington STATE.

What took so long to finally land in Pullman? The game of playing and coaching doesn't play favorites. If that were the case, Tormey would have played at Washington State. Instead, it was Idaho, where Tormey got several cracks at the Cougars during the 1970s. None were all that memorable.

"In 1974, it was a 17-10 game, and it could have gone either way. I don't think we kept it close many other games," Tormey said.

Once his playing days ended, Tormey spent his first 19 years coaching football at Idaho and Washington. Though he would have coached at Washington State, Tormey said there "never was a situation where I was looking for a job when the Cougars had something open."

Tormey's tenures at Idaho and Washington were both "great breaks at the time." Tormey had two assistant coaching stints at Washington, and served as Idaho's head coach from 1995-99 before taking over in 2000 at Nevada, where he spent four seasons.

Tormey was 49-54 in nine years as a head coach, though it ended on a low note at Nevada when he was fired by then-athletic director Chris Ault, now the Wolf Pack coach. Tormey has since served as an assistant coach for the past seven years, from 2004-08 at Washington and the past two seasons at Hawaii.

Tormey said the return from head coach to assistant wasn't difficult.

"I think it's toughest to go from assistant to head coach, because of all the responsibilities," Tormey said. "As an assistant coach, you're a lot more hands on. As a head coach, you're really more of an administrator."

Tormey hasn't ruled out someday running a program again, but he's not bent on making it happen.

"I've learned along the way to make sure it's the right opportunity. If the right opportunity came along, I'd be interested," Tormey said.

Right now, Tormey's interests lie with an improving Washington State program. Tormey raves about the direction under coach Paul Wulff, and the commitment shown by athletic director Bill Moos. Tormey describes the current state of Cougar football as similar to what he had at Nevada.

"The Cougars are right there. It reminds me of the time I spent in Reno. It took three years just to get the program back to ground zero, then it got going," Tormey said.

Tormey said he hasn't kept close tabs on Washington State football during his two years at Hawaii, but is quickly boning up on WSU's stable of linebackers.

"Some guys have a lot of potential, and it's my responsibility to help them achieve that potential," Tormey said. "Now that I'm a Cougar, the competitive fire is there stronger than ever. I'm excited to be here with this group."

True to form as a coach known for leaving no detail to chance, one of Tormey's first stops upon landing in Pullman was to visit the athletic department's academic support team. "He wanted to know where his guys stood and what he could do to help them," one of the advisers there said. "That's the kind of coach who makes a difference on and off the field."

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