The Dichotomy of Mike Price

HIS SUPPORTERS ARE legion; his detractors, well, they've recently grown pretty large in numbers, too. And, in many respects, these opposite factions perfectly represent the dichotomous life of <b>Mike Price</b>.

Let's start with the obvious: Images of him sharing a hotel room with a woman other than his wife - - let alone rolling bills at a strip club - - were initially and instantly dismissed in these parts because it was the antithesis of the man we'd affectionately dubbed "Saint Mike."


The Mike Price we knew was Everyman's father, grandfather, uncle, or coach. We may have questioned his play calling from time to time, but never did we question his character, his moral fiber, or his integrity.


And speaking of play calling, his coaching abilities provide more examples of Mike Price, the Human Contradiction. How could someone so highly regarded in coaching circles for his offensive acumen so often call plays that would leave even his most ardent supporters shaking their heads in disbelieving wonder?


As the helmsman of Washington State football, Price took the Cougars to unprecedented heights with two Pac-10 championships in six seasons. Just as impressive are these past two campaigns - - the second most productive pair of Cougar seasons in school history - - that saw WSU go 20-5.


But if his high times on the Palouse were gloriously towering, his low points were absolutely curb level. Indeed, his 10-24 mark from 1998-2000 ranks with the worst of ‘em in Cougar annals. Only one other coach in the history of Washington State football has overseen a more futile three-year period.


Of all the coaches whose stay at Ol' Wazzu lasted eight years or more, Price owns the lowest winning percentage against cross-state rival Washington. Yet no Cougar coach has fared better against the historically-near-impossible-to-beat USC, accounting for 3 of WSU's paltry 8 career victories over the Troyboys.


But the dichotomy that was Price's tenure at WSU can be best exemplified by this simple bit of trivia: In the past six seasons, he coached the Cougs into two Rose Bowls…and two losses to Idaho.


And then there is Mike Price the family man. College football coaching, with the hours, the travel, the commitments, is by its very nature an anti-family profession - - regardless of the number of sons you have on staff. But his portrayal as the consummate family man wasn't some PR-spin; it seemed an obvious and evident fact to anyone familiar with WSU football. So then how does the lure of coaching Alabama win out over the adamant wishes of his wife and family members that he stay in Pullman?


What of Mike Price, the loyal straight shooter we'd known for 14 years? In a period of just a few weeks late last year he berates a recruit for breaking his word and jumping ship to Montlake, tells his players he rebuffed UCLA's offer because "I can't take you with me," all the while taking a tour of Tuscaloosa yet maintaining he'd been in no contact with Bama.


Even my own current feelings toward Mike Price are contradictory. Whether or not I'm an accurate gauge of the Cougar Nation, I don't know. It's probably safe to assume my thoughts on Price are mirrored by at least some segment of Cougar faithful.


I'm not done being mad at the coach for turning a glorious Rose Bowl campaign into an Alabama sideshow. Not done by a long shot. I still sting from his decision to coach in Pasadena and his casual waving off of those who thought it unwise he do so. I'm confused he would shed tears over Tide players he's known barely four months and yet remained relatively dry-eyed leaving Cougar players he'd nurtured for five years and a program he'd been directly involved in for nearly a quarter century.


And yet when I awoke Saturday morning his impending doom was the first thing on my mind, clouding my mood in a way I can't adequately put into words. And I felt sad.


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