10 insightful minutes with Bill Doba

BILL DOBA REMAINS so glib and friendly at age 71 that even with just 10 minutes to chat you can fill up a notebook. The ol' ball coach was in Spokane this week to kickoff WSU's week-long series of events leading up to Saturday's Crimson & Gray Game. A Monday gathering celebrated the Cougs' memorable win over Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl that capped Doba's first season as head coach.

The reunion with old friends and faces marked his first appearance at a WSU event since the 2007 Apple Cup -- a dramatic Cougar victory that marked the end of his coaching career. In all, he spent 19 seasons on the Palouse -- five as head man, nine as defensive coordinator and five as linebackers coach.

In our brief conversation Tuesday he was positively delighted he had made the trek out from his home in southwest Michigan.

In fact, he wished he could have stayed all week and attended Saturday's game at Albi Stadium, but retirement, as he explained, can be a juggling act.

With only a narrow window to chat, the long list of questions for him had to be pared quickly. So the conversation was part catching up and a whole lot of stuff-we-always-wanted-to-ask-but-never-got-around-to.

Here are the wide-ranging highlights …

What kind of emotions did you feel this week coming back to Cougar Country?

This was the first Cougar function I've attended since I left WSU, and it was great, an awesome night. I talked with so many loyal Cougar alums, and it was great to see Matt Kegel again, and Will Derting, Grady Emmerson, Billy Newman and Coach Akey … I think they chased us all out of the place about three in the morning. I'm so proud of what all they're doing with their lives.

Did reliving that game spark any forgotten memories?

One that brings tears to my eyes was right after the game ended. One of our fans there in the stadium had a trombone. The next day was (wife) Judy's birthday so he played happy birthday to her on the trombone.

Do you still follow the Cougs?

Oh yeah, and I always will. Lots of my wardrobe is Cougar gear. I wear it all the time. People give me a bad time (in Notre Dame and Big Ten country) ... (Daughter) Beth still logs on to Cougfan.com.

On the legendary goal-line stand against UCLA that put the 1997 season on path to the Rose Bowl, you were desperately trying to call time out just before UCLA snapped the ball on the fourth-down play. What did you see that was so troubling and how'd the Cougs overcome it?

I'll never forget it. There was about three minutes left and they could have kicked a field goal to tie the game but decided to go for it. They came out in a formation loaded to their left and our safety misread the tight end and called a goal-line left alignment for us – which meant we had a bunch of guys lined up on UCLA's right side .... I thought ‘Oh Christ!' and tried to call time out ... I was holding my breath on the snap. If their running back (Jermaine) Lewis had bounced outside to his left he would have scored easily because we didn't have anyone there. Instead he went straight up and Leon (Bender) made the play ... After the game everybody is saying ‘great call, coach.' Oh God, if they only knew. A wise man sometimes is known for what he doesn't say, so I didn't say a word.

Leon Bender or Chad Eaton?

Oh boy ... Leon had very quick feet for a big guy and he kept his pad level down and just drove offensive linemen backward. He had a charging style. Chad had a higher pad level but he was stronger and he had that attitude – well, Leon had attitude too ... he'd chase a ref down the tunnel to talk about a bad call – but Chad really had that attitude. It would be a toss up on who's better. They were both darn good. I just wish Leon could have been with us longer and played in the NFL. Editor's note: Not sure how Outland Trophy winner Rien Long's name was left out of the question posed to Coach Doba, but we'll chalk it up to being in a rush.

Name two of your fondest memories from your 19 seasons at WSU.

From the team standpoint, beating Washington (in 1997) to go to the Rose Bowl was a great, great thrill. From a personal standpoint, our first four games of 1994 – which was my first season as defensive coordinator – were pretty memorable. We were on the road against Illinois, Tennessee and UCLA, and played Fresno State at home, and in those four games combined we gave up one touchdown. We led the nation in damn near every category. Calls were coming in from the New York Times and all over the country asking what we were doing.

If you had to single out just one player in all your years at WSU as the best defender, who would it be?

That's tough, damn near impossible to answer ... Erik Coleman was a doggone good safety and Steve Gleason was a tremendous competitor. And there's Derting and Trufant, and DeWayne Patterson was an overachiever. There are so many others ... Settling on one, it would be Mark Fields. He was big, super strong, and could run. He was a phenomenal athlete. That speed and size, plus a 39-40 inch vertical leap, was really uncommon. I remember he went to the NFL Combine and posted the third-best time in the 40 -- not for linebackers, but overall, every position, including backs and receivers. Within 10 days, all 32 (NFL) teams had sent someone to Pullman to check him out more ... The other thing about Mark was that he was just a great kid to coach. We had a lot of fun.

What are you doing to keep busy in retirement?

It's amazing. People ask me what I do all day and I just go on and on ... I live on a lake, which is a big draw when you have grandkids – I try to spend a lot of time with my kids and grandkids. I have a couple boats, a canoe, kayak. It's a great spot ... I always like to play golf, and being a bachelor I invite some of the guys on the lake over to smoke cigars, drink beer and watch football ... Being an old coach, I still stay up late. I watch Leno and the late shows, then don't get up in the morning until 9:30. By the time I have coffee, read the paper and do a Sudoku puzzle, it's noon. Then I'll do laundry or mow the grass, all the chores – or maybe not. The phrase "have to" is not in my vocabulary anymore ... My kids live fairly close, my daughters are in Columbus and my son in Indianapolis, so if they're not coming my way I'll drive to see them. Having been a coach, I missed out on a lot when they were young so I'm making up for it now. It would be great if Judy were here, but otherwise I feel very fortunate.

Of the head coaches in Cougar history who were around for more than one or two years, can you name the four with the highest winning percentage?

Well, I'd imagine Coach Price is on there. I'd have to think about it beyond Mike.

You're right with Mike. The other three are Lone Star Dietz, Babe Hollingbery and a guy named Bill Doba.

I had no idea. It was a good run there ... I'm still waiting for the bowl invitation for 2006 when we went 6-6 – actually chuckle, I think that should be counted as 7-5 because of the sanctions on USC (with Reggie Bush) ... I'll tell ya, Pullman is a great place to live and to coach.

Can we do this again sometime?


For more thoughts from Doba on Leach, facilities and more, check out this video from KXLY TV. If the viewer below doesn't work for you, click on this link.


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