Q&A: As Mike Price enters the WSU HOF this weekend, part II of our talk with ol' WSU coach features some great nuggets and stories

MIKE PRICE says his "whole offensive package" at Wazzu was crafted from one of his coaching buddies at San Jose State. You'll recognize the name. Price covers a wide range of topics -- from coaching peers to the Snow Bowl to his decision to leave WSU -- in the second of our two-part exclusive interview with Price as approaches his induction into the Washington State Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend.

COUGFAN: Having prepared for and coached against some legends of the college game, are there any who stand out for you?

Price: I coached against a lot of good friends of mine. In particular, Dennis Erickson, who I think is one of the best coaches ever in (the Pac-10/12) and nationally known. He ran one of the best programs with everything put together. We kind of knew each other, but it wasn’t that hard to prepare for each other because we kind of ran the same offenses.

Keith Gilbertson, we coached against him when he was at Washington and  California and at Idaho, that was one of those times where you beat your friend and he’s going to get fired because of it. That was always kind of hanging out there. It wasn’t as much fun as we thought it would be to compete against each other.

Bill Walsh at Stanford, Pete Carroll at USC, John Robinson at USC, Don James obviously at the University of Washington, Bruce Synder at Arizona State, it was really exciting to coach against some of those legends.

We got our whole offensive package from Jack Elway who was coaching at San Jose State. When I got the job at Weber State and he was at San Jose we went down there.

He kind of invented the one-back offense. He got it from a coach at Granada Hills High (Jack Neumeier) that John (Elway) played for. (Jack's) offensive coordinator was Dennis (Erickson), so when he went to Idaho he ran the same offense that we ran. And it’s been a staple in the pros for many years now. It was fun to get in on that.

On the way to San Jose from Ogden, Utah, we had a van. All the coaches jumped in the van...and on the way we stopped at the University of Pacific and met with a young defensive coordinator there who was just really great. Got ideas on defenses from ... Pete Carroll. And he might still be working!

COUGFAN: You coached Drew Bledsoe and Jason Hanson, a couple of players who have preceded you into the WSU HOF. What made them such special student-athletes?

Price: Drew was really the guy that made the big turnaround, I think, for my program. Not that it wasn’t solid under (Jim) Sweeney, Jim Walden and Warren Powers -- who were good coaches at Washington State before I got there. Of course Dennis (Erickson) just did a marvelous job for the Cougars. The cabinet wasn’t empty when I got there but the Drew Bledsoe, being a national elite quarterback was probably the biggest recruit that I signed. His dad was (an offensive lineman and) captain of the Huskies' team (1957, Mac Bledsoe).

Drew was 'Steady Eddie', man. You don’t get many 18-year old guys like him. You get guys that act like they’re 18. He was acting like he was 27! He was just the nicest, best person you could ever want to meet and tough, reliable, genuine and mature. He was fantastic for us. He was kind of the first one.

I’ve had maybe eight or nine No. 1 draft picks in my coaching career. A lot of good athletes at their position. I think Jason Hanson (who went on to a 20-year career in the NFL)...was the finest player at his position I’ve ever coached -- and you know we had some good kickers, too. His calmness, demeanor, consistency and was the best of any kicker. He almost dislocated his ankle every time he kicked it. He was so quick and had so much torque.

COUGFAN: Aside from the ‘97-98 Rose Bowl team, what team is your most memorable?

Price: It probably would have been the last one, when we played Oklahoma because there was a lot of controversy going into that last Rose Bowl game (2002). And it was because of an unfortunate set of circumstances that I went through with deciding to take the Alabama job.

When I told them I was leaving and how they reacted, that to me was just wonderful. I was surprised. There was a couple of guys that mouthed off, but there weren’t very many. It made me cry, really. I was getting a lot of crap from people I thought were my friends. It was hard on my wife and kids. There were a lot of sleepless nights.

That team just stood behind me. The president of the university and the No. 1 sports announcer said, ‘You shouldn’t go to the Rose Bowl.’

It wasn’t a unanimous decision for me to do that, but it was with the team. I asked them several times during that week (leading up to the game), ‘Are you sure you want me on the sidelines?’ ...I was calling all the plays. I wasn’t just a stick figure. I called all the plays for 14-years there.

For me to drop Jason Gesser and the offense off in California and not help them, that’s not right. But people didn’t look at it like that. I had to take the heat but I knew I was doing right in my heart. The team wanted me to do it.

COUGFAN: Of all the games you coached on the sidelines for Washington State, which one is the most memorable?

Price: Probably the Snow Bowl (Apple Cup ‘92) because it was so unusual. Our team was staying in Moscow at a little Motel 6. That was where we always stayed. It wasn’t quite like it is now! I bought the kids double cheeseburgers and stuff from McDonald's as a snack before they went to bed. So in the morning we got on the bus and it started snowing. The closer we got to (Pullman), the more it snowed and the louder the kids got on the bus. They started chanting and screaming and hollering. ‘We’re gonna kill ‘em. It’s snowing here. This is so great!’

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Guys like Anthony McClanahan, who’s from Bakersfield, and all the California kids were like, ‘I’m a Cougar so I like snow.’ The team was just so excited. I couldn’t believe it.

So I went up to my office (in Bohler Gym) and was going over my game plan to make some adjustments because of the snow. Sideline to sideline plays weren't going to be real good. We’d go north-south against these guys and circle those plays.

I looked down and saw the Huskies' bus come up.

They’re all getting off the bus and putting their coats on, and they’re all frowning. They didn’t want any part of it. They hated coming to Pullman. So when it was snowing, it made it doubly worse. I knew right there; 'We got ‘em. We got ‘em. This is it. We’re going to beat these guys.'

They were going to the Rose Bowl, you know? It wasn’t like they were chopped liver.

COUGFAN: Was that your call to run the post pattern on the game-winning TD pass?

Price: Yeah, it was a double post and I’m not sure if anybody is ever going to tell the truth or not whether (Bledsoe) was throwing to C.J. Davis or Phillip Bobo. They were sliding into the end zone and of course he says it was the right guy. I’m not sure if he just threw it up or not, but is was sure good.

Drew had a great game and it was so much fun.

I’ll never forget Shaumbe (Wright-Fair) running into the end zone at the closed end. We hadn’t played much down near that end zone and there wasn’t any footprints in the snow -- except Shaumbe’s running in for the TD. It was hilarious.

In closing, Price left no doubt about his bond with Washington State and the town of Pullman.

Price: I was there 21 years as a player, as an assistant coach and then a head coach. It certainly was our home. All three of my children were born in the little ‘ol hospital.

Pullman, it’s real special.

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