Seen & Heard 3/19

THE FOOTBALL SEASON doesn't start for another five months, but already the pundits are out with forecasts. And while you'd expect that the Cougars -- returning few starters on defense and losing five key skill players on offense -- would get another snubbing the way they did last pre-season, I'm pleased to report that at least one national analyst understands what we faithful know: Washington State has a great program. Not a great <i>team</i>, but a great <i>program</i>.

The distinction is key. WSU has produced some great teams over the years. But to do it consistently --- as they have with three consecutive top 10 finishes --- requires a great program.

And Dennis Dodd, the college football guru at CBS', gets it. He's got the Cougars penned in at No. 21 in his newest pre-season rankings. Says he, "You can't dismiss three consecutive 10-win seasons. We keep hearing about all these (player) losses and the Cougars keep responding. The pressure is on second-year coach Bill Doba to start winning with his players. So what's wrong with 8-3 once in a while?"

About the only thing you can take issue with is that last year's team was made up of his players. Doba has been a fixture on the Palouse for a dozen years. That's why the transition from Price to Doba was so seamless. WSU, you see, has a football program. And from the looks of the most recent recruiting class, the program is looking good well into the future.

Dodd has only two other Pac-10 teams in his top 25: USC at No. 2 and Cal at No. 20. Meanwhile, over at, Ivan Maisel is predicting USC at No. 1, Cal at No. 11 and Oregon State at No. 24.

I LOVED THAT story Dick Fry wrote about Jim Sweeney that appeared here on CF.C earlier this week. No doubt, the Smilin' Irishman was a Cougar for the Ages. What's truly remarkable to me, though, is that he coached his last game on the Palouse almost 30 years ago, yet his impact on the program is felt in a huge, huge way today.

Former Cougar head coaches Mike Price and Dennis Erickson were Sweeney proteges. But get this: The current Cougar coaching staff includes FIVE other Sweeney disciples. Mike Levenseller and George Yarno played for Sweeeny at WSU. Ken Greene played for him at WSU and then got his coaching start under Sweeny at Fresno State. Kelly Skipper starred at Fresno State under Sweeney and followed it up with nine seasons on the FSU staff. And Leon Burtnett was a Sweeney assistant at WSU in 1971 and then at Fresno State in the mid-90s.

Heck, you might even say that Robin Pflugrad, through osmosis, could be added to the list. He has no direct Sweeney connection that I'm aware of, but his road to Pullman is eerily Sweeney-esque. Like Sweeney, Pflugrad was a standout player in Oregon --- Pflugrad at Portland State and Sweeney at Portland U. And like Sweeney, he made his first mark in college coaching in the state of Montana --- Pflugrad helping craft the University of Montana's record-setting offenses of the early 90s, and Sweeney has head coach of the mighty Montana State squads of the mid-1960s.

Back to Kelly Skipper for a moment. Word out of Los Angeles this off-season is that USC offered him a pile of money to move south. Skipper, a UCLA assistant before coming to WSU, is said to be smitten with Pullman so gave Pete Carroll a gracious no thanks.

Speaking of running back coaches, former Cougar great Steve Broussard was just hired as running backs coach at Portland State. He was a high school head coach in California for the last two years. Broussard, a first round NFL draft pick by Atlana in 1990, is No. 2 on WSU's career rushing list. He also holds the unique distinction of leading the Pac-10 in both rushing and receiving. In 1987 he caught 59 passes to lead the Pac, and then in 1988 he paced the league with 1,280 rushing yards.

BOB ROBERTSON HAD a schedule conflict so was unable to assume his annual role as master of ceremonies at the Pierce County Cougar Club's football coaches dinner, held earlier this month. In his place was Bill Wixey, a WSU grad and former Fox Sports Northwest anchor who's now a morning show host on Seattle's KCPQ-TV. Bill seems like a nice fella. And what a head of hair he doth have! But he seems to be inhaling hair spray at a frightful pace.

How so? Consider the way he characterized the Cougar basketball team's heartbreaking loss to Stanford. He was not only tasteless, but just plain dumb. I won't use the phrase here, but the term is one we've all heard and despise, and it includes the word "It." Moreover, Bill's various attempts at humor were, um, well, more cringe-inducing than laugh-producing. So Bill, word of advice: Stick to the day job.

For the second straight year, Cougar assistant coach Mike Walker wasn't at the Pierce County gala. And the reason, a very good one, was the same both years: He was watching son Marcus and the Pullman Greyhounds do battle in the state basketball playoffs. Marcus, by the way, will be playing football at Eastern Washington University this fall.

During the auction portion of the dinner, the biggest money was spent on a pair of sideline passes to the Colorado game -- $1,000. Two autographed helmets went for $650 and $625. The coveted package, headlined by a Yabba Doba Doo t-shirt and Onward Crimson Soldiers clock, went for a mere $75.

Quote of the night belonged to Levenseller, a Tacoma native who's considered royalty among the Pierce County faithful. The first words out of his mouth when he stepped to the mic were, "It's good to be a Coug."

SPRING FOOTBALL drills start Tuesday (March 23). One player whose development I'll be watching closely is freshman defensive end Reyshawn Bobo. He's bulked up to 205 pounds. Based on his scout team work last season, this guy has the potential to be the second-coming of D.D. Acholonu and Isaac Brown. He's like lightening coming off the ends. His weight is clearly on the light side, but D.D. led the Pac-10 in sacks in 2001 not weighing much more than that.

Mark your calendars: The Crimson & Gray game is April 17 in Pullman. Kickoff at 1 pm. Also mark your calendars for Sept. 11, when the Cougars take on Colorado in Seahawks Stadium. Call 1-800-GO COUGS for tickets.

HAT'S OFF TO senior offensive tackle Calvin Armstrong and junior linebacker Will Derting. Both are on the watch list for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top down lineman or linebacker. Armstrong earned first team All-Pac-10 honors in 2002 and honorable mention in 2003. He's started 33 of 37 games in his Cougar career. Derting was a first team All-Pac-10 pick in 2003 after recording 86 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks. As a freshman in 2001, he tied a national record for linebackers by intercepting three passes in a single game (Nevada) , returning one 98 yards for a TD.

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