The middle season of the bowl-less trifecta was worse defensively. Much worse. In 2005, the Cougs gave up an average of 442.6 yards per game and were ranked No. 106 nationally in total defense.
All three seasons were punctuated by a series of narrow losses.
The offense wasn't lights out over that timeframe -- though the 33.5 points per game average in 2005 was notable -- but for the most part, they did enough to earn a bowl invitation.
Bottom line, the Cougar D needs to get back to the blasting, opportunistic form that so defined them through the '90s and early '00s.
And while change is hard, the departure of well-regarded defensive coordinator Robb Akey to Idaho affords WSU the perfect opportunity to breathe both new life and veteran wisdom into the defense.
Wazzu needs to hire one of the finest defensive minds around as the next d-coordinator. Someone who has presided over great defenses before. Someone who has helped mold players like Chad Eaton, Singor Mobley, Steve Gleason, Lamont Thompson, Erik Coleman, Will Derting and others.
Head coach Bill Doba needs to "hire" himself as the Cougars' next defensive coordinator.
There are probably other candidates Doba will consider, and he should. An informed, deliberate choice is always healthy. But at the end of the day, the right guy is already wearing the headset on the Wazzu sidelines.
BECOMING THE HEAD COACH often means casting aside certain parts of the profession that you love most. The teaching part, the actual coaching of football players on a daily basis, takes a backseat to the management of the program -- unless the head coach retains certain position responsibilities.
And the precedent for that is full of good stories. Two of the Pac-10's more successful coaches of the past 10 years, Pete Carroll and Mike Price, each retained huge hands in one side of the ball or the other.
In retrospect, it may have been a mistake for Doba to relinquish his defensive coordinator's role when he became the head man prior to the 2003 season.
Because he's one of the best defensive coordinators around. The work he did in Pullman for a decade before becoming head coach is testament to his skill.
He's obviously had considerable input on the Cougar defense over the last three years, but there's no getting around the fact he gives his assistants great autonomy -- just as Price gave Doba when he was defensive coordinator.
BUT AS MUCH FREEDOM as Price gave Doba and the defensive staff, everything on offense -- everything -- went through Price. He was the defacto quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator even if he didn't have the titles. As Mike Levenseller said of Price midway through his first season after being named Price's offensive coordinator, "He's got the hammer."
Unlike Price, Doba chose not to retain a similar truncheon over the defense when he became head coach.
Doba as head coach and d-coordinator would also allow him to do two things. First, he could offload some broader management responsibilities on a current staffer by naming an assistant head coach -- a role unfilled since Robin Pflugrad's departure a year ago. And second, he would hire another assistant coach -- probably at defensive end to replace Akey's position-specific duties (though it might also be nice to get some fresh perspectives on special teams given the recent and significant woes there).
The bigger picture, however, is this: The defense has suffered the past three seasons without Doba's day-to-day tinkering and instruction.
DOBA'S KNOWLEDGE OF defense is vast, although that may not always come across to the average fan because the man is not big on blowing his own horn. Doba shuns praise and when he's not discounting it, he's deflecting it. Some head coaches are self promoters. Doba's idea of promotion is to offer up a self-deprecating joke, and that doesn't always play well in the face of a loss.
But privately, it becomes crystal clear that Doba's competitive fires run white hot. and particularly in the trenches of defensive tactics and strategy.
WHILE DOBA WAS the architect behind the famed Palouse Posse, his last year as defensive coordinator better illustrates his abilities and provides insight on how unnoticed some of his accomplishments have been.
The 2002 season saw the Cougs picked the preseason favorite to go to the Rose Bowl. The lofty prediction was based in large part on the right arm of Cougar Heisman Trophy candidate Jason Gesser and his band of hosses up front. But there's no way that Cougar team gets to Pasadena without Doba's defense, with Marcus Trufant, Rien Long, Mawuli Davis and a host of other crimson padcrackers.
Doba can be the reason why Wazzu starts playing Doba-like defense again, consistently and for the long haul. All he has to do is hire the right man for the job.
He'll find the guy looking at him in the mirror.