THE PASSION for winning has always burned brightly, but also under the surface. Plus, Bill Doba comes from the school where you don't give an opponent bulletin board material -- ever -- his public words are candid, tempered and gracious. Yet the Cougar players, via some pointed commentary, note a demonstrable change evident in Doba this offseason. And Doba's had a few comments of his own.

It's no coincidence the shift coincided with Doba assuming the defensive coordinator and linebackers' coach roles. Doba as head coach the past four seasons would travel around at practice, take it all in. If you're the defensive coordinator and you're Doba, you get right down in there in the thick of things during spring ball.

CF.C sought comment from a number of players over the course of the offseason, asking what was the same, what was different from the previous spring. One item that came back time and again -- a marked difference in the Wazzu head man during the spring session. With specific coaching responsibilities Doba, the players say, is amped up more than ever.

"Let me tell you something, coach Doba, that guy is FIERY," said B.T. Walker. "Last year (new Idaho coach Robb) Akey was running the defense but this year, it's Doba in the huddle with us. Doba is the one who's calling the play. Doba is the one who's being vocal during film and practice. He's got a little bounce in his step," said Walker.

Walker, the Cougars' starting left cornerback on the pre-fall camp depth chart, was far from alone in his assessment.

COUGAR CO-CAPTAIN Greg Trent enters his junior campaign with some changes of his own in tow. Barely audible during recruiting phone calls coming out of high school, Trent has become not only a leader but a vocal leader in the Cougar Football program.

Trent is also among those who have also affected a difference noticed by strength coach Rob Oviatt over the summer. Not because Trent's built like Zeus -- and he is -- but rather, the leadership this offseason, Oviatt told Doba, has been the best it has been "in a couple years."

And his new position coach has been heard from more as well. And the players have loved it.

"Every practice, he came in rarin' to go," said Trent. "He couldn't wait for practice to get started. Every day, he was ready to coach, ready to get it going. And he'd always have a little something new planned up for us, a little something special for us. Every day. As my position coach, he's really involved. And he's a lot more fired up."

Offensive players also took note.

"Definitely, he's much more involved individually with the players, you can see that. There's definitely a difference," said tight end Tony Thompson.

BUT DON'T EXPECT Doba's quotes to change a whole lot. He'll be his usual candid self, both voicing concerns with his team and offering compliments towards the opponent. And that's not something fans always want to hear.

But it's one thing to tell your team in private that you and you coaching staff fully believe and expect the Cougs will go kick the living snot out of that week's opponent. It's quite another to offer up that impression in the press during game week. There is, after all, smart, and then there's plain ol' dumb.

But don't make the mistake of confusing Doba's honesty in dealing with the media with a lack of desire. Anyone who saw Doba beat the hell out of a chair in the locker room after a loss against Cal understands how desperately he wants to win.


And a comment this week by Doba was also noteworthy. Coach Les Miles at LSU this offseason created a stir when he discounted the quality of play in the Pac-10, sarcastically referring to UCLA, Washington, Cal and Stanford as "some real juggernauts."

Doba on a segment with KJR-AM, pointed out the SEC plays four non-conference opponents, the Pac-10 three. In turn, the non-con opponents many SEC teams schedule are, to be charitable, not among college football's elite. Miles and LSU themselves scheduled a non-con slate of Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Tulane, along with Virginia Tech -- all at home.

Then Doba referred to the Miles brouhaha as "whining".

Doba might say something like that privately with you and you wouldn't bat an eye. But to do so publicly was, for Doba, unusual. Who knows, maybe this season the Cougar Nation will get to read about and see more of that from him.

DOBA HAS MADE mention the past two weeks about how the spring was the most fun coaching he's had in four years. And that has a positive trickle down effect to the players. Yet the Cougs most certainly have challenges to overcome, and questions to answer, with the season a month away.

Proven cornerbacks are few and the secondary as a whole will be a concern until the players prove otherwise in fall camp. The linebackers were solid this spring but depth is inexperienced and the full readiness of d-tackles Fevaea'i Ahmu and Aaron Johnson will be determined later this month, although both are expected to be ready. Starting defensive end Lance Broadous is expected to miss the opener while returning from offseason shoulder surgery.

On offense, two of the o-line starters will be new and the unit will need to stay healthy or some youngsters will undergo college football trials by fire. RBs Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory must run well enough to prevent teams getting too blitz happy against the offensive line. QB Alex Brink will need to make an aggressive defense pay dearly, get the ball in the hands of a deep corps of WR playmakers and march the Cougs down the field.

Anyone who has watched even a modicum of Pac-10 football, however, knows there are always those teams who get on a roll, knocking off favored opponents left and right over the course of a season. An underdog Washington State did so in 2001 and 2003. Oregon State was a prime example last year. With OSU at 2-3 and cries to fire the coach both deafening and many, the Beavs went on a tear and finished 10-4, besting USC and others along the way.

THE GAME turns on athletes but it is also a mental one. Enthusiasm translates to belief. Teams who believe they'll win, usually do, while ones who just want to win or hope they'll win, often do not. The increase in Cougar team leadership this offseason can only help the crimson cause, as will a fiery persona in the head coach.

Doba at 66 and entering his 18th season at Washington State and 30th in the college ranks, has more coaching days behind him than ahead. But one long-time watcher of Cougar Football dating back to the Jim Sweeney era, in observing Doba this offseason -- and with emphasis on the fact Doba and the Cougs have suffered through three straight seasons without a bowl berth -- summed it up this way to CF.C.

"He's a lion in winter," he said before pausing a beat. "A lion who's jacked up, has a chip on his shoulder and who sure looks like he has a few roars left."

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