The World According to Jim

IF YOU'RE EVER fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with Jim Walden, plant yourself and listen up. The former Cougar coach turned Washington State color commentator is candid, insightful and funny as hell -- and that's before you're done saying hello. In a wide ranging CF.C interview, Walden sounded off on USC, Alex Brink, the Cougar defense, special teams, the Pac-10 and a whole lot more.

CF.C: Bill Doba says never ask your players to do things they can't do. But how does the D compete against the SC offense using a "simple" game plan?

Walden: "The great coaches must always remember to never, ever, ask an athlete to do more than he's capable. If you do, you're looking for trouble. If they can play base in Bill Doba's mind, if this is the best they can play at a position, we will be better at it than if we try to do something fancy and they can't handle it."

"Doba is an ol' coach with a lot of smarts...and when he says 'I will not ask them to do what they can't do' that's always smarter in the long run. It might not be worth a damn this coming week, maybe we can't play that against USC but we can't play the stuff that we're not good at against them either. But somewhere down the line, what we do best, might beat an Oregon State or a Stanford or an Arizona, see?"

CF.C: Do you see any parallels between your 1986 team that upset USC and this weekend's matchup?

Walden: "They (USC) weren't as good as the team we're playing now. But my team wasn't nearly as good as the team that's playing at Washington State now, either. I know our offense wasn't as good as this bunch.

"It's going to take a tremendous defensive team (to slow WSU down) and maybe we're fixing to play the best in the country...The offense can kind of hold on and take care of itself but I think they're going to (have) problems playing catch-up. The problems at Washington State against USC do not have anything to do with the offense."

CF.C: Apart from Alex Brink, what do you see on offense, what stands out?

Walden: "I think everything on offense is much, much better. I think Jed Collins has quickly removed all worry there... He and Ben Woodard are (really) handling that...The offensive line went into this thing as unknowns...the best thing that could possibly happen has, we've settled on five or six guys, they are playing well and not getting hurt. And they're getting better by the minute.

"And boy, Chris Ivory, (Kevin) McCall , and then Dwight Tardy, he has way handled that situation. I don't see very much wrong with the offense."

CF.C: The USC series, about as lopsided as they come, 54-8-4. Maybe the numbers differ if Southern Cal hadn't hosted 46 of those games. You brought the Apple Cup back to Pullman, how did John McKay and others get away with forcing WSU to go to L.A. so often.

Walden: "That was because I wasn't in the league when John was there. I don't think "Master McKay" would have had that same impact if I had been there then because last time I checked, one man, one vote. Since we moved back to Martin Stadium from Spokane, or Seattle, or wherever USC used to dictate they would play, you check those scores and they have as much of a problem coming up here as Washington State has going down there."

CF.C: Most fans at the game don't follow the section of field the linebackers and secondary are in, and you can't follow it on TV. What's the view from the booth?

Walden: "I think the secondary is getting a little better. You've got a really good freshman corner (Chima Nwachukwu) that's going to get beat some, worn out with those junior and senior receivers he's going to have go against...But that's okay, I'm sure some of the same types of guys ate Marcus Trufant alive, and Jason David, Karl Paymah and Erik Coleman, too, when they were young.

"About five or six of those guys that were here before are in the NFL. But that's what you do, you go after the freshman. I think Alfonso Jackson (Alfonso) is improving a bunch and I think he and Husain are getting to be quite a pair back there...And that's (coach) Leon (Burtnett) doing a good job. Overall, I think the secondary, even though it's not NFL quality, is improving by leaps and bounds. Against the run, I think the linebackers are pretty salty."

Jim Walden on Alex Brink
"I've always thought he had a lot of poise but I think I see a little more of a combination of poise and confidence...the confidence might come from the fact he has a sensational receiving corps that he understands totally, trusts totally. They're where they need to be and I think that's all important to a quarterback.

"...I don't see a lot that I haven't seen for a year and a half prior to this season...I do think his arm looks stronger this season, I think he's stronger all over... I'm just sorry the Cougar nation didn't show the same love and respect for him earlier.

"Before he's done he's going to hold nearly every record in the book and we hold these quarterbacks at Washington State in such high esteem. He's about to eliminate all of them in terms of accomplishments.

"..I've been a little disappointed in the Cougar Nation not wrapping their arms around him better than they have. I just wish and hope that whatever we do, however the season ends up, that people will enjoy Alex Brink...He's got nine games left and he's going to leave here as one of the best damned guys, and as one of the top quality athletes and people that we've ever produced in this program. I hope they won't miss that.

And I don't think you should grade him on the wins or losses because he hasn't had the best supporting cast in the years he's been here. I shudder to think what we would have been without him."

CF.C: The challenges through the first three games on defense?

Walden: "The hardest place to be weak is up front, because it affects everything else the other guys are doing...(The last few years), the front four has fallen off considerably in my opinion."

I think (Ropati) Pitoitua, he's as good as Jeremey Williams, maybe. I don't know if he's maybe quite as good as Rien Long but he's pretty close. But he's only one guy.

"Now whether that's getting any better, or if it can get better, I don't know...and it's not coaching, Mike Walker, he and (Marty) Long are going to coach their brains out but in my opinion I just don't think the font four is as talented as the front fours were in those earlier years."

CF.C: The issues on special teams. Why is it so hard to field good coverage and return units?

Walden: "It involves a tremendous amount of people and you've got this stupid 20 hour rule (student-athletes are allowed 20 weekly hours in practice, meetings, etc) so there's only so much you can get done...I only had three areas I had to worry about -- punt, punt return and kickoff. Now you have kickoff return (too).. And those (units) don't interchange, trust me when I tell you it is as different as daylight and dark.

"You've got half a dozen guys who can do both but in most cases, the guys who can cover a kickoff are not necessarily the guys who can do a good job on the punt return...I can remember the old days where you put five offensive linemen up there on a kickoff return team!"

CF.C: Did you play your starters on special teams to get your best athletes on the field?

Walden: "I have always been adamantly opposed to using starters on any of those and I don't care how bad it got...I used to always believe you could convince a guy not starting, 'Doggone it, if you can't go out there for one play, and play as hard as you can for one play, then you shouldn't be on scholarship.' I didn't let my starters play but I know a lot of them now want to because there's that old NFL thing.

"But you don't need to be out there and run down on a kickoff to impress a pro scout. If you'll knock somebody into the dirt, and he times you, they're going to figure out in a pro camp that you can run down on kickoffs."

CF.C: How did the special teams and kickers look against Idaho.

Walden: "I have seen us get better. (Romeen) Abdollmohammadi missed that thing Saturday and that was disappointing but nobody's perfect...The punt cover was excellent.

"I'm still real nervous about our punt team but that's just a fan and a former coach...Overall, the kickoff teams were excellent...If we keep kicking it back to the goal line, then that will take care of itself."

CF.C: How's the Pac-10 this year?

Walden: I feel better about the Cougars getting better. And I feel even better that the league is getting worse. (laugh).

"...If Oregon State hadn't gotten thumped at Cincinnati, I'd have started to think they were super-people. UCLA gets mauled at Utah, so that settles me down a little. Arizona gets beat at home by New Mexico so they've become human...the Huskies found out Waterloo came real quick for them in the third week instead of the first...If you look at those same schools three weeks ago, your negative impulses would have started to kick in."

CF.C: Where do the Cougs fit into the Pac-10 soup?

"There's a 3-1-6 league this year. There's three head and shoulders above the rest, Cal, Oregon and USC. Arizona State's the unknown. There's six teams and if any one of them can beat the other five, they're going to have a helluva year...I see Washington beating up on Syracuse but what else is new? Who hasn't? I see them beating up on Boise State but they beat Cinderella who had lost 15 starters.

"...I don't see anything between Washington, Oregon State, Stanford if you want to throw them in there, UCLA and Arizona...if we can just keep staying healthy, we will compete with anybody."

Jim Walden was the coach of the Washington State Cougars from 1978-1986. Walden is the third winningest coach in program football history. In 2007, Walden entered his seventh year in the WSU broadcast booth.

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