Coaching search: Six degrees of ... crimson

IN A FIELD where networking is king, an exercise in "six degrees of separation" turns up a load of talented folks with a direct connection to WSU and/or the various actors in the school's search for a new football coach. Athletic director Jim Sterk is known for making unforeseen hires, but a cursory look at those who have crimson connections points to a large pool of familiar potential contenders.

Foremost in that group is UTEP coach Mike Price and, to a lesser degree, Eastern Washington coach Paul Wulff (see related story, "Trio of names," on CF.C front page).

Another prominent name being circulated by the faithful is John L. Smith, the former head coach at Michigan State, Louisville, Utah State and Idaho. He was defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at WSU under Dennis Erickson in 1987-88.

Former Oregon athletic director Bill Moos, who will spearhead the search committee commissioned by Sterk, was an associate AD at WSU when Smith was with the Cougars. Smith is 132-86 (.605) in 18 years as a college head man. He had great success at Utah State and Louisville but was let go by MSU at the end of last season when the Spartans went 4-8. He was 22-26 in four seasons in East Lansing. He spent this past season working as an analyst for the NFL Network.

Moos, without naming names, told the Spokesman-Review a few hours after the Doba press conference that he'd already spoken to about a dozen potential candidates>

Bob Gregory, the defensive coordinator at Cal the last six seasons, is no stranger to Pullman or to Moos. He was a walk on safety out of Spokane for Jim Walden from 1984-86. The Cougs were so dinged up one of those seasons, the 175-pound Gregory was made a starting linebacker; he took a beating but played with abandon on every down. In addition to Cal, he has been an assistant at Boise State and Oregon.

Another Cal assistant with Pullman and Moos connections is offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik. A Port Angeles native, he was a Cougar lineman from 1986-88. He too has been at Cal for six seasons, but has spent just one season as a coordinator. Prior to that, he was with Erickson at Oregon State and Miami, and at Montana State as offensive line coach for seven seasons.

Craig Bray also was at WSU during Moos' Pullman years. He coached under Erickson from 1987-88 and then for Price from 1994-99. He left WSU the second time to become defensive coordinator for Erickson at Oregon State. He's now back with Erickson at ASU as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

Bray may be best remembered among Coug fans for -- at then OSU coach Erickson's behest -- convincing his son Trent, a star linebacker at Pullman High, to join him in Corvallis rather than stick with his verbal commitment to WSU. Price wasn't happy, and Doba and Bray didn't speak for a time because of the incident. Bray told the Seattle Times a couple years back the incident has since been put to rest.

Another former WSU assistant from the Erickson and Price days who's been a fixture in Pac-10 coaching is Spokane native Tim Lappano. He's the offensive coordinator at Washington. At WSU, he was running backs coach and then offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He is regarded by many as a capable, confident coach and was thought to be Erickson's successor at Oregon State before Mike Riley re-entered the picture. He's also coached at Cal, Purdue and Wyoming, and in the NFL with Erickson at San Francisco and Seattle.

One long-time Pac-10 assistant has ties to Moos, but not through WSU. Robin Pflugrad, the former recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach at WSU, was assistant head coach at Montana when Moos was the Griz AD, and then he joined the staff at Oregon when Moos was AD there. Their two sons -- Aaron Pflugrad (now playing at Oregon) and Bo Moos (now playing at Arizona State) were classmates at Eugene's Sheldon High. Pflugrad is a detail-oriented coaching and recruiting bulldog.

Another one-time Doba and Price assistant whose name figures to be bandied about is Robb Akey, who just concluded his first season as head coach at Idaho. However, the high energy former Cougar defensive coordinator is unlikely to even test the waters on the WSU job because he vowed when taking the post in Moscow to put an end to their coaching carousel.

The only potentially serious candidate identified so far who has a connection to both Sterk and to WSU President Elson Floyd is Dave Christensen, the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at No. 1-ranked Missouri. Floyd was president of the Missouri system for just under four years before coming to WSU. Christensen coached running backs at Sterk's alma mater, Western Washington, in 1983. He is a native of Everett, and played his college ball at Washington from 1980-82, though he received his bachelor's degree from Western Washington, followed by a Master of Science degree from Eastern Washington.

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