Why the Price isn't right this time around

FRIENDS, COUG FANS, COUNTRYMEN. I come to praise Mike Price, not to hire him. Is Price right for a Palouse comeback? The grapevine has been buzzing with that notion for months. Jim Sterk appears warm to the idea and Bill Moos, a close friend of Price's, has already initiated contact. I wouldn't mind naming the field at Martin after Mike. But to put him back on the sidelines doesn't work.

Mike is 61-years-old and one of the winningest active coaches in Division I-A. In other words, he's had his time on center stage.

We all know what Mike is capable of doing, because he spent 14 seasons in Pullman showing us. There were an unprecedented two trips to the Rose Bowl in a span of six seasons, and an equally unprecedented two losses to Idaho in consecutive years. There were just three wins against Washington, yet also three against a foe, USC, that WSU has beaten just eight times in school history. There were 8-of-14 seasons where his Cougs won five games or less.

Incredible peaks, some curbside lows. We know what we're getting.


The fact Mike guided WSU to three 10-win seasons -- in 1997, 2001 and 2002 -- and five bowl games is an achievement no Cougar should ever forget or fail to appreciate. His energy, personality and commitment were tailor made for WSU. He won 84 games there, the second-most in school history. He could have -- should have -- become the Paterno of Pullman.

Could have. Should have.

Those are critical phrases when talking about Mike Price and WSU. They're critical because he chose, at perhaps the most inopportune time imaginable -- the threshold of the 2003 Rose Bowl -- to fall for the siren call of Tuscaloosa. Mind you, he was offered the Alabama job only after Mike Riley and Jim Leavitt turned it down, and other high-profile types said they wouldn't even consider it.

He was our first choice and their fourth or fifth. He picked them.

Fair enough. The timing was horrendous, but the professional opportunity was too much for him to pass up. He was done leading the Cougars and ready to move on. So be it.

Initially this week, Mike wasn't returning reporters' calls -- a sure sign he's lobbying hard for his old job. Today he was quoted as saying it's too early to gauge his interest level.

You can't blame Mike for wanting to come home. UTEP is, well, UTEP. I know. I grew up in Texas. El Paso is a long way from the Pac-10.

The Miners have moved up to Conference USA, but that slightly greater visibility has brought a tougher schedule. They were 4-8 this year, losing their final six, and 5-7 last season.

Bill Doba, who will serve with Moos and WSU faculty rep Ken Casavant on the coaching search committee, was asked the other day what the Cougars should be looking for in a new coach. His answer?

Tony Bennett.

Not Mike Price. Tony Bennett.

One conjures a fond yesteryear, the other an exciting future.

It's basic branding.

Bennett translates into young, smart and dedicated. Bennett translates into someone looking to achieve great things by mixing the tried-and-true with fresh ideas.

Mike Price translates to unforgettable memories, Poop Island, handoffs up the gut on third-and-long, Alabama and more.

Moos said Monday that he believes, with the right coaching hire, WSU can "seize the moment and get a jump on the Huskies ... This is maybe a time to step in with the right person who has charisma and energy, both for recruiting and to help get the stadium finished."

Price has charisma and energy. He also has baggage -- from the way he left in 2002 to the simple fact he produced just six winning seasons in 14 Palouse campaigns and mostly failed in the Apple Cup. And then of course there's his age -- if other Pac-10 schools were using Doba's age against WSU in the recruiting wars, then it's just a matter of time before they're doing the same thing with Price's birth date.

His advocates have suggested that the age issue can be mitigated by doing a Bennett: hiring the old man with the unwritten understanding that the son -- in this case, UTEP offensive coordinator Eric Price -- would succeed him.

That arrangement was a chance worth taking with a basketball program that was in utter shambles. Moreover, Tony Bennett is an uncommon, complete-package talent you just don't find everyday.

Cougar football isn't in a shambles as near as I can tell. Things are by no means rosy, but not tear-down bad I don't believe. Doba narrowly missed a bowl invitation last year and likely would have had one this season if not for an official's curious call on that Brandon Gibson catch in the end zone against Arizona State.

Mike Price had his turn at WSU. We loved him for his unflinching pride in being a Cougar. We loved him for making us Quarterback U. We loved him for breaking a 67-year curse.

Honor that legacy in any number of ways. Just don't make him the coach again. It's time for fresh ideas and new perspectives that build upon the old ones. This is the start of an exciting new era.

This time, the Price isn't right.


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