USC coach, an ex-Coug assistant, talks WSU

PAT RUEL, THE offensive coordinator on WSU's 1981 Holiday Bowl team, was prepping for USC's showdown with UCLA when he heard Bill Doba wouldn't be back as head coach of the Cougars. Three thoughts quickly ran through his head. One was that "everybody in the league admires Bill Doba." Another was "hey, I might want to take a look at that job."

And the third was this: "If Mike Price is interested, they're not going to find anyone better than that."

By most accounts, it sounds like Price will be a finalist for the job. Officially, we know that search committee consultant Bill Moos initiated a call to Price last Monday and that athletic director Jim Sterk has said Price is of interest but by no means the one and only. Price himself has been mostly quiet.

"I know that maybe some people don't want Mike back, but he's exactly what they need at Washington State," Ruel said in a telephone conversation Friday, a few minutes after he had finished digesting game tape of Washington State "kicking the crap out of UCLA."

Ruel came to USC three years ago after five seasons as an NFL assistant. Prior to that, he spent more than 20 years in the college ranks, primarily as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He spent four years in Pullman, under Jim Walden, from 1978-81, and then had stops at Michigan State, Kansas and Texas A&M.

As for Mike Price, Ruel is unequivocal. "He has the understanding of what needs to be done to be successful at Washington State – putting a high priority on recruiting and communicating the unique qualities of the school. Mike was able to blend JC and high school players, maybe not the 5-stars kids, but the 4- and 3-star guys.

"A lot of people over the years felt maybe you couldn't be a contender at Washington State. In reality, it's all about attitude and expectations. You can get there. Mike did a great job of getting his players and staff to believe it. He had a way of pulling them together. Look at the two Rose Bowls. He's a lot like Pete (Carroll) in that way. I admire his work tremendously."

Besides being familiar with the territory, Price has one qualification Ruel doesn't: he's already a head coach.

"If I'm an athletic director, my first inclination is to go after a proven guy, someone who has been a head coach. Every assistant coach wants an opportunity to become a head coach, but that usually happens on the staff you're already on, when the head guy leaves and you get promoted up."

That almost happened to Ruel at Kansas in the mid 1990s. Jayhawks head coach Glen Mason left to take the job at Georgia. Ruel, who is now 56-years-old, was all but anointed the successor when Mason, in a celebrated change of heart, decided he didn't want to make the move after all and came back to Lawrence.

So if Price isn't THE one?

"I'd be interested," said Ruel, who's first name -- honest to goodness -- is actually Golden. He said he'll decide this week whether to formally dip his toe in the Palouse waters.

He said his first priority as a head coach would be to hire outstanding offensive and defensive coordinators with "aggressive styles" and then round out the staff with assistants who truly know their stuff so they can impart that knowledge with certainty and confidence to their players. "The belief factor works against all odds," he said. "If your players believe in their hearts in what you're doing and what they're doing, it's amazing what can be accomplished."

A big part of his staff would be younger, highly motivated coaches who are tenacious recruiters. "You need five really good recruiters on a staff, not two," he stresses. Many programs make the mistake hiring too few coaches who are dogged recruiters, he said. "Recruiting is the name of the game. You've got to have the talent. Somebody (Jim Walden perhaps?) once said it's not about the Xs and the Os, it's about the Jimmys and the Joes. You can't have just a small portion of your staff working it hard."

Beyond that, he said, sustaining success over a long period is incumbent on instilling in players that every game is a championship game.

"You have 11 or 12 times in a row to get where you want to get to. That means every single game is critically important. Look at the Apple Cup. That's a target game for WSU. The Cougars have won three out of four. The key is to make every game a target game like that. You have to work to get players up. Some people say it can't be done. They're wrong. It can be done. We're doing it here (at USC). It's not always easy, but we're doing it."

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