Doba still looms large in Cougar Nation

FOR THE FIRST TIME in five years, WSU's annual "Night with Cougar Football" for the faithful in King and Pierce counties didn't feature Bill Doba. Yet you could hardly turn around Friday in Seattle without the ol' ball coach's name being uttered in reverent –- and insightful -- tones.

It started with a tribute from the evening's master of ceremonies, Ian Furness, who talked about the upset win over Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl, the three Apple Cup victories in the last four years, and more.

A few moments later, WSU President Elson Floyd took the stage and said he wanted to share a story that "epitomized the essence of being a Cougar."

Last November, two days after WSU's thrilling Apple Cup win, when he met with Doba and athletic director Jim Sterk to talk about the future of the Cougar football program, the conversation was about 10 minutes old when Floyd asked Doba what he would like to do.

"You have to fire me," he quoted Doba as saying, "because there's too much money on the table and I can't walk away from that."

Firing, Floyd said, implies that something was done wrong. And Doba had done nothing wrong. In fact, he had shined in every way that Floyd's father, a brick mason, had always taught his son was key to personal success: hard work, dignity, decency and respect.

The decision to change course was mutual, so Doba's departure couldn't legitimately be labeled a firing. More so, Doba would assist in the search to find his replacement. Floyd also assured Doba that he would be paid every dime in his contract.

Then, Floyd told the 350 partisans gathered at Bell Harbor Conference Center, Doba suggested that they could pay him in installments if they wanted to, and that if he goes to the great beyond before the last installment is made, that's OK -- they could just keep the money.

Bill Doba, Floyd concluded, is a "true Cougar" who embodies the uncommon spirit, thoughtfulness and commitment that makes the crimson nation so special.

The crowd ate up Floyd's tale, but that was only the beginning of Doba-Fest 2008.

WHEN CHRIS BALL, the Cougars' new assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, took to the mic, he said he was steelhead fishing in Cleveland (yes, Cleveland!) in December when his cell phone rang.

Doba was on the line. "He said Paul Wulff was going to be calling to offer me a job."

Ball was WSU's secondary's coach, under defensive coordinator Bill Doba, from 2000-2003, before moving to Alabama for four seasons and then Pittsburgh this past year. He had just accepted an offer to become defensive coordinator at the University of Houston when Doba stepped in to be a Cougar matchmaker.

The story gets better. While Ball's wife and 3-year-old daughter remain in Pittsburgh, Ball and his 14-year-old-son Brennan are in Pullman living with none other than Mr. Doba for the last two months.

The old coach is a great cook, Ball said. "Steak one night, scallops the next. I just talked with my son a little while ago -– asked what he's doing. He said Coach Doba's making dinner -– lobster."

MINGLING WITH THE Cougar faithful at the end of the formal program, Wulff said he talks with Doba regularly. In fact, Doba gave him pointers on what to expect and what to say at dinner events.

Wulff's recruiting coordinator, Rich Rasmussen, said Doba sat down with the new staff and gave them a run down on every player on the roster. Another time, Doba happened to be in the same Pullman restaurant when the staff was entertaining recruits and their parents. The old charmer proceeded to ask the mom of one of the prospects if she was the lad's older sister.

Like they say ... once a Coug, always a Cougs.

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