It's been a long stretch out of the spotlight for Mike Price, and that's been fine with him. Since being fired by the University of Alabama, the former WSU coach has watched his old team rise to the upper reaches of the AP poll, he's seen the Crimson Tide struggle under last-minute replacement coach David Shula and he's been feeling the itch to get back in the game.
"My chances are probably like Jim Carrey's in Dumb and Dumber, a million to one," said Price earlier this week in the lakefront home near Coeur d'Alene that he's living in (and which is owned by Ryan Leaf, his former QB at WSU).
Price is talking about the head coaching job at the University of Arizona, a job he's making no secrets about: He wants it. So far, however, the university isn't encouraging him.
"If I accepted 'No' for an answer, I wouldn't have recruited anyone who came to Washington State, and I wouldn't have got the Washington State job," Price added. "I had applied two times before I got the job."
In the immediate aftermath of the firing of John Mackovic at midseason, Arizona school president Pete Likins stated adamantly that Price would not be considered for the Wildcat job. Price said he was hopeful that Likins' opinion of him might be altered by recent disclosures that contradict some previous reports of alleged inappropriate behavior by Price at Alabama.
Price is a close friend and former junior college teammate of Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood, who was A.D. at Washington State when he hired Price as head coach in 1989. Price said he has not talked to Livengood since Likins' remarks became public.
"I don't want to put Jim on the spot," Price said. He added, "He knows where I live and how to get ahold of me."
Price continues to maintain that he did nothing worthy of being fired at Alabama. He believes a fine and/or suspension would have been reasonable.
Price said his only significant mistakes during his brief stint at Alabama stemmed from drinking far too much alcohol one night in Pensacola, Fla. He permitted a waitress at a strip club (the last of four bars he visited that night with assistant head coach Kasey Dunn, Price said) to help him to his room after she surprised him by following him into his cab. Then, for reasons Price says he cannot recall, the woman apparently spent the night in his room.
Both the waitress and Price, who has been married to his childhood sweetheart for 37 years, said they did not have sex, but fell asleep on a hotel bed and awoke fully clothed. The woman ran up a $1,000 room service bill (Price left in the morning to play in a golf tournament). Price, who said he does not have a drinking problem, said he remembers few details after leaving the strip club.
"Even though we didn't do anything, having a woman in my room -- that's not right," Price said.
Price's $20 million lawsuit against the university was dismissed in an Alabama court, but he said an appeal will be filed in Georgia. Price said he expects to go to court next year for his $20 million lawsuit regarding a Sports Illustrated article on the Alabama scandal. Author Don Yaeger, who is named in the suit, has been accused in the past of questionable ethics and reporting.
Price, who grew up a Cougar fan in Everett, played for the Cougars and twice served as an assistant coach at WSU before his 14-year stint as head coach, said he refuses to second-guess himself for taking the Alabama job.
"I'd be a Monday morning quarterback," he said. "I'm a coach. Coaches don't Monday morning quarterback."
Price said he never signed his seven-year, $10 million contract at Alabama -- bonuses and extensions could have produced even more money -- "because there was a real large buyout [if he tried to leave early]. They were afraid I would leave."
Price refused to say how much the Crimson Tide wanted for the buyout. If he had signed that contract and then left, Alabama might have demanded a significant amount of money back from Price.
"It was a lot more than anyone else in the country," he said. "I was shocked when I saw it."
First, however, Price was fired after arriving at Alabama with a spotless reputation built during 34 years of coaching, all at the collegiate level. Price and his wife had been splitting time between Coeur d'Alene and Tuscaloosa before selling their luxurious home down South for what Price termed a "real big" discount last week.
Price said he has attended all the WSU home games this season and is delighted that the eighth-ranked Cougars are enjoying so much success under his hand-picked successor, former defensive coordinator Bill Doba. Price and Doba are close friends.
The scandal cost Dunn and Price's sons, Aaron and Eric, their jobs as Alabama assistant coaches. Dunn recently landed an interim assistant coaching job at Texas Christian University. Aaron and Eric remain in Tuscaloosa and hope to coach next year.
The elder Price said his sons won't necessarily join him if he lands another coaching position. Price said he will seek NCAA Division I-A head coaching jobs -- he has already applied at Arizona, Duke and Army -- and may apply for assistant's jobs in the National Football League or head coaching jobs in the Canadian Football League.
"I will be the perfect employee," Price promised.
Price said he required counseling and antidepressants for a time after he was fired at Alabama, but now is "doing good. I'm upbeat." Price said he is "so grateful, so thankful" for support he has received in the form of phone calls, letters, cards and e-mails "from all over the country" from friends, fans, coaches and players.
Even more important, Price said, has been the love and support shown by his wife and three grown children.
"My wife has been so supportive, and my kids have been so supportive," Price said. "Our family has grown closer together from this. It's ironic how something bad like this brings you closer together.
"And another thing: It's hard at my age, 57, to feel sorry for yourself when you know friends' wives who have cancer, or friends who coach who have prostate cancer or something.
"No one needs to shed any tears for me."
Publication date: 11/13/03