Bill Doba has heard all the negatives about Pullman. Too small. Too isolated. Too backwards. Too... Pullman. Why, people ask, would a Pac-10 Conference football recruit choose to play in wheat-engulfed Pullman instead of, say, Los Angeles? Or Seattle? Or the Bay Area? Or Arizona?
Doba, bless his heart, doesn't even have to lie -- and yes, Virginia, college coaches do sometimes lie when recruiting teenagers whose exploits get coaches hired and fired -- when extolling the virtues of Pullman.
"There's no better place to live," insists Washington State's new head football coach, "than Pullman, Washington. Where else can you go to the grocery store, the post office and fill up your car with gas in half an hour?"
Uh ... Mayberry? Go ahead, Doba says. Make the snide remarks. Tell the same tired jokes year after year. Rip away to your heart's content.
All Doba knows is that he just landed his dream job at the school he loves in the city he cherishes. Oh, and one more thing -- the next time you want to hurl your venom at Pullman and li'l ol' Washington State, Doba suggests, why not save it for sometime around Jan. 1? That's when Doba figures the Cougars will be playing in a bowl game for the third straight year -- an achievement devoutly to be wished for by the vast majority of college football programs across the land.
"I love Coach Doba," All-American defensive tackle Rien Long said last season before bypassing his senior year to turn pro. "He's the one who got me here. He's the one who made me fall in love with this place."
It is the ultimate sign of the universal respect held for Doba that nary a negative remark has been heard in the wake of his hiring despite the fact that, at the not-so-tender age of 62 (63 on Sept. 7), he has become a college head coach for the first time. He has zero experience in one regard, but a rather lengthy lifetime of experiences to draw from in virtually every other regard.
"Bill's a perfect fit," said WSU athletic director Jim Sterk, who said no one else was seriously considered for the job.
"I feel so great about Bill getting the job," Mike Price said of his close friend and hand-picked successor. "He's just a great guy. He deserves it."
"I was personally devastated (when Price left for Alabama); I think everyone was," quarterback Matt Kegel said. "But we could not be happier with the selection of Coach Doba. He'll be a great coach."
Doba, the last holdover from Price's original WSU coaching staff of 1989, had been defensive coordinator since 1994. Price pushed hard for Doba when head coaching vacancies opened at other schools in previous years, including Indiana and Ball State (Doba's alma mater). Doba never got a sniff, admittedly gave up hope of ever becoming a college head coach and said he would have perfectly content to retire as a WSU assistant under Price.
"I said last year, I can go my grave and not feel I missed anything by not being a head coach," Doba said. "But I think it is every coach's dream."
Doba lacks Price's buoyant personality, but is known for his dry wit. How will he gauge his success? "I imagine by reading the newspaper."
Will it be difficult replacing Price? "Basically, if you've been to our practices, Mike stands and watches."
Now that you're making more public appearances, will you scan the Internet to find jokes? "You've gotta teach me how to turn on that computer."
"I'm not a great public speaker," said Doba, perhaps underestimating himself. "I'm not a one-liner and joke-teller and all that stuff. I've got to get better at that.
"But," he summed up, "I think the main thing is winning."
Born and raised in South Bend, Ind., Doba might be the only Catholic football player in South Bend history who did not dream of playing in his hometown for Notre Dame.
"If you live in South Bend," Doba explained, "Notre Dame just gets stuffed down your throat so much."
Doba headed a few hours south to Muncie, Ind., to attend Ball State. He played football there -- "I was not a great college player" -- but more importantly, he chatted up a pretty young thing at a dance his first weekend in college. Forty-one years of marriage, three children and a back yard full of grandchildren later, it is still obvious that Judy and Bill Doba are madly in love.
Judy was a cheerleader at a rival high school in South Bend, but she never met her future husband until college. That seems to be Doba's style: Take your time, make good decisions, enjoy the ride.
Doba spent three years as a high school assistant coach and 12 years as a high school head coach -- all in Indiana -- before landing his first college job in 1977 as the outside linebackers coach at Indiana University for current ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso. After Corso's staff was fired, Doba found work at Purdue and The Citadel before coming to WSU on the recommendation of then-Cougar assistant Joe Tiller, now head coach at Purdue.
What followed at WSU has been the most glorious period in the oft-nightmarish history of Cougar football. The Cougars have won a school-record 10 games three times in the last six seasons, including the past two years, and Doba says a healthy core of returning players and incoming talent bodes well for 2003 and beyond.
Doba's public image is one of a soft-spoken, grandfatherly Midwesterner, but players say Doba's quiet intensity gives way to LOUD intensity when he feels the need.
"He'll 'chew you' when he needs to," senior linebacker Al Genatone said.
"He'll get into you when he needs to, but it's never overexaggerated," junior safety Jeremy Bohannon said. "He'll tell you like it is; he doesn't sugarcoat it. But you never get the feeling he goes overboard."
That sums up Bill Doba: Walk softly and carry a big whistle.
Publication date: 08/28/03