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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

April 19, 2012 at 12:37 PM

For WSU and Bill Doba, a time to forgive and forget

Bill Doba is back in the fold at Washington State, and apparently it wasn’t all that hard.

WSU fans ought to cheer his return.

Monday, as part of WSU’s week of Spokane activities culminating with the spring football game Saturday at Albi Stadium, Doba spent time on athletic director Bill Moos’ radio show. He went to the Cougar Club luncheon there. And in what must have been a rollicking good time, he appeared with former players Will Derting and Matt Kegel at a showing of the 2003 Holiday Bowl victory over Texas.

That’s among the biggest WSU victories in history, and yes, Doba coached it.

He’s been beat up pretty good since he last coached WSU in 2007, and he’s relatively good-humored about it, though no doubt bearing some scars.

“Bill Doba is as good a Coug as you’ll ever see,” said Justin Felker, WSU’s regional director for WSU athletics in Spokane, who says it only took a phone call to Doba’s home by a lake in southern Michigan. “He was touched to be invited. I could hear his emotion on the phone.”


Doba still has his old home in Pullman. He’s never sold it – he rents it out. He’s ducked into town perhaps a couple of times a year, to see friends in the athletic department, to visit or go fishing with his old colleague, Robb Akey at Idaho.
But not to check in on his successor, Paul Wulff.
Both Doba and Wulff were coaching in their first BCS-level job at WSU, and in their own ways, they evinced immaturity at that level. Doba allowed recruiting and discipline to slide — believed related to the illness and death of his wife Judy — and indeed, turned over a bad hand to Wulff.
Over and over again, Wulff repeated what a bad hand it was.
It wasn’t just Wulff who brutalized Doba. Back in 2009, I wrote: “The excesses and shortfalls of the Bill Doba regime at Washington State have been well-chronicled: The academics-related attrition, the brushes with the cops, the systematic ruination of a football program that not so long ago won 30 games in three years . . .”
In 2008, I teamed with Ken Armstrong in a story on transgressions of WSU football players, 25 of whom were arrested in an 18-month period mostly on Doba’s watch. Doba had a jocular piece of advice for Wulff for any criticism the new coach might suffer: “Just blame me.”
Wulff took him at his word.
The program had indeed backslid under Doba, which yields these quirky numbers – Doba, who was left a lot of talent, has a 30-29 record as a college coach. Wulff was 9-40 at WSU.
The numbers are explainable. It’s just that Wulff didn’t need to keep explaining them. Last November, outlining the arguments for his retention or dismissal, I wrote: “But his most grievous public-relations shortfall is the flogging, by extension, of his predecessor, Bill Doba. Yes, Doba handed Wulff a dead coyote of a football program back in 2007, and for a while, it wasn’t inappropriate to say so.
Deep into his fourth season, though, Wulff, answering a question on progress, said he inherited “the worst BCS program in the country, by a long, long ways.”
Give it a rest.

Both Doba and Wulff are honorable men, bruised in their own way by WSU’s failures of the past eight years. For his part, Doba is too good a person to be cast aside by the crimson family. Perhaps somewhere down the road, if Mike Leach can capitalize on what Wulff left him, there’s similar reconciliation for Wulff, the school and its fans.

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