“I missed those butterflies.” – Coach Bill Doba
Bill Doba doesn’t think the football turf is greener elsewhere. He likes his coaching job at Washington State University and living in Pullman, where “the only traffic congestion is on football weekends.”
When his cell phone rang, Doba was fighting the late afternoon I-5 freeway traffic. He explained to Washington State Magazine that he was en route to Seattle after a recruiting visit to Everett.
“Good recruits make good coaches,” he said.
Doba was the last addition to the Cougar staff when Mike Price was hired as head football coach in 1989. Now, 14 years later, he’s the lone assistant remaining from the original nine. That says something about his dedication to football and his loyalty to Price and WSU.
“Obviously, we think he’s the best defensive coordinator in the country. We’ve been so fortunate to keep him here. He’s turned down probably a job a year,” Price says of his coaching sidekick and neighbor. The two live just a long punt apart on Pullman’s southeast side.
Hiring Doba may have been one of Price’s best decisions. The Cougar field general was getting a veteran coach—15 years at the high school level and 12 in the college ranks. Except for two years as defensive coordinator at The Citadel in South Carolina, Doba’s entire coaching career was in Indiana prior to WSU. The South Bend native grew up watching the great Notre Dame football teams shake down the thunder from the sky. At Ball State he was a tailback and defensive back. A dislocated hip, however, forced him to forego his senior season. The injury ultimately influenced his decision to coach.
“I missed those butterflies,” he recalls of the gut feeling he had as a player on game days. As a coach, the feeling only intensified. “I have 10 times more butterflies.”
Doba began coaching high school football in 1962 and jumped to the college ranks in 1977. He was on Lee Corso’s staff at Indiana for six years, spent three with Leon Burtnett at Purdue, and two more with Charlie Taaffe at The Citadel before Price came calling. Now he’s in his 26th season as a college assistant.
Corso was a great organizer and had a phenomenal work ethic, Doba remembers. “He ran the team like a business. He was very efficient.” From Burtnett, Doba learned that “You can coach football and still have a lot of fun.” And he learned more about coaching defense. Taaffe ran the wishbone offense, now a rarity, and Doba became successful at devising ways to stop it.
Doba’s in-depth experience as a defensive guru was something that had been missing at WSU.
Did he ever aspire to hold a head job?
With a quarter century of coaching behind him when he came to WSU at age 48, Doba suggests he may have been too old to become the top guy. “I probably would have had to drop down to a Division I-A school, and it probably would have been an average team. It would have taken time to get things turned around. I’d have been 60 years old.”
Now he’s 61 and content where he is.
“Coach Price gives you a job and lets you do it. He’s not second-guessing every decision,” Doba says. “I’ve got a great staff—Robb Akey, Chris Ball, Mike Walker, and [graduate assistant] Jim Clark. There’s good chemistry there. We get along well. There aren’t a lot of egos in the room.”
In fact, he maintains a small, sparse interior office in Bohler Gym, allowing two assistants to have offices with windows to the outside.
He says he’s learned “a whole bunch” from Price, most importantly “to be human.”
“You work with him, not for him. He has great rapport, with the staff, and with his players,” Doba says. “He’s the best motivator I’ve ever been around.”
Doba doesn’t miss the duties that go along with being a head coach in high school. He had seven varsity assistants, nine junior high coaches, a trainer, booster clubs, and speaking engagements. He did a lot of PR work, meeting parents and alumni, and fund-raising. He gladly trades all that for the enjoyment of the Xs and Os. The best part of the day, he says, “is working with the kids on the field.” Most of his coaching career has been on the defensive side of the ball, where he started as an outside linebacker coach at Indiana.
“I like linebackers and their personalities—those kind of crazy guys,” he says with a laugh. “The fun of coaching is seeing a kid come out of high school, grow and mature in college, and go out the door with a diploma in his pocket.”
WSU’s heralded 1994 defensive unit, “The Palouse Posse,” finished the season nationally ranked in a number of categories—second in total defense, third in both scoring defense and rushing defense, and fifth in pass efficiency defense.
“That was a special group of kids,” he says, ticking off the names of former stars on D—Mark Fields, Ron Childs, Signor Mobley, Torey Hunter, John Rushing, Chad Eaton, Don Sasa, and Chris Hayes. All went on to play professionally.
The stingy Cougars opened the ’94 season by reeling off wins over Illinois (10-9), Fresno State (24-3), and UCLA (21-0). After losing to Tennessee (10-9), WSU allowed only 13 points in defeating Oregon (21-7), and Washington (23-6). The Cougars capped an 8-4 year with a victory over Baylor (10-3) in the Alamo Bowl. In an era of potent offenses, WSU surrendered only 126 points—12.6 per game—all season.
“It was like a fairy tale,” Doba says.