As athletes they brought recognition to Washington State University. Now, as assistant coaches, Mike Levenseller, Michael Walker, Timm Rosenbach, Ken Greene, and George Yarno are being counted on to help shape the football future at their alma mater.
Who said you can’t go home again?
Not Bill Doba.
He’s been on the WSU football staff for 15 years, but this is his first as head coach. Cougar pedigrees are obviously important to him. For starters, he convinced assistants Levenseller (offensive coordinator/wide receivers) and Walker (defensive line) to stay, rather than follow former Cougar coach Mike Price to Alabama. He got the same commitment from two other top assistants from the Price regime-Robb Akey (defensive line) and Robin Pflugrad (tight ends/recruiting coordinator). Akey succeeds Doba as WSU defensive coordinator. Pflugrad has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.
Price relinquished his duties January 1 after WSU’s 34-14 Rose Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Four assistants went with him to Tuscaloosa. In less than two weeks, Doba had his nine-man staff in place. Of the newcomers, Rosenbach will coach quarterbacks, Greene the defensive secondary, and Yarno the offensive line.
“We wanted to get those Cougars back in the program,” Doba said. “They will make for good chemistry in the staff room.”
Leon Burtnett (linebackers) and Kelly Skipper (running backs) fill the other vacancies. The former is a one-time head coach at Purdue with NFL experience. The latter spent the past two years as UCLA offensive coordinator.
Here’s the rundown on the Cougars jocks-turned-coaches:
Levenseller joined the WSU staff in 1992. The former wide receiver from Tacoma (Curtis High School) caught 67 passes in 1977 for a WSU and Pac-8 single-season record of 1,224 yards. His career totals: 121 receptions, 2,061 yards.
Walker captained coach Jim Walden’s 1981 team that defeated BYU in the Holiday Bowl, WSU’s first bowl appearance in 50 years. The defensive lineman was All-Canadian Football League 1987-89. He played in four Grey Cup games-three with Hamilton, the last with Edmonton in 1990. During a 10-year CFL career, he logged 126 games. He has been a full-time Cougar assistant since 1997.
Rosenbach led the Cougars to a 24-22 victory over Houston in the 1988 Aloha Bowl. The fiery quarterback established WSU single-season records for total offense (3,422 yards), passing yards (3,097), touchdown passes (24), and touchdowns responsible for (34). His talent carried him through four seasons in the NFL with Arizona and one year (1994) with Hamilton in the CFL. Since 2001, the Pullman High School graduate has been offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Eastern Washington University. In his debut year, the Eagles led the nation in total offense-more than 514 yards per game and nearly 42 points.
Greene, the pride of Omak, was a first-team All-America defensive back in 1977 at WSU and first-round pick in the NFL draft. He was a stopper for the St. Louis secondary, leading the team in tackles two of the four seasons there. He played out his final two years with the San Diego Chargers, retiring in ’85. His college coaching background includes four years at Fresno State and the past three at Purdue.
Yarno was a three-year starter on the WSU defensive line, 1976-78. As a junior and senior, the Spokane native earned All-West-Coast and All-Pac-10 honors. Eight of his 11 years in the NFL were with Tampa Bay, the rest at Houston, Green Bay, and Atlanta. He was Price’s offensive line coach at WSU 1991-94. Idaho, Houston, Arizona State, and Louisiana State have been other coaching stops.
Like Yarno, Burtnett is no stranger to the Palouse. The former Jim Sweeney assistant at WSU (1971) later was 1984 Big Ten Coach of the Year at Purdue, where he ran the show for five years. Doba was one of his assistants there (1983-85). Burtnett spent five seasons with the NFL Indianapolis Colts, including one as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. A coaching gypsy, he also assisted at Montana State, Wyoming, San Jose State, Michigan State, Fresno State, Northeast Louisiana, and Arkansas State.
Skipper also has ties to Sweeney at Fresno State, both as a player and an assistant. An All-America honorable mention running back, he rushed for 2,237 yards and scored 28 touchdowns as a Bulldog, before he was hired full-time at his alma mater in 1991. UCLA hired him in 1998 and promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2001.
“I think this says a lot about the strength of our program and Bill Doba’s leadership that we have that many Cougars with excellent coaching credentials who wanted to come back,” said WSU athletic director Jim Sterk.