A typical weekend day in Michigan starts with a few cabin chores, followed by a light breakfast and an immediate trip to the big recliner in his massive living room.
College football is still in Bill Doba’s blood. Now, he resides in the solitude of a spectator.
He brags about incorporating a little bit of modern technology, notably his big-screen television and the satellite dish that brings him virtually any game he wants to see.
Including Washington State University.
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“I watch the Cougs whenever I can,” Doba said. “They’re still my team.”
Two years have passed since Doba took an underdog WSU team, decimated by injuries and distracted by swirling rumors of a coaching change, into Husky Stadium and pulled off a 42-35 victory over Washington in the 100th Apple Cup.
It would be the final game of Doba’s 19-year association with the university. The following week, WSU and the longtime coach parted ways with two years remaining on his contract – which he’s still getting paid for until early January.
On Saturday, Doba’s successor – Paul Wulff – will be in the same arena, under similar circumstances. Even though Wulff and his staff have received a vote of confidence from athletic director Jim Sterk despite the team’s 3-20 record in two seasons, the Cougars’ faithful are antsy and a bit agitated about the current downturn.
About that mess – it’s the reason the 69-year-old Doba has declined many interview requests since he relocated to a remote cabin on Birch Lake in Michigan. He doesn’t want to mingle in the drama of it.
“I felt bad about the way things have gone,” he said in his solemn Midwestern tone. “I have three good buddies (assistants Mike Levenseller, Steve Broussard and Chris Ball) on that staff. They’re not negative about it at all. They think they’ll get it done.”
Some critics have charged that the crux of WSU’s issues began in the final seasons under Doba – allegations that don’t sit well with the people who worked for him.
“I think it hurts him,” Levenseller said. “If you know the man, you know what a competitor he is. The No. 1 thing, if you can put it all in a nutshell, he just plain cares for people. But if you hurt him, he doesn’t care for you too much. That is the competitor side in him.
“Bill is not a coward. And he’s never been afraid of criticism.”
And he’s not so far removed from Pullman that he’s unaware of what this week traditionally brings – Apple Cup excitement.
Even though much of that 2007 win is “kind of a blur,” he remembers the overall atmosphere of that game.
“I remember it was kind of chilly. I was nervous as heck. I thought we had a good game plan,” Doba said, “and I was scared to death of Jake Locker. He’s special.”
The Huskies had a 10-0 lead, and threatened on more than one occasion to break open the game. But WSU held up, eventually taking a 28-20 advantage – which served to set up the game’s final dramatic moments.
Tied at 35, WSU won it when Alex Brink hit Brandon Gibson on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds to go.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight, and if things went our way and they made some mistakes, we could win,” Doba said. “And we had Alex, who was a competitor and a good passer.”
Yet, the image of Gibson’s game-winning TD isn’t what followed Doba across the country. Among the four photos hanging in his office, one is of that Apple Cup. It’s of the final play – a thwarted Locker “Hail Mary” pass in the end zone.
“Whenever I get any thoughts about getting back into (coaching), I look at that photo of me and (Levenseller), who had it framed for me,” Doba said. “The ball is in the air. By the look of terror on my face, I know I will never get back into it.”
Apple Cups were special to Doba, and not just that last game – the final one of three intrastate rivalry game victories. It gave him a true barometer of the fervor for football in Washington.
“I thought as a team, we almost played it up too much when Mike (Price) was there. The dog-gone guys were so nervous, fumbling the ball around and we didn’t play that well,” Doba said. “I kind of low-keyed it ... and keep it as normal as possible.”
In his first season as Price’s replacement – 2003 – the Huskies won, 27-19.
“We lost, and I got some nasty letters,” Doba said. “We got a little more fired up over it the next year.”
Those moments – Apple Cups, a 2003 Holiday Bowl win, followed by four consecutive non-winning seasons – are long in the rearview mirror. Doba has settled into retirement at the lake house he and his late wife, Judy, planned on going off to. She died of cancer in 2006.
“I miss my wife every day,” Doba said.
When he finishes up his daily work on the property, Doba likes inviting the “club” of men who live along the lake over to fish for largemouth bass and rainbow trout off his dock, or in one of his boats. Afterward, they enjoy smoking cigars.
Occasionally, Doba will take in a college game in person. He went to last year’s Oregon game at Purdue.
This season, he traveled to see Northern Illinois take on former assistant Robb Akey and Idaho.
Now and then, he drives the short distance to watch a Notre Dame home game in South Bend, Ind.
He’ll also occasionally speak at local coaching clinics.
Most importantly, Doba gets to see his grandchildren, who are relatively close in proximity with his son, Scott, living in Indianapolis, and his two daughters, Beth and Kristine, residing in Pittsburgh.
This is Doba’s next chapter. But his previous one – his long tenure at WSU – is never too far from his mind.
“That university was great to me. I love them. I wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt them,” Doba said. “But I also didn’t realize how tired it was until I got out.”
There are no lingering issues for UW defensive tackle Cameron Elisara (neck stinger), who practiced for a fourth consecutive day Thursday, and is set to start for the Huskies on Saturday. Coach Steve Sarkisian said the junior’s workload will be “somewhat up to him to see what his strength level is as the game goes on.” ... Receiver Jordan Polk (migraine headaches) did some route-running at practice, but had no contact. He is doubtful for Saturday. ... WSU cornerback Brandon Jones (back) and safety Chima Nwachukwu (ankle) did some individual work Thursday in Pullman. Jones is questionable; Nwachukwu is probable. ... Joe Eppele will likely start at right guard in place of B.J. Guerra, but Reed Lesuma should see time there as well for the Cougars. Both split first-team repetitions.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442