PULLMAN – Of all the Apple Cups the Gilbertson family has been involved in – and there have been many, seeing Keith Gilbertson was 8-1 in nine games during three stints on the University of Washington coaching staff – none may have played a bigger role in their future than 2007.
You might remember it. A 42-35 Washington State win at Husky Stadium. Alex Brink’s game-winning pass to Brandon Gibson. The last game of Bill Doba’s WSU coaching career.
And the day David Gilbertson decided to become a Cougar.
“I can narrow it down to one instance,” said David, then a high school quarterback at Redmond High and now redshirting as a freshman walk-on at WSU.
“I was sitting in the Cougars section. It was in Seattle and the Cougars won that game. Honestly, I could point to that and say, ‘that’s a special deal. I think I want to be a part of that.’ ”
Keith Gilbertson had an interest in the game as well. Not only were his Huskies roots deep, including the two years he was their head football coach early this decade, but daughter Krissy, a WSU freshman, was in the rooting section with David.
“I remember that last throw,” Keith said, referring to Brink’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Gibson. “I had just walked into a hotel room – I was on the road with the Seahawks, in St. Louis I think – after a meeting, turned on the TV and it was on. Here’s this throw, I see him catch the ball and my daughter calls me immediately on the cell phone.
“I can see her in the end zone, she’s jumping up and down.”
David grew up a Husky fan. In that, he wasn’t much different from his friends in Redmond. But his connection was.
His dad’s first two stints at UW came before he was born. During his elementary school years, however, Keith was Rick Neuheisel’s offensive coordinator and his replacement as head coach following Neuheisel’s 2003 dismissal.
But Keith’s tenure at UW ended poorly. After going 6-6 his first year, the Huskies were 1-10 in 2004. When the season ended, so did Gilbertson’s relationship with Washington.
“It wasn’t like a thing that I brought it home,” Keith said about his termination. “I came home and told him ‘we’re going back to the Seahawks.’ He said OK and that was it.
“I think it was hard, but it wasn’t like he was saying ‘I hate those guys.’ It wasn’t a big emotional thing in the house.”
But the genesis of David becoming a Cougar started that day.
“I loved it there; the time we spent there,” David said of his dad’s UW stint. “But it’s definitely over. … It basically kind of ended when my dad left there and he went to the Seahawks.
“That’s part of coaching, you move on. And the family, we all move on, too.”
Throughout his high school career, David attended WSU’s football camps. With someone in the family who was a pretty good judge of football talent, he knew he was probably not ticketed for a high-stakes recruiting battle. But he also knew he wanted to play at the highest level possible.
When the Cougars invited him to walk-on, he jumped.
“My son was going to go where he wanted to go,” Keith said. “He had some other opportunities, but I think he knew he wanted to go to Washington State pretty early on.”
Besides, not only was his sister already in Pullman, the family has a long history there. Keith spent part of his youth just down the street from the campus when his dad was a student at WSU.
“I like the small town,” David said. “It’s different from what I’m used to, but that’s a good thing because it feels more like a family.
“I love Pullman. I’m so happy I came here.”
This week David and the Cougars will bus across the Cascades for the 102nd Apple Cup. His dad, out of coaching this season, will be rooting for them.
He’s hoping his son will soon develop Apple Cup memories. Keith already has his.
“When I was at Washington, it was always a great week,” said Keith, emphasizing the word great. “For a long time I think there was a perception that it didn’t mean as much to the Huskies as it did to the Cougars.
And he should know. The Gilbertson family has experienced both sides.